British Airways parent company IAG has grown its travel startup accelerator despite the crisis – Skift

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AGI (International Airlines Group) stepped up its startup mentorship as the pandemic prompted the organization to reinvent its operations and how it could use emerging technologies.

In 2020, the AGI Hangar 51 accelerated 22 startups – its largest cohort since parent company British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling launched its startup mentoring program in late 2016. The program encouraged startups last year to work on concepts such as minimizing the impact of aviation on the environment, by inventing “digital queues” for social distancing and finding more economical ways to manage baggage handling.

Accelerators, which provide start-ups with advice and business introductions, were once focused on shared physical space. A key selling point for entrepreneurs and business executives has been the ability to mingle in multi-month sprints. Founders learned what executives are willing to buy from vendors, while executives met the energy of startup founders and discovered new technological approaches to problems.

Once the pandemic made co-working nearly impossible, a handful of travel startup accelerators and incubators collapsed or took a break. But accelerators that have pursued remote mentoring and workshops, such as IAG’s Hangar 51 and Plug and Play Tech Center Travel-Themed Cohort, say they have seen their programs thrive.

Other accelerators have benefited from a similar positive dynamic. Two of the best-known, Sequoia’s Surge and Y Combinator, have accepted a larger than usual number of startups as mentees over the past year. Some entrepreneurs have become more likely to participate when they haven’t had to be away from their clients or family for months.

“We engaged an Australian startup in our virtualized format that would otherwise have struggled to spend three months in Europe in person,” said Dupsy Abiola, head of global innovation at IAG.

Airboard, the Australian startup, offers a digital queue, and the accelerator has helped them refine their product and learn some of the nuances of flight operations as well as give presentations to executives.

Some IAG employees have become more likely to participate in accelerator activities because the virtual format has reduced barriers to entry.

“We had more employees from across the company who participated in this most recent cohort,” said Abiola. “People from GBS, our global business services unit, IAG’s technical teams and our loyalty programs have joined us, which has rarely happened before. “

The first claim is that accelerators have thrived despite the remote setup.

“What has always set Hangar 51 apart from most business accelerators is that we have been very selective,” said Abiola. “You’re more likely to get into a university like Harvard than our acceleration program, given the competitiveness of the application process. “

Before joining IAG, Abiola ran a startup, Intern Avenue, which helped companies recruit talent. At IAG, she used her experiences as a founder and lawyer to bring mentalities between startups and leaders closer together.

Before calling for nominations, Abiola asks her team to make sure the year’s program is worth it for the leaders and executives of the company. Hangar 51 talks to decision-makers across the company to find out their priorities.

“The goal is to get strong buy-in from important stakeholders who have the budget to push the button and who are genuinely interested in particular issues,” said Abiola. “We only want to invite startups who are working on what is really relevant to IAG. “

The accelerator has made it possible to support a range of projects. In 2020, Hangar 51 worked with startups that included 3D seat map, which allows passengers to view the seat they are about to select when booking online, and Bag ID, a Dutch baggage handling and identification service.

Some alumni of previous accelerator classes received additional funding rounds and signed major commercial contracts, including Sherpa, a business travel startup, and Prospectus, a startup whose services include helping airlines book flexible passengers on empty flights.

Yet sustainability has become an increasingly important concern for AGIs. The only member of the 2020 Hangar 51 cohort to have secured investments from IAG’s multi-million dollar enterprise venture capital fund to date was ZeroAvia. The company, founded in 2017, aims to build a 19-seater aircraft powered by hydrogen-electric.

ZeroAvia became the first star of the last cohort. Since December, the startup has raised approximately $ 64 million in venture capital and grants.

The Hangar 51 team also works as an internal consulting firm that supports IAG brands on specific projects. For example, members of his team helped British Airways update its mobile app at the start of the pandemic to meet the needs of passengers. They also helped the airline kick off a digital process at one of its lounges at London Heathrow called Your Menu. The service leaves passengers order food and drink from an online menu using a QR code, salon staff then deliver orders to customers.

The Hangar 51 team is also working with IAG’s test labs to test new uses of emerging technologies, such as drones.

“Our mission is to demonstrate the art of the possible,” said Abiola.

For more background on the virtualization trend, Skift Pro subscribers can read the Briefing on the future of work.

Photo credit: An airplane in an aircraft hangar. IAG, International Airlines Group, ramped up its startup accelerator in 2020. Hangar 51 accelerated 22 startups – its largest cohort to date. AGI

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