The inaugural version of Battleground: The Americas delivered everything it had promised: outstanding pitches that covered different verticals of travel, industry-best speakers and panelists, and plenty of time to network. For startups in the travel industry, it is a wonderful occasion to meet with potential investors and corporate partners face-to-face. We will definitely come back next year.
— Suzanna Chiu, Head of Amadeus Ventures, Amadeus IT Group (Dragon)

Battleground: The Americas

conference wrap up: Redeam and Waylo take top honors

According to Phocuswright’s recent report, The State of Travel Startups 2017, travel technology companies raised US$62B between 2005 and 2Q17, and $48.7B - a whopping 79% - was raised in the last 2.5 years. Meanwhile, Phocuswright has tracked the launch of over 70 travel-focused incubators, accelerators, investors, entrepreneur programs and communities in the last half decade.

It’s safe to say that, driven by disruptive new technologies and business models, interest in travel startups is at an all-time high.

Since 2008, Phocuswright has been putting the most innovative travel technology companies on stage at The Travel Innovation Summit, showcasing the most forward-thinking ideas in the industry. As the industry has evolved, so has the format of the event.

In 2015, to better accommodate and highlight the growing range of innovations being presented - from budding startups to industry titans - Phocuswright split The Travel Innovation Summit into two separate categories: Battleground for early-stage companies, and The Travel Innovation Summit for established companies

In 2016, the Phocuswright Innovation Platform was created, further accommodating the different levels of innovation by placing companies into one of three distinct categories: Battleground for early-stage startups, Summit for emerging companies, and Launch for established companies.

In 2017, the U.S.-based Battleground was moved from The Phocuswright Conference to a standalone event. As a result, Phocuswright was able to eliminate application and presentation fees; reducing the barrier to entry to zero, encouraging more startups to apply than ever, and increasing the breadth and quality of the innovations brought to the stage.

Battlegrounds for APAC and EMEA will remain part of the Phocuswright India and Phocuswright Europe conferences, respectively, and will still have presentation fees.

The inaugural Phocuswright Battleground: The Americas took place on September 12, 2017 at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, CA. The event was sponsored by Plug and Play, Amadeus (who is a global Battleground partner), and Travelport.

Battleground was an exceptional event – an excellent illustration of what can happen when you bring industry heavyweights together with the goal of helping travel tech startups. I was very impressed with the quality of the startups who presented and can’t wait to see who wins Summit in November.

— Nathan Bobbin, Senior Director Product Innovation, Travelport (Dragon)
Battleground this year brought together an excellent cross section of travel industry players – the startups were diverse, the speakers excellent, and the attendees engaged. Hosting in Silicon Valley brought the event closer to many of us, creating connections that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

— Christina Heggie, Investment Associate, JetBlue Ventures (Dragon)

Sixteen startups (qualifications: less than 4 years old and less than $2M in funding) took the stage and pitched to a full room for two chances to move on to Summit this November at The Phocuswright Conference.

The showcased solutions harnessed bleeding-edge technologies including artificial intelligence, chat and messaging, virtual reality, the Internet of Things, robotics, blockchain (and of course mobile) to bring new ways to tackle challenges across air, dining, distribution, hospitality, tours and transportation.

Counting these 16 companies, exactly 300 innovators have now taken the stage at Phocuswright’s innovation events since 2008. This esteemed group of companies has brought countless innovations to the market and collectively raised over $2.3B in the process.


Content Sessions at Battleground: The Americas Included:

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A panel discussion entitled “The State of Travel Investments” which covered themes such as funding to incremental innovation vs. moonshots, B2C vs. B2B, startups vs. incumbents, promising trends and technologies, and more. The panel was hosted by Amir Amidi, Plug and Play’s managing partner of travel and hospitality, pictured above from left to right, with panelists:

  • Brian Barth, Founder & CEO, Uplift Inc. (former Founder & CEO SideStep)
  • Erik Blachford, Venture Partner, TCV (former President & CEO, Expedia)
  • Patrice Simon, CTO Strategy and New Product Development, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

A presentation from Michael Coletta, Phocuswright’s manager of research and innovation, highlighting important trends from the recently-published report The State of Travel Startups 2017. The report paints a picture of the travel startup landscape based on founding dates, funding amounts, vertical and horizontal categories, failure rates, and much more, including a spotlight on artificial intelligence. As a benefit of attending, Battleground ticket holders were given access to download the full 46-page report for free (a $495 value). An excerpt of the report is available for free here.

For people who are interested in the best curation of early travel startups, having Battleground as its own event at Plug & Play in Silicon Valley was excellent – more focus on truly promising innovations, spicy commentary from the Dragons and a much more manageable forum to meet people!
— Brian Barth, Founder & CEO, Uplift Inc. and former Founder & CEO SideStep (Panelist)
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A keynote presentation by Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight. 

Sam spoke honestly and openly about the difficulty of building a travel startup and the lessons that no one warned him about when starting a business, including hard topics like how to let employees go, making bigger commitments to transparency, and being an executive that works for his team, not just with them. His last slide titled “Sh*t I’ve learned” included lessons such as: Build something new and different, focus on distribution first, define your culture precisely and visibly, get a CEO coach, and the five to one compliment rule: always keep a ratio of five compliments to one criticism.

As a new travel startup entrepreneur, I found the presentation on “The State of Travel Startups” incredibly valuable. The data presented helped me understand the challenges faced by startups, especially in the Inspiration & Itinerary categories. The event itself was a great opportunity for me to connect with industry leaders and meet with other startups.
— Madhu Parthasarathy, Founder, Stealth Travel Startup (Attendee)

The innovators were critiqued and scored - and the two winners were chosen - by the Dragons, a panel of judges comprised of travel and technology experts:

First round of Dragons: Diego Saez Gil, CEO & Co-Founder, Bluesmart Jim Hornthal, Chairman, Triporati Inc. and Founder, Preview Travel Christina Heggie, Investment Associate, JetBlue Ventures

First round of Dragons:

Diego Saez Gil, CEO & Co-Founder, Bluesmart

Jim Hornthal, Chairman, Triporati Inc. and Founder, Preview Travel

Christina Heggie, Investment Associate, JetBlue Ventures

Second round of Dragons: Chris Hemmeter, Managing Director, Thayer Ventures Suzanna Chiu, Head of Amadeus Ventures, Amadeus IT Group Nathan Bobbin, Senior Director Product Innovation, Travelport

Second round of Dragons:

Chris Hemmeter, Managing Director, Thayer Ventures

Suzanna Chiu, Head of Amadeus Ventures, Amadeus IT Group

Nathan Bobbin, Senior Director Product Innovation, Travelport

Congratulations to the winnerS!

Redeam and Waylo will compete at Summit in November at The Phocuswright Conference

Redeam and Waylo will compete at Summit in November at The Phocuswright Conference

Battleground is a must-attend event for any early-stage travel tech startup. You get great feedback from travel industry stalwarts (“Dragons”) conversant with the industry, connect with amazing people, and receive invaluable suggestions. Waylo received actionable feedback on how to scale up and avoid pitfalls along the way, as well as multiple follow up meetings. Of course, the most exciting moment for us was Waylo being declared the winner of the pitch competition. We look forward to competing at Summit in November!
— Angik Patel, Founder, Waylo (Winning Startup)

2017 innovators

(in the order they presented at the event)

Winding Tree

Blockchain-based B2B marketplace for travel inventory fully controlled by its participants. Blockchain technology allows us to get rid of intermediaries, greatly reduce distribution costs and prevent further market centralization.

TraknProtect

Helps hotels use IoT technology to respond to guest requests – to not only meet their expectations but exceed them. Our goal is to help our clients make a lasting impression on their guests – so that they keep returning again and again.

Flightsayer

Predicts flight delays hours and even weeks before departure, empowering users to make better booking decisions and deal more effectively with delays. Powered by sophisticated simulation algorithms and proprietary machine learning, flightsayer helps travelers become proactive about potential flight disruption, rather than reactive to flight delays.

Worldpackers

A community based on collaboration and honest relationships that make travel more accessible to those seeking a profound cultural experience. Through an online platform, we connect travelers – looking to exchange their skills for accommodation – with incredible hosts from all around the world.

Ascape

The first-ever travel agency for virtual reality trips, Ascape captures reality in 360°, so you can see hundreds of destinations as you'd discover them yourself, minus all the costs, lines and "Please put your seat back in an uncomfortable position." Become a world traveler with the first-ever virtual reality travel experience, connecting you to hundreds of different destinations with no maps, no hotels and no passport!

