In June 2015, Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP), debuted its Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) innovation pitch competition for hospitality technology startups at HITEC – the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference.
NB This is a viewpoint by Jessica Blankenship, public relations manager for HFTP.
E20X allows ambitious unfunded entrepreneurs to present their business to HITEC attendees as well as a panel of expert judges comprising hospitality CIOs, angel investors, serial entrepreneurs and industry insiders.
The selected startups then compete for two awards: the E20X Judges Award and the E20X People’s Startup Award.
The E20X Judges Award, or grand prize, is determined immediately following the competition by the judge’s panel; the startup deemed “most innovative” takes home a trophy and $5,000.
The E20X People’s Startup Award, or crowd favorite, is selected by conference attendees via the HITEC 2017 app.
At the Amsterdam event, Canada-based event staffing startup Hyre won both awards. Its CEO Eropa Stein, said: “It was such an honor to win both awards. The E20X Judge’s Award, in a way, validated our business model while The People’s Startup Award proved customers wanted our solution and accepted our product. We are very much looking forward to HITEC Toronto – our home base.”
Hyre will be joined in Toronto by an impressive roster of startups, highlighting tech-based innovations for guestrooms bookings, meetings, mobile, security and much more.
Stein and other previous E20X award winners – 2016 E20X People’s Startup Award winner Alex Cammarano, CEO and co-founder at Daylighted, and 2016 E20X Judge’s Award winner David Temple, CEO and co-founder at Hello Scout – reflected on their E20X experience, as well as shared thoughts and advice on the overall event in an interview with HFTP.
What was the inspiration behind your startup?
We decided to work with galleries to bring the art experience to where people go, allowing anyone to be immersed in the creativity of the local scene without changing their habits….[Daylighted] helps the artistic community, the hotel experience, and the general public. Hotels get to showcase beautiful art at no cost, artists get free exposure, and people can discover local artists when they travel.
I observed the daily inefficiencies of the event staffing industry caused by obsolete practices….Hence, the development of a novel business concept – one that would assist in connecting event staff with event organizers without a staffing agency, and ameliorate many of the inefficiencies within the industry – was required. My solution was that of an online platform which would address this gap in the market…[and] revolutionize the event staffing industry.
My co-founder 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 traveler’s text with local experts. In time, we found that hotels wanted to offer the service to their guests as well.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in the time between concept and E20X?
First clients are always tricky to onboard….[but] onboarding a very well-known client [is] a bit trickier. We had to have a positive reputation before any big fish took us seriously.
To many hotels, getting approval and launching a new product in one to two months feels very fast. But as a startup with limited cash in the bank, it can feel like an eternity.
What was the overall experience like for you and your company?
Very positive. We met with major players in the industry and with potential advisors, partners, and last but not least, new customers. ….The quality of that show, and our exposure from the E20X competition made it our most successful show so far.
It is rare to get the attention of so many industry professionals and decision makers at once. Personally, [E20X] helped establish myself as an expert in hospitality staffing. For Hyre, HITEC helped us expand our professional network, and create long lasting relationships.
What advice would you give to someone participating in future E20X competitions?
Take advantage of all the resources you have before the show. Most of your meetings must be arranged weeks before the show, and people need to know your product before they will meet with you at your booth.
You cannot show every feature in a [four] minute pitch. Choose the most important value prop and make sure everybody understands it.
What tips would you give other hospitality startups?
Do not build anything unless your customer is willing to pay for it. Talk to your customers first, listen and understand what they need, then build your product only when you have solid proof that they will pay for it.
Make sure your business technology is really solving a pain point for hoteliers, and is not just nice to have.
Find a few early customers who believe in what you are doing, and keