New Orleans isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word: technology. Competing with other well-known tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, this southern city has rightfully earned its place among these technology centers. Forbes calls it the “#1 Brainpower City in the U.S.A.” and SmartAsset ranks it #1 for growth in tech jobs in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the Collision team chose NOLA as its home again this year.
I first heard of Collision through their expansive outreach effort to recruit more women to their annual technology conference. I’m not a techie myself. The most tech savvy things I do are this website and my Instagram account. But I took at look at their agenda, the speakers, and the sponsors and was intrigued. Where else could I meet the first astronaut to tweet from space, a world-renowned DJ, and an Olympic medalist swimmer, all while learning about the latest developments with virtual reality, green-tech, and the latest shopping app?
All of this and more was under the same roof at the New Orleans Convention Center in May. A three-day conference sandwiched in between Jazz Fest, Collision Conference is the place to be to learn about cutting-edge technology that is changing the way we think about our relationships with those devices we all cling to – and upgrade every 18 months!
When deciding where to stay, my choice was easy – Windsor Court. Rated “Top Business Hotel” by Forbes, Windsor Court has every amenity a business traveler could want. And the accolades don’t stop there. In 2017, U.S. News declared Windsor Court one of the Best Hotels in the U.S.A., Best Hotel in New Orleans, and Best Louisiana Hotel, while Travel + Leisure readers named the property one of the Top 50 Large City Hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
Well, if its ideal location in the Central Business District isn’t enough, you’re also nearby the French Quarter and iconic Bourbon Street with its lively jazz clubs, Royal Street’s antique shops and art galleries, and steps away from NOLA’s emerging Arts District. But once inside their lush, green courtyard that leads you up to their lobby, you’ll feel a world away from the colorful scene of the city. Fresh roses, stunning artwork, and live piano music coming from the lobby bar all provide a warm southern welcome to Windsor Court.
Arriving in my room, a premium suite with a desk ready for all of my chargers, cameras, and electronic devices, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the panoramic views of the Mississippi River below. Recharging in my plush surroundings, I made some adjustments to my schedule, courtesy of the user-friendly Collision app, and headed out the door to the first event.
So you may not think tech when you hear New Orleans, but you definitely think music. It’s everywhere. And it’s good. The Collison party at the Blue Nile with the Brassaholics had the crowd jumping, myself included. My colleague and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “We’re staying for Jazz Fest next year.”
You should, too. During our mid-day break at the pool, fellow guests shared stories of the different acts they saw, while I shared some of the latest and greatest apps that people from all over the world were showcasing at Collision. One of my favorites: what I’ll call Shazam for bird sounds. I told the founders how I desperately needed this during my trip to Iguaçu Falls in March where I was amongst wildlife and nature in a way that was truly magical. I would have loved to learn more about these little creatures that sang to me at every turn!
One of the highlights at Collision was meeting Olympic medalist, Allison Wagner. Cheated out of her opportunity to win a gold medal, Allison shared her experience in a raw and revealing on-stage interview about her life after the Olympics, the resulting depression she suffered, and her current efforts to prevent doping in sports.
“I’m choosing to speak up about it and because of my accomplishments, I’m in a position of leadership.” Her accomplishments are many: besides her silver at the Olympics in 1996, Allison was named American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, SEC Female Swimmer of the Year, gold medalist at the FINA Short Course World Championships, and held the world record for over 14 years for the 200 IM short course meters during those same years surrounding her disappointing experience at the Olympics.
During my interview with Allison, we talked more about her ordeal after the Olympics, and we agreed that in sports, as in technology, there needs to be more diversity and attention to gender issues to combat doping. “With swimming, the definition of what makes you successful is your race time. I’ve competed with men and I felt like I was proving myself in a different way; it was a satisfying accomplishment. Doping could be viewed as a gender issue because women tend to be doped more often in systematic doping regimes as compared to men.”
Of course, being at a tech conference, we chatted about the next phase for the intersection of sports and tech. “When it comes to tech, we need more advanced testing internationally, and doping regulations and violations enforced. There are great options, but we need better ones. Another interesting aspect of sport is that of intuition which is often not talked about, and in sports, especially in swimming, an athlete is continually adapting to their environment. If you’re stuck on old data, you’re potentially limiting yourself.”
Flashing back to her competing days, which were before the advent of social media and live feeds, Allison feels that she might have been able to gain back those gold medals that she lost. “Connectivity would have been helpful on a variety of levels. I might have talked and shared on social media when my scholarships were taken away. There’s more accountability today for people who dope and for abuses of power.”