Safely

Answers the two most pressing questions in the vacation home rental industry: Who is staying in my house? What happens when something goes wrong? Combining a rigorous guest verification program with the most comprehensive insurance available, Safely gives property managers and homeowners peace of mind that their homes are safe and protected.

It was amazing to see such a promising group of new entrepreneurs bringing fresh and creative innovations to the travel industry. It’s also great to see how Phocuswright continues to evolve to be the home of the makers and shakers of the travel space. I look forward to participating in future events!
— Diego Saez-Gil, CEO & Co-Founder, Bluesmart (Dragon)

MyCape

Allows regular travelers to book last-minute, space-available airline seats. Right now, 20% of all the seats on their flights never get sold. After exhausting all their other sales channels, airlines turn unsold seats over to us a few days before departure. We make those seats available to our members who are ready and willing to fly on space-available seats at a moment’s notice.

Avisell

Works with airlines to identify and pay flexible travelers to change or sell their ticket. This frees up inventory on oversold flights, which can be sold closer to departure. Airlines can maximize revenue in the face of forecasting errors and irregular operations.

Traveling Spoon

Like having a friend’s mom cook you a home cooked meal in every country you visit. Traveling Spoon connects travelers with local, vetted hosts to share the joy of a homemade meal in their home and learn about their cultural and culinary traditions passed down through generations.

Germfalcon

A patented sanitizing device that instantly kills infectious germs on surfaces and in the surrounding air. Using only ultraviolet-C (UVC) light, the kind used in hospitals, this highly-effective device is mobile and compact — no larger than a flight attendant’s food and beverage cart.

Neirbi

Specializes in the analysis of all of external conditions and the impacts they have on a potential customer’s actions and buying decisions has become our passion. We collect, digest and analyze hundreds of data points to spot trends and then alert you to when an opportunity or threat exists. We do all of this for you so that your team can focus on what it does best.

ICM Hub

For airlines that experience rising costs to correspond to demanding customers with frequent inquiries, ICM Hub provides an automated, best-in-class and AI-powered customer service solution that aims to boost profitability.

Waylo

The first hotel price prediction and tracking app. Hotel rates fluctuate like stocks. Save up to 75% on hotels by scoring the lowest rates in time with Waylo's smart alerts and predictions. Waylo is available as a conversational app over Messenger and email. A Slack bot and Alexa skill are on the way.

Redeam

Redeam enables attractions to accept paper vouchers and mobile tickets from any reseller using a low-cost, tablet-based validation platform.

Viajala

Online travel metasearch for LATAM with 1.5 million travellers a month searching for flights and hotels. Viajala is the first-ever VC-backed Colombian travel startup, operates profitably and is growing exponentially. Its founding team includes former executives from Expedia, Voyages-sncf.com, PriceMinister and Shopzilla/Bizrate.

Axle

Uses artificial intelligence to bring airline scheduling and pricing tactics to the city-to-city bus industry. Our revenue management solution helps these privately-owned operators automatically decide how many buses to run each day, optimize daily schedules to capture the most demand possible given various business constraints, and adjust ticket prices in real time to maximize profits.

Phocuswright also selected four standby companies to be on deck should any of the presenters have failed to go on, but none were called upon. In alphabetical order, they are:

Compl.ai

Lightweight travel policy enforcement for SMEs.

goBaby

P2P rental marketplace for baby gear.

Guestext

Guest personalization and retention platform for hotels.

Stay22

Automated accommodations solution for event organizers.
 

I have been part of the Phocuswright startup movement for several years now. The first standalone Battleground event was notable for the quality of pitches a well as the caliber and engagement of the attendees. Sam’s keynote closed out a great day. This will be a priority on my September calendar to be sure!
— Chris Hemmeter, Managing Director, Thayer Ventures (Dragon)
 
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The day concluded with a cocktail reception in the warm California sunshine.

Thank you to our Partners and Ambassadors for helping us promote Battleground: The Americas, and especially to Ian Cumming, founder of Travel Massive, for streaming the event from their Facebook page!  (The recorded videos can be viewed there.)

See you in November at The Phocuswright Conference!