Wednesday 14 November 2018

Tech firms on crash course at New Orleans Collision event

Enterprise Ireland Logo
Enterprise Ireland Logo

Oran Bambrick

The history of the city of New Orleans is one of a variety of ethnic influences, a story well illustrated by its cuisine. Louisiana staples, such as creole, gumbo and jambalaya, are a tapestry of the diverse ethnicities that settled in the Big Easy throughout its eventful history. Combining European, Caribbean, African and American influences, the city's food and rich culture are a testament to what leveraging diversity can achieve.

In May in New Orleans, the Collision conference emulated the style of its host city of the past three years, by serving up a feast of diverse speakers, workshops and themes that complemented and challenged each other throughout the week.

Featuring 16 mini-conferences across four days, including Planet Tech and Music Notes, Collision, as its name suggests, was a point of convergence in which thought leaders, startups and tech investors met. The speaker line-up ranged from former US vice president Al Gore to Walmart CTO Jeremy King, and attendees were treated to an assortment of themes from the technology sphere.

Diversity has been a prominent issue for tech in recent years, with levels of representation of women and minorities on boards, among founders, and skewed for access to capital, much discussed. Previous conferences have been criticised for a lack of diversity in speaker line-ups. But Collision proved, not only diverse in thought and focus, but also with regard to gender and background, with women making up 50pc of speakers. The conference also hosted a number of 'women in tech' round tables and networking lounges, in addition to a wide range of international startups.

Attendees didn't have to wait long to hear an Irish accent, as Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder of Web Summit, began proceedings with his opening remarks. To take a walk through the exhibition floor was to see some of Ireland's most promising startups pitching to a varied delegation. The Irish contingent exhibited with support from Enterprise Ireland, which assists and encourages Irish tech companies to export to the North American market.

This year, the future of how humans and artificial intelligence (AI) will intersect was a major theme across Collision's stages. It is a conversation that Irish company Voysis contributes to internationally. The company, which raised $8m (€6.7m) in 2017 and attended Collision 2018, is using AI and voice technology to enable brands to deliver conversational experiences to consumers. "The more friction you can remove for customers the better. That's what we're using AI to do," said Voysis head of marketing, Ryan MacInnis.

Elsewhere at Collision, attendees could meet another Irish company, Openback. Founded by Christian Ryder and David Shackleton, CEO of Ding, Openback is also working to use its proprietary technology to deliver better customer experiences. The company's secret sauce is that it uses on-device data to customise notifications based on the user's real-time behaviour and phone habits.

Wia Technologies also attracted interest at Collision. Internet of Things (IoT) platforms and devices featured prominently at the event and the Irish sector is one of the most dynamic in the world. Wia enables IoT devices to connect and talk to each other securely. "If it connects to the internet, it connects to Wia," said founder Conall Laverty.

With the, as yet uncertain, impacts of Brexit looming, Irish companies have begun to look west, in addition to immediately east. As a growth territory for tech exports, North America has proven a happy hunting ground for Irish companies. Attending and exhibiting at conferences such as Collision is a great opportunity for Irish exporters to sample the market before fully committing. Although the event is moving north to Toronto next year, the new location is another city that prides itself on embracing diversity and startups. Investors and tech enthusiasts should look forward to their next serving of Collision's newest flavour.

Oran Bambrick is SVP Digital Technologies based in Enterprise Ireland's New York office

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