Shifting gears, Allison talked about her other passion – art. She’s a founding member of the International Olympic organization called Art of the Olympians, and as a painter, she hopes that the organization can help return the Olympics to its original intentions. “An Olympian is someone who is pursuing excellence with integrity. Not just in sports, but in a variety of arenas. Valuing art as much as we value sports in our community is vital.”
So what’s next for this Renaissance woman? Her focus right now is on being an advocate for anti-doping around the world. “I’m speaking up as a catalyst for change. I’m not elected or affiliated with any organization, but I want to play some role that is helpful for current athletes who are willing to be active on this topic. Many of them are nervous about the ramifications of being vocal. But the ramifications of cheating are far worse. We need leaders who talk about their commitment to integrity and ethics, and governing bodies of sport need to stop limiting athletes’ voices.”
Her voice is poised to be a powerful one in the years to come. Agreeing that women’s voices need to be heard in all sectors, not just tech, Allison imparted, “As women, we have so much ability, and a natural inclination to be resilient. Advocating for each other is important.”
And one of the most powerful advocates was the team at Collision who made an effort to improve diversity numbers at this groundbreaking conference. Vibing off of the amazing accomplishments of so many female entrepreneurs, I worked with the team at Windsor Court to host a women’s networking event at their Polo Club Lounge.
Spacious, yet private, the Polo Club lounge was the perfect setting for our Women in Tech mixer. The newly remodeled space features European antiques and period reproductions from the 17th and 18th century, all accented with saddle-tan wood, marble details, and of course an impressive bar menu with more than 600 labels, and one of the largest Cognac collections in New Orleans! Networking with enthusiastic entrepreneurs from all over the world in this decadent, yet inviting setting, was a great way to end another night at Collision.
After a quick breakfast of the quintessential beignets, it was back to the conference for another day of tech awesomeness. The highlight for today – hearing Natalie Monbiot of SVP Futures talking about experiential advertising and the role of Virtual Reality in Marketing. Her most valuable piece of advice: brands need to think about who they are when there’s no screen to hide behind. In an era of fake news, bots, and impersonal transactions, her advice couldn’t be more timely.
Between mixers, interviews, and seminars, I managed to squeeze in a dinner at Compère Lapin. The stellar concierge team at Windsor Court was able to get us a coveted reservation at this top-ranked restaurant. Although I have no pictures to prove it, my meal started with the most divine buttermilk biscuits. It’s no wonder they disappeared so quickly!
Compère Lapin’s philosophy of “the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors” was evident in every bite of our meal. A starter of Hamachi tuna dressed in “leche de tigre” was followed by delectable Wagyu short ribs, so soft and tender. Chef Nina Compton’s playful menu draws inspiration from a childhood Carribean folktale about a rabbit named Compère Lapin. But her menu is no child’s play – come hungry to experience indigenous Caribbean ingredients blended with the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans. And of course save room for dessert – the most unique presentation of strawberry shortcake I’ve ever seen! A perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Back at the hotel, I was able to indulge in some more of the hotel amenities that Windsor Court offers its lucky guests. An art lover, I knew the walking tour of the hotel’s gallery would be a favorite. Listening to the audio tour on my phone, I viewed their museum-worthy collection, with pieces displayed throughout the property. Many of the artworks are of British origin with an emphasis on works that depict the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. Valued at more than $8 million, the Windsor Court collection includes original works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Huysman. Among my favorite pieces were the hand-finished chromolithographs of Windsor Castle’s private and State apartments by Sir Joseph Nash which were commissioned by Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century. So much history along these walls!
Although my visit to Windsor Court was short, I did manage to squeeze in a spa treatment. Voted #1 by USA Today 10 Best Spas in New Orleans, this top ranked spa earned its place in my book. My back facial (yes, they have these here!) included a soothing foot massage, and was followed by a difficult choice of cucumber water, green wheatgrass juice, or champagne. Lounging in the relaxation area, I somehow managed to indulge in all three! The only thing to tear me away from this oasis of relaxation was a hungry belly. Luckily the afternoon tea service at Windsor Court was still being offered in the Club Lounge, an added amenity which offers true VIP service to its guests.
My last event of this busy day was a Stanford alumni mixer, hosted in the Polo Club Lounge. Right in line with Collision’s mission of diversity and inclusion, our group had quite the international mix, every racial background was represented, and a wide range of industries including venture capitalists, pro football players, and of course, someone launching the latest, greatest app were all there to mix and mingle, sharing highlights from the conference. Trying to choose just one highlight was difficult, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s Collision Conference and seeing where technology takes us next!
To book your stay at Windsor Court for next year’s conference, contact me today!