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Why America’s Fastest-Growing Technology Conference Is Leaving the U.S.

As President Trump continues to clamp down on immigration, entrepreneurs like Paddy Cosgrave are looking north for alternatives.

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BY Zoe Henry - 01 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The Collision Conference, now in its fifth year and billed as the fastest-growing tech summit in America, is leaving the U.S.

As tens of thousands of entrepreneurs, investors and techies descend on New Orleans this week, the creators of Collision have announced that the conference will be moving to Toronto, Ontario in 2019 and the two following years. Paddy Cosgrave, founder and CEO of the event and of Web Summit--among the world's largest tech conferences that takes place annually in Lisbon--cited the city's vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem as a reason for the change, and suggested that recent moves to restrict immigration and travel to the U.S. cemented that decision.

"At the very moment when some countries around the world seem to be shutting their borders, when intolerance is on the rise, Toronto stands for diversity and inclusion," Cosgrave said. "It's true that some international tech entrepreneurs have been denied visas to attend Collision in New Orleans in recent years," he added, nodding to Canada's ability to fast track tourism visas.

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, has been working closely with the Collision team in recent weeks to seal the transition. "Welcome to Canada, Collision," Trudeau said in a prepared statement on Tuesday. "I'm happy you chose Toronto to host North America's fastest growing tech conference for the next three years, but I have to say I'm not completely surprised. Toronto is a key global tech hub and an example of the diversity that is our strength. Here in Canada, we know innovation and inclusion go together and the rest of the world has taken notice."

Indeed, the move is the latest in a series of data points suggesting that businesses in the era of Trump are increasingly flocking to Canada. In Montreal alone, as much as $600 million worth of investment flowed into the tech sector in 2017, up from just $200 million in 2015, according to the economic development firm Montreal International. (At least some of that, CEO Hubert Bolduc tells Inc., has to do with Trump's policies.)

Meanwhile, as the administration continues to delay a long-awaited startup visa program, immigration lawyers are advising their clients to look to alternatives including Toronto, with some founders going so far to say that they would no longer call the U.S. an attractive place to do business. Samantha Clark, a spokesperson for the Waterloo, Ontario-based startup hub Communitech, notes that several local companies have successfully recruited American tech workers from the recently-introduced Global Skills program. And earlier this year, Amazon confirmed that the Canadian metropolis is on its list of finalists to build a second headquarters outside of Seattle.

Sunil Sharma, the managing director of TechStars' Toronto incubator and who worked closely with Cosgrave in the run-up to the decision, hopes that bringing Collision to Toronto will result in more founders deciding to expand their businesses in Canada. "It will become clear to many people that not only is Toronto a great place to visit, but if they are so inclined to expand, they'll realize that it's a great option [to build a business,]" says Sharma. "It's been kind of like an Olympic bid," he adds, referring to the process more generally.

To be sure, there are other reasons Cosgrave and team say they're leaving New Orleans. In a blog post, Cosgrave noted that as Collision grows, it needs a home with more globally connected infrastructure, and which can potentially support some 90,000 visitors; to that end, U.S. cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco were also in the running, he said. Plus, the change could potentially attract new attendees, and entice previous ones to continue coming to the new locale.

Ultimately, however, Ontario's impressive growth during tumultuous economic times was a factor. The sector now employs 401,000 people in more than 18,000 tech companies, with regional growth outpacing that of New York City and San Francisco combined, the Collision team says. If that clip continues, Toronto could have more tech jobs than Silicon Valley within the next two years. "Canada and Toronto have lived to some extent in the technology shadow of America...but that's changing, and changing fast," Cosgrave added. "There is such energy in the city, such an open, cosmopolitan and global atmosphere."

Of course, the Big Easy also has much to offer, as does any celebrated events-focused town. Plus, beignets are pretty incredible.

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