A Head-on Collision of Ideas, People and Music at Collision 2017

Posted on May 12, 2017

By Robin Bulanti


Collision intentionally brought 20,000 attendees, 357 speakers and 605 startups to New Orleans smack in the middle of the city’s largest jazz celebration.

I decided to check out Collision for myself this year. I happen to be a huge jazz lover, so the whole “Come for Collision. Stay for Jazz Fest.” call was not exactly lost on me.

My Uber driver from Louis Armstrong Airport was lovely and chatty, and as it turns out, had been in a small auto accident the day prior. Her third collision in weeks. Not exactly a confidence builder in the back seat.

She entertained me with stories about the characters she’d driven in that day. She asked me the name of the big conference in town and I told her: “Collision.” The irony was not lost on either one of us, and she laughed the rest of the way there.

Aptly named, as the week felt like a head-on collision of people, ideas and music.

So, what’s it like?

It doesn’t feel big. With 20,000 attendees, I was expecting huge halls and crowds to navigate, but what I found was a well-run, friendly, fun and small conference with too much to see and do. Kind of like the Big Easy itself!

It’s a collection of micro-conferences. Collision is spread out across 13 micro-conferences, arranged in one great hall. Except for the main stage, the stages are open and small. Speakers can expect to be on a small stage with a small audience, maybe 100 or less in most cases.

Speakers were top notch. There is a cache to speaking at Collision, and the organizers clearly curate discussions carefully, with timely topics like immigration, sustainability, the future of work, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars. Over 350 speakers included athletes, musicians, activists, VCs and entrepreneurs – celebs in their respective industry.

The focus is tech. There were different tracks for startups, SaaS, autotech, Planet:tech, PandaConf, binate.io (big data) and music, but all had change and innovation as a connecting thread. Most sessions were panel format, and I appreciated well-known reporters from ABC Today, NPR, Forbes, TechCrunch, WSJ and others who moderated with thoughtful questions and another perspective.

Leads aren’t the focus. For the majority of startups I spoke with, they said leads were good in quantity, but not targeted since the cross-industry crowd is so diverse. Awareness was the #1 reason to be there. There were 600+ pretty diverse startups squeezed into rows of small kiosks, with a few corner “booths,” but it’s quite different than your standard conference – by design – and exhibitors change.

It’s the best place to network if you plan ahead. Collision bills itself “America’s fastest growing tech conference” and I met so many new people from all over the world. Before you go, download the app, search (and chat with!) attendees and prepare a network of those you want to meet or hang with. Attend the night summits and networking opportunities (yes to women in tech and roundtables!).

New Orleans is an amazing town. Don’t stick to Collision only – get out and see New Orleans, hit Frenchman Street or Preservation Hall for live jazz after the night summits, stay in and soak up the French Quarter, and eat your share of beignets and gumbo, if that’s your thing. After all, you’re in New Orleans – let the good times roll!

On one last note, I did attend a day of Jazz Fest and while the music was excellent, it was the lowlight of the visit. Avoid the crowds; the jazz to catch is on Frenchman. See you next year?

Robin Bulanti has spent the past 18 years working closely with high tech clients on communications strategy, corporate positioning and building executive brands. As president, she also oversees the agency’s new business, professional development and services. Contact Robin here.