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Welcome to the UK’s first travel tech incubator

June 3, 2014

(Published in TTG – 08.04.14)

 

 

London & Partners is setting up a business ‘incubator’ for the travel industry and is looking for the trade to get involved to help mentor its 35 start-ups. Matthew Parsons reports

 

 

View from Traveltech Lab offices at London&Partners

More than 150 travel, tourism and hospitality start-ups have applied for a home in London & Partners’ riverside HQ, as part of a scheme to help nurture home-grown talent and “find the next Skyscanner or Airbnb”.

However, the publicly funded body can offer places for just 35 start-ups.

The selection task will be a “difficult” one, according to Charles Armstrong, founder of The Trampery, a London-based social enterprise that operates spaces for entrepreneur-ship and is partnering on the scheme.

“We’ve had 150 applications – there’s a fiendishly difficult task ahead of us to try to whittle that down,” he said at the official launch last month in London & Partners’ offices at 2 More London, which sits next to the Mayor of London’s office on the Thames.

On the map

Despite his shortlisting concerns, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the new “Traveltech Lab”, which is being hailed as the UK’s first travel technology incubator scheme.

“This is a truly exciting concept,” Armstrong said. “Travel technology is not talked about very much, and we want to put it on the map.

“We want to establish London as the capital for it. We are transforming the sixth floor of London & Partners’ offices. We’ll be creating a cafe – the engine room – and 35 desk spaces.”

Kit Malthouse, chairman of London & Partners (The Mayor of London’s promotional body) and deputy mayor for business and enterprise, also spoke at the launch event and said the city “needed electronic currency to be as much exchanged as financial currency”.

“Disruptive change is crucial to the success of the city. We used to do a lot with our hands in this city, but at the moment we do a lot with our heads – and we now need to be more efficient.”

The Trampery is calling on the corporate sector to get involved, and help develop the start-ups – the 35 companies are to be announced this summer.

Ben Pickering, operations manager at The Trampery, said: “This is new territory and we would welcome investment.

“We’re looking to set up meetings. The Trampery is a connector, we put people together to create amazing ideas or products. We’ve covered fashion, media and advertising – now it’s travel.”

However, one source told TTG they were concerned the scheme may not be rigorous enough: “Incubators are OK, but you need an accelerator to have impact, driven by senior executives.

“It’s fine to have this comfortable lifestyle, hanging out and drinking coffee. The barriers to entry in travel are low – I could set up a site tomorrow selling travel. But the barriers to survival, say for three years, are high. If I were a Thomas Cook or a Tui, that’s what I’d want to be interested in.”

Traveltech Lab is the latest part of Tech City, an initiative that was launched by prime minister David Cameron and Mayor Boris Johnson in November 2010 to support the growth of the “technology cluster”.

From 2010 to 2013, 340 London-based technology companies attracted investment of £1.47 billion, according to Ascendant Corporate Finance.

Pickering told TTG he had recently seen one start-up receive a six-figure investment in one of its schemes, so the question now is can the travel trade find the same kind of entrepreneurial spirit from within and help discover the next Skyscanner or Airbnb?

Firef.ly hopes to create a buzz

London start-up Firef.ly is the brainchild of Chad Cribbins, and has applied for a place in the incubator. His company has developed an app that is designed to allow travellers to record a wide range of moments of their holidays. Using GPS technology, a Firef.ly “trail” is created, which traces the movements of the user, and “stitches your story together”.

Users are able to print stylish photo albums and other memorabilia, based on the recorded data. The app also permits video and audio recordings. Cribbins told TTG he was hopeful on making it into the 35 companies, and that his technology would be suited to the travel trade as a white-label product.

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