The Travel and Meeting Society incubator committee plans to open applications on March 21 for its second cohort of startups, committee founder and co-leader Hansini Sharma told BTN, about one year after the group began its first effort to help new travel companies further their business models and ready them for investment.
The application site for the newest set of startups will close at 11:59 pm on April 10, and the selected companies will be announced in late April or early May. The program is slated to begin May 23, said Sharma, who is also the practice lead for corporate travel at Acquis Consulting Group.
The theme for the second group of startups is “the perfect trip,” with the goal of finding entrepreneurs and people with ideas to improve the business travel experience from the decision to travel to reimbursement, Sharma said.
“Something that is a little different from the first round is that we are trying to shift the focus back to corporate travel,” she added, explaining that applicants do not necessarily have to be dedicated solely to corporate travel, but do need a clear application to the industry. “There is so much opportunity there to shake things up. Corporate travel has gained a lot of efficiency over the years, but there is still a lot of room for progress.”
The TAMS committee is looking for early-stage and “pre-revenue” companies, a different profile than the first cohort, which only had to be in the general travel space. Some already had significant customers or multiple rounds of funding, Sharma said. New applicants, though, should have a formalized business plan focused on a product market fit and a baseline strategy for customer acquisition.
The team also plans more structure to the program and will spread out the series of master classes — one- to two-hour sessions led by experts — throughout the length of the program, instead of clustering them at its end.
“One topic is fundraising,” Sharma said. “We brought someone in who works for a venture advisory firm, and they walked us through all types of funding, how to get there, and what to do with the money once you get there. We had a marketing session and will have another one “Other topics are hiring, storytelling, how to build an effective presentation, and how to market your business plan. The team is building out the curriculum now.”
The first TAMS incubator cohort had six participants, including Troop, which raised $ 8 million in Series A funding last September — although Sharma said they were on their way to raising that before finishing the incubator program — and Certified Africa, which through the TAMS program met with a United Airlines executive and signed a partnership with the carrier. The company puts together packages for travelers looking to book African heritage experiences.
“The TAMS incubator has been instrumental in the growth of Certified Africa,” founder Kristin Tellis Quaye wrote in an email. “We had amazing and dedicated advisors Mark Walton and Nicolas Graf that met with us weekly to help guide our business and connect us professionally.”
For Troop, which had participated in multiple incubation and acceleration programs previously, “the unique value proposition of the TAMS incubator for us was access to industry professionals,” founder and co-CEO Dennis Vilovic wrote in an email. “Especially for a company like ours where none of the founders had any travel industry experience previously, it was extremely valuable. We were able to openly discuss strategic business decisions with industry experts, including buyers, and their feedback helped us to refine our strategy. “
Joining Sharma to head up the second cohort is co-leader Matt Griffin, chief product and information officer at Traxo, and executive advisor Mark Walton, EVP of strategy at Options Travel.