In an earlier column this year, I wrote about HFTP’s new technology start-up pitch competition: Entrepreneur 20X. With a June 2015 debut, the event, held in conjunction with the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference, gathered innovative start-ups to pitch cutting-edge, transformative hospitality technology to an expert panel of judges with backgrounds in hospitality, technology and entrepreneurship. E20X was held once again this past June in New Orleans with even more start-up participants, bringing the tally to 17 competitors presenting in front of 11 judges.
What I find so important about this event is that it gives insight to the type of innovation being done for our industry. Taking a look at the technology presented, we can see where development is heading. To give you an idea, the technologies pitched this year included: an app for day space reservations, a few virtual concierge apps, social networking for guests, a cleaning robot, inventory tracker and a real-time inventory-management system.
For 2016, two prizes were awarded. At the end of the pitch competition, a Judge’s Choice Award was given to Hello Scout. The technology is a digital concierge that allows guests to connect with local experts using a text message format. In addition, there was a People’s Start-up Award Winner, which was chosen by HITEC 2016 attendees. This honor was awarded to Daylighted, which offers a digital art gallery that showcases artists and allows hoteliers and restaurateurs to have a constant flow of fresh art.
To understand a little bit about the innovation process, we chatted with representatives from the two winning companies: David Temple of Hello Scout and Alex Cammarano of Daylighted, who discussed the inspiration behind their technologies. Temple explained, “My cofounder and I published a newsletter about traveling off-the-beaten path in San Francisco. As we expanded, people would ask if they could just text with us instead. So we started a service to let travelers text with local experts. In time, we found that hotels wanted to offer the service to their guests, as well.”
For Daylighted, Cammarano said, “The inspiration came out of a need. I come from a small town where there are not many art galleries and as a result, I did not have any opportunity to discover visual arts or meet with artists for most of my life. Even though it is now so easy to discover good music, books and movies, visual art largely remains unseen and somewhat elitist hidden behind gallery walls. So we decided to work with galleries to bring the art experience to where people go.
“We started by talking with the general managers of a few hotels in San Francisco, including James Lim from Joie de Vivre, and with him, we understood how to align our vision with the hotels' needs. From there, things moved rapidly and now we are confident that we have a win-win-win model that helps the artistic community, the hotel experience, and most importantly, the general public. Hotels get to showcase beautiful curated art at no cost, artists get free exposure, and people can finally discover local artists when they travel.”
Stay tuned for the next round of tech innovation from start-ups at the future E20X competitions at HITEC Amsterdam in March 2017 and HITEC Toronto in June 2017. Starting in 2017, participants will be eligible to be introduced to a new hospitality founded investment fund specifically for hospitality.