Travel Tech Con 2018: Judging startup ideas, witnessing unbounded passion

29 June 2018
view from top of a bridge

Earlier this month, I was delighted to attend the third annual Travel Tech Con (TTC). TTC is the only independent conference for tech startups, designed to help them become successful in one of the most sought-after startup targets—travel!  TTC has evolved into a key support system for those who believe they have the next amazing idea for improving the travel experience.  

Marina Janeiko, the event’s director, shared that despite offers for corporate sponsorship, there is no pay-to-play requirement. This purity of purpose and dedication to serving the community are what make TTC so special. The event has a scrappy charm, and some of the concepts are crazy, but I was blown away by the authenticity and reach of TTC and the quality and passion of all the participants and attendees.

The 20 judges, selected because of their reputation, capability, and association with the community, included Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group, Norm Rose of Travel Tech Consulting, Ajay Sharma of JetBlue Tech Ventures, and Amir Amidi of Plug and Play, to name just a few—oh, and me. We whittled down the impressive 59 candidates to just the top 15 finalists to enter the day-long TTC Pitch Competition before judges, media, and hundreds of attendees.

Day 1 @ The Lab
Each of the 15 finalists pitched their idea, was systematically grilled, and either stood their ground or were hoisted by their own petards. At the end of the day, these were my top contenders:

  • SkyHi – A $200/month subscription for last minute seats on distressed inventory flights
  • Boni Loud Steps USA – An audio-based indoor navigation for the visually impaired
  • Vacation Fund – A company perk that enables employers to contribute to employee leisure travel
  • TrustaBit – Blockchain tech with smart contracts to automatically issue vouchers for delayed flights
  • Unboundly – A new flight routing and travel discovery engine for infinite flexibility and affordability

During the break, judges had the opportunity to reverse pitch, presenting founders with problems we’d like solved and the gaps and opportunities we saw in the market. I pitched an NDC Challenge: Find a way to leverage the airlines’ reduced cost in direct sales channels and drive upsell from the cheapest fare to the best value fare. Because indirect channels mean airlines carry up to twice the cost and get a third less yield, a cost-effective solution could open the door to commission on air.

Day 2 @ The Vault
We shook off our judges’ mantles and opened the tables for workshops. At any given moment, there were as many as five workshops underway, covering topics from customer acquisition to UX and CX design to blockchain and smart contract definition. That is the real value of TTC: industry leaders and founders openly helping each other. For instance, Voyager HQ’s John Matson ran a mentoring session for 30+ startups—how brave! I had the opportunity to engage attendees in a discussion on the value equation of airfare distribution and how ATPCO’s investment in Routehappy would further drive that value.

Day 3 @ Folsom Street Foundry
Now the fun started at a cool facility in the SoMa district of California. We enjoyed speaker presentations and panelist discussions on everything from anarchist principles around value creation for founders to the advent of flying cars. Xavier Lagardere, Head of Distribution for Lufthansa, announced their open API program, which is a fantastic asset to this community, and was rewarded by being placed on a panel discussing the flying cars and other alternatives to regional air travel.  It was good to see Xavier’s reaction to potential disruption to a segment of Lufthansa’s business.

Following a spirited event sponsored by Glenlivet, each judge awarded a prize to their favorite finalist. I cast my vote for Unboundly, who developed a graph database (graphDB) to drive a new form of pricing engine. ATPCO has long held the belief that a graphDB would provide the scale and capability to support an industry-wide engine for every filed price point in market, not just the cheapest. As the prize, ATPCO awarded Unboundly a speaking slot at Elevate 2018 during the Innovation Showcase Forum and a one-hour mentoring session with an industry incubation team at Bridge Labs.

As the sun set on the event and the TTC community took on the clubs and bars of SoMa, it was great to socialize with such a fascinating and passionate crew. Many thanks to the TTC team. I hope to see you again at TTC 2019!

Connect with Bridge Labs
You’ve got an awesome idea. ATPCO’s Bridge Labs has the expertise, tech, data, connections, reach, and resources to get it off the ground. Discover data your way with our open systems. Access real pricing from 430+ airlines, explore calculations, search across 331 days, and more.

Check us out at Elevate 2018
Register for ATPCO’s annual global conference in Washington, DC, on 9-11 October and attend our Innovation Forum to see Unboundly’s winning pitch, along with other inventive solutions that industry innovators will be showcasing using Bridge Labs data in the marketplace.


By Gianni Cataldo

With over twenty years of leadership experience in global travel technology companies, Gianni is an innovative technology leader with extensive experience in curating and launching travel product solutions. Most recently, Gianni established an innovation labs strategy at ATPCO, partnering with early-stage startups and global airline brands to identify and leverage disruptive technologies, to drive new revenue streams.