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At Collision 2024, AI and funding take centre stage

From AI to bootstrapped startups and Silicon Valley North, Teachers’ Venture Growth Investment Associate Brent Noseworthy shares key insights from the tech conference.

There are conferences and then there’s Collision, which recently wrapped up in Toronto. More than 40,000 people took part in the event – with many of the brightest minds and most innovative companies in the global tech industry discussing critical questions facing business and society. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and diversity, among other issues, were all central conversations. And, importantly, it serves as a reminder of how much innovation, passion, and excitement exists within Canada’s vibrant startup ecosystem.

From left to right: Michael Yang, OMERS Ventures; Olivia Steedman, Ontario Teachers'; Thomas Birch, CDPQ; and Darrell Etherington, OMERS Ventures.

The Teachers’ Venture Growth (TVG) team attended as many sessions as possible, while our own Olivia Steedman took the stage to share her views on the current state of the market and how TVG is navigating an ever-changing funding landscape. We also connected with many of the leading investors, entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners who descended on the city. 

This year, five prominent themes stood out:  


1. Call for safety guardrails on AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning were undoubtedly the hottest topics at Collision 2024. Keynote speakers Geoffrey Hinton, known as the “Godfather of AI,” and Aidan Gomez, the co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based Cohere, weighed in, sharing their views on the latest advancements and the future of AI.  

Gomez offered a more optimistic and pragmatic take on where the technology is heading, focusing on its potential to augment human capabilities and drive productivity. On the flip side, Hinton believes that as AI models become more capable, they may eventually exceed human capabilities, leading to potential risks if not developed and controlled responsibly. 

This divergence in views highlights the ongoing debate within the AI community about the trajectory of the technology and its potential implications for humanity. No matter which side of the argument you support, common ground can be found in the mutual calling for heightened control and safety guardrails as AI rapidly advances. 

Geoffrey Hinton – taking centre stage on day three in front of a “standing-room-only” audience.

2. The bootstrapped founder is on the rise

There were more bootstrapped startups in attendance at this year’s event than ever before, noted Paddy Cosgrave, the founder of Web Summit, the organizers behind Collision. One point that was raised was how low-cost tools and platforms have made it easier and more cost effective for founders to launch and operate businesses with minimal initial investment. Increased availability of alternative funding, including venture debt and other non-dilutive funding options like government grants, are increasing in popularity as alternatives to early-stage traditional venture capital. Possibly this is why a record amount of dry powder exists with an estimated over $300B patiently waiting to be deployed. In the first quarter of 2024, US VC funding deals fell to the lowest point since 2017, according to PitchBook.


3. AI is transforming the way organizations protect their data

Cybersecurity and data privacy continue to be critical issues. Global government representatives attending Collision emphasized the need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect individuals and organizations from cyber threats. Side discussions with investors and keynote speakers also highlighted the importance of data privacy regulations and the ethical use of personal data.

Cybersecurity in the age of AI was also a key discussion point as the technology continues to revolutionize many industries. Growth in AI applications has led to an exponential increase in data integration and exchange, which inevitably poses a threat to the existing cybersecurity framework. 

On the flip side, AI-enabled tools will allow companies to accelerate vulnerability scanning, test the effectiveness of cybersecurity solutions and enhance companies’ cybersecurity posture. Tech leaders from Dataminr, Glean, Resilient and Protect AI all highlighted that AI is transforming the way organizations approach cybersecurity, offering powerful tools to protect their digital assets in a rapidly changing environment. 

To fully harness the power of AI in cybersecurity, organizations must foster collaboration between AI production teams and security teams so that security considerations are built into AI systems from the ground up, rather than being an afterthought.


4. Prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion in tech for better outcomes

Collision also celebrated diversity and inclusion within the tech industry. Its impressive lineup of speakers and panelists, including athletes, celebrities, investors, entrepreneurs and politicians, called for continued advocacy around creating more inclusive environments and diverse teams to drive better outcomes. The conference provided a platform for underrepresented groups to showcase their talents and innovations, fostering a more diverse and equitable tech ecosystem.

The event, which saw attendees from more than 130 countries, provided complimentary tickets to Indigenous entrepreneurs and tech leaders.  In addition, it featured a Black Innovation Zone, an area dedicated to spotlighting Black founders and professionals and hosted a record number of female-led startups. Kudos to Collision’s efforts for amplifying voices that have historically been underrepresented in the technology sector. 

5. Becoming Silicon Valley North

Collision further solidified Toronto’s position as a leading tech hub within the North American ecosystem. With its vibrant startup community, top-notch talent pool and determined and passionate entrepreneurs, Toronto attracted significant attention from global attendees. While Collision’s move to Vancouver in 2025 marks the end of its run in Toronto, the conference’s success over the past years has significantly boosted Canada’s profile in the global tech landscape, leaving a lasting impact on the ecosystem. 

We continue to be inspired by the dynamic technology ecosystem that exists in Canada, and we eagerly anticipate more innovations from the world-class entrepreneurs and companies in Ontario Teachers’ own backyard. 

Brent Noseworthy is an Investment Associate at Teachers’ Venture Growth (TVG).  Based in Toronto, he joined TVG in 2022 and plays a key role in executing TVGs direct investment strategy in North America.