Embedded in the two weekends of Jazz Fest, the inaugural Collision Conference along with Launch Pad PITCH competition brought some of the biggest names in the tech industry and many of the country’s most ambitious, innovative minds to New Orleans.
As a UNO student in Arts Administration and a budding writer, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Collision on one of the 500 scholarships given to students from around the city. On the Opening Night Summit of Collision, I walked into a packed Republic. People were spilling onto the streets and into Howlin’ Wolf and Red Eye, which also participated in hosting the 11,000 (plus) attendees who came from all parts of the world. New Orleans’ presence was everywhere, including the dance floor where the dance group known as Revelry busted moves like twerkin’ and stanky leg.
Everyone was ready for what Collision described as an “…incredible few days of legendary networking.”
The Convention Center would be overrun with more than 600 startups and 400 investors for the next three days. Daniel Andrews, software engineer for Revelry, explained that the key to remaining relevant and on the cutting edge of the tech industry is that “it’s not about what you know, but how fast you can learn.”
That certainly applied to me–not being a tech person, per se–and I jumped in by downloading the Collision app and setting off to discover as much as I could. In NOLA fashion, I immediately ran into people I knew: fellow rock climbers from the New Orleans Boulder Lounge. One, Alec Cole with Lookfar, a software development company, described Collision as “New Orleans Entrepreneur Week on steroids.”
That’s just what I discovered maneuvering around the main floor of the Convention Center and beyond. Long lines and many onlookers crowded a booth offering VR headsets that took you to Alaska and helped you face your fears on a virtual roller coaster. Tech company BrainTree had a specially made claw crane, a common arcade game, set up for attendees to play. Many didn’t even know there were amazing prizes in it (I overheard someone win a new mattress). “Crack-the-Claw” was also a big hit at Collision, and appropriately titled by the group that kept hacking it. This was a nuisance that BrainTree shrugged off as part of the job, and to take as something of a compliment.
Attendees also could catch topnotch speakers such as Chris Sacca, venture capitalist and initial investor in companies such as Uber, Twitter, and Instagram. Kerry Black, founder of Superfly and who made his start right here in New Orleans, was also there to share success stories as well as industry challenges. As Sacca explained, “If you’re not depressed, riddled with anxiety, and contemplating quitting, then you’re probably not in the tech scene.”
DJ Andrea Baldereschi, founder of Remidi, mesmerized the audience with his demonstration of what he called the first wearable music instrument: a glove that turns your hand into music and can be played on any surface. How exactly it works, I’m not sure, but the two Koreans next to me excitingly reported that they also create similar sensors to those in the musical hand glove. Big Freedia represented the New Orleans music scene, fusing music and technology with her new bounce fitness app.
There were many lounge areas set up to encourage and facilitate conversation. While taking a break, I overheard that free tickets were being given to women from around the city who were into tech, so I went in search of someone affiliated with the Women in Tech. I connected with Jess Cotton, founding partner of Benevolent Enabler Inc., a New Orleans based nonprofit focused on streamlining the donation process into the digital era.
This, after all, is New Orleans. So Digital Ocean quenched the thirst of attendees at the end of each day by hosting a fully loaded open bar for one hour in the center of the convention floor.
The energy of the day transferred smoothly into the evening, with many parties hosted by Collision and its sponsors at various local venues, encouraging the networking to continue in a more relaxed setting. That included crawfish, beer, and a second line through the streets of Mid-City (from Second Line Brewery to Mick’s Irish Bar and back).
Local tech company Grok & Banter held a party at The Cellar Door for the closing night of Collision. I got to sit down with Gerard Ramos, who everyone from Revelry refers to as ‘G’ (Why? “Because, he’s the man,” employees responded.) He was there with his native New Orleanian client Dan Miers, who’s partnering with Revelry to build a fishing/weather app called 20Echo, which pulls climate conditions from a picture. He’s also the one who got this giant ball rolling.
Collision came to be in New Orleans when Metairie native Ramos, co-founder and CEO of Revelry Labs LLC, signed up his web branding, design, and development company for the Collision Conference in Las Vegas last year. Paddy Cosgrave, Irish entrepreneur and co-founder of the international tech conference Web Summit and now Collision in the United States, reached out to Ramos with interest in New Orleans. Paddy was looking for a city that already had strong community values that facilitated organic growth and would enhance the overall experience of the conference. New Orleans was a good fit.
Cosgrave’s vision was for relationships to continue well past normal conference hours. And what better way to do so than over a cold beer and crawfish or a Sazerac and oysters on the half-shell? Upon meeting with Cosgrave, Ramos knew he needed to include GNOinc and Chris Shultz, managing director at Voodoo Ventures, in on the conversation that would be the beginning of Collision in the Big Easy.
The Big Easy is becoming better known for its technology industry; now that Collision has collided into New Orleans, it feels like that is about to accelerate.