Using a combination of digital and physical spaces, New
York-based Voyager HQ is providing startups, corporations and investors a place
to connect and foster innovation in the travel industry, a hub serving a sector
in which technological advances historically have been underfunded and
Managing director John Matson calls it a "startup club.
... kind of an incubator, without a timeline. What we are building toward is an
open network and marketplace of sorts where larger corporate players can be sitting
right next to the smaller players, these new startup founders, in multiple
stages. And the same thing for the investors on that same level. We consider
ourselves the hub for that environment."
Michael Coletta, manager of research and innovation at Phocuswright,
said Voyager HQ is part of a larger trend of organizations fostering innovation
in the industry. He attributed that trend to the success of startups like
Airbnb and investors taking notice of major acquisitions like Expedia's
New technology, such as artificial intelligence, is also "fertile
ground" for startups.
"I think Voyager's in a great spot, given that New York
is a hotbed for startups, Coletta said. "And certainly there's a lot in
travel going on here. They're just doing a nice job of giving startups
discounted space to work and to meet each other ... connecting them with each
other, with the wider ecosystem," such as potential investors and
partners. "And it's needed because it's a very difficult industry to break
Voyager HQ launched almost a year ago. Its partners include
CheapOair (CEO Sam Jain is also heavily involved and helped launch Voyager HQ),
Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company), Amadeus for Startups, the Aruba
Technology Conference, Telluride Venture Accelerator and JetBlue Technology
Today, Voyager HQ has more than 500 members representing
about 300 startups.
Potential members apply to Voyager HQ through an online
application process, and current members represent startups in all stages.
There is no time limit on how long they remain members, Matson said, "as
long as they're working on a project that is entrenched in the future of travel
or they have some knowledge set that they want to provide to that community."
Digital membership is free. It enables startups to connect
with corporate partners and investors and includes invitations to industry
events, a newsletter, access to postings on the Voyager Job Board and space in
Voyager HQ's Clubhouse co-working space (three days every three months),
located in Manhattan's Flatiron district.
Paid memberships that include additional space at the
Clubhouse and other amenities, such as private meetings space, are also
Matson said the Clubhouse enables digital members to have a
physical space to work out of when necessary. Members who want a more permanent
space can pay $225 per month for a desk.
"We wanted to make sure that it was a price point that
made sense to entrepreneurs," Matson said, noting that the rental price is
less than half the market rate.
Voyager HQ makes connections between its members,
corporations and investors in a variety of ways. First, Matson said, are
introductions via roundtables, Voyager HQ's signature events. Once startup
members have been accepted to Voyager HQ, they fill out a profile describing
what they do and their business model.
Then, when corporate partners approach Voyager HQ with an
objective they are hoping to meet, it narrows its members based on areas of
expertise and capabilities, then puts forth the members it believes can best
help the partner corporation realize its goals.
The corporate partner will then meet with the five startup
founders, have a "mini-pitch session" followed by a candid
conversation, Matson said.
"It's a great business development opportunity for the
startup founders, and it's kind of like a filtering function for vendors and
partners for the larger entity," Matson said. "And it really gives
them kind of a technical advantage when they have these nimble teams working on
products outside of their larger-scale core competencies."
Matson said investors are connecting with startups mostly
through one-on-one meetings at this point as well as through Voyager HQ's
newsletter. The newsletter includes "startup seeking" and "investors
seeking" sections, and it has grown in popularity.
Matson admitted that travel innovation has historically not
been well-funded, but he said there has been increased interest in the space in
the past three or so years.
"Our pipeline with investors is still very in motion,"
Matson said, but corporations have been working with Voyager HQ for some time.
Amadeus, for example, has participated in roundtables that have connected it
with startups like Bus Bot, a company that uses artificial intelligence to
improve operations of transportation companies.
Voyager HQ's relationship with Fareportal has also been
strong, connecting the company with startup founders to "create an
ecosystem of innovation there," Matson said.
"Our members are voyagers, and wherever they are, we want
to be able to provide them with resources, [whether] that's useful business
development contacts of if that's fundraising elsewhere ... or if it's even
just [providing services] like discounted rates or things like that," he
said. "That's a lot of the stuff we're working toward. So we're the
headquarters for them in that way."