Marriott Hotels, Eurostar, IAG and Boeing are four companies that have recently announced initiatives to invest and support the growth of start-ups, demonstrating the importance of embracing innovation, not only for business success but the benefit of travellers themselves. Jenny Southan reports

Marriott Hotels – TestBed accelerator

Marriott Hotels’ accelerator programme, TestBed, is now in its second year, and has been designed to give travel tech start-ups expert guidance and the chance to pilot their product at Marriott Hotels across Europe.

With applications open until July 7, a shortlist of eight start-ups will be invited to pitch to a panel of industry experts, including Georgie Barrat, presenter of The Gadget Show, and senior Marriott team members, on August 22 and 23, 2017.

The fledgling companies must be seed or early stage start-ups with developed products or services ready to go to market. The three most promising companies will then embark on a ten-week programme in which they will test their product or service in a Marriott property. They will also receive mentoring and training from industry leaders.

This year, Marriott Hotels, is looking for start-ups that help innovate and inspire creative thinking related to the guest experience. It says that helping travellers “find headspace to flourish and stay inspired” is one of the key areas it is looking to invest in.

While other companies are focused on the present, Marriott Hotels is a good example of a forward-looking organisation. As a company committed to innovation, Marriott Hotels’ launched its first “live beta” hotel – an incubator and testing ground for new concepts and real-time customer feedback – in North Carolina last year.M Beta Marriott Charlotte City CentreBack in 2015, Marriott launched Canvas, a concept lab for restaurants and bars. It says that TestBed is “a natural progression and enables Marriott Hotels to have a greater say in the future of travel”.

John Licence, vice-president of premium and select brands in Europe at Marriott International, says: “Marriott Hotels aims to be at the forefront of innovation and TestBed provides us with the ideal testing ground to find, nurture and test cutting-edge products that have the power to transform the travel and hotel experience.

“TestBed is a powerful platform and proposition that gives start-ups the invaluable opportunity to tap into our operational expertise and test their products in a live hotel environment while exposing us to the creativity and disruptive thinking that lies in the start-up community.”

Charles Cadbury, CEO of Dazzle, an in-room voice activated personal assistant and one of two winning innovations of TestBed 2016, says: “We would not be where we are today without TestBed, fact.

“The speed at which we gained market insight and user feedback would have been very hard and time consuming to achieve had we not had the support of Marriott Hotels. Furthermore, being able to quote the interest Marriott took in Dazzle has validated Dazzle, given us credibility and opened many, many doors.”

Eurostar + Viva Technology masterclasses

EurostarMeanwhile, Eurostar this month hosted onboard masterclasses for start-ups travelling from London to Paris for the Viva Technology conference on June 15-17. Speakers included leading tech experts Justin Cooke, founder of Fortune Cookie, and Suranga Chandratillake, founder of Blinkx and Antoine Baschiera, founder of Early Metrics.

Just like Marriott, Eurostar has challenged start-ups to find innovative ways to improve the customer experience, with a focus on artificial intelligence, facial recognition and passenger flow analytics.

The best start-ups then had the chance to pitch their ideas at the conference to a panel made up of Nicolas Petrovic, CEO of Eurostar; Yann de Vries, partner at leading European venture capital firm Atomico, and Remi Bergues, vice-president of Global Innovation at Paris Region Enterprises. The winner will see their idea tested on Eurostar services.

Nick Mercer, commercial director of Eurostar, says: “We have a major programme of investment underway across our fleet, stations and service. With this initiative we’re working with exciting and innovative startups to explore how we can further revolutionise travel across Europe.”

Innovation cell – Boeing HorizonX

Boeing 737-MAXIn April, aircraft manufacturer Boeing announced it is investing in two tech start-ups through its new “innovation cell” Boeing HorizonX, which is focused on “accelerating potentially transformative aerospace technologies, manufacturing innovations and emerging business models”.

The companies it is so far investing in are Upskill, which makes augmented reality software, and Zunum Aero, which is building electric planes that are predicted to be faster, cheaper and better for the environment.

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing chairman, president and CEO, says: ”Our ability to identify, shape and harness game-changing innovations wherever they are developed is key to sustaining and growing our leadership in aerospace.

“Boeing HorizonX is tasked with ensuring we are fully engaged with opportunities from early-stage companies, market trends and emerging technologies while also fostering more rapid and effective internal innovation.”

IAG (British Airways, Vueling, Aer Lingus and Iberia) – Hangar 51 accelerator

BA first classIn a bid to “to revolutionise the aviation industry and enhance customer experience“, IAG – the parent company of British Airways, Vueling, Aer Lingus and Iberia – will be launching its second start-up accelerator programme this year. The deadline for applications for Hangar 51 is September 10, 2017.

The chosen start-ups will be given ten weeks of “intensive industry expert advice” from the group’s airlines and help in developing and testing their products. IAG will provide cash for the start-ups from its multimillion-pound digital investment fund to support them in scaling their business.

Working closely with start-ups as part of an accelerator programme is a great way for large, established companies to test and adopt cutting-edge ideas without they themselves having to come up with them.

It’s an efficient, effective and mutually beneficial arrangement whereby start-ups get life-giving funding and support, while corporations are injected with new technologies they didn’t have the expertise or resources to develop themselves. Globetrender predicts this trend to gather pace at a significant rate.

Bhupender Singh, CEO of Intelenet Global Services, says: “The travel industry is ripe for innovation, from maintenance and engineering to customer experience. Airlines operate on small profit margins, and are progressively turning to cutting edge technology to reduce costs, improve operations and enhance the passenger experience.”

He adds: “Airlines are now understanding the importance of personalisation at every touch point of the customer journey, and are using customer data to personalise the experience from the very first interaction.

“Digital technologies enable data to be quickly collected, analysed, and collated into reports. This allows airlines and airports to personalise their services, which in turn, boosts customer loyalty.”

Last year, IAG completed its first Hangar 51 project in London. It received more than 450 applications from 36 countries, and then invited 26 start-ups to attend a pitch day, after which five were selected. From those five, IAG continues working with Esplorio and Vchain to further develop their products.

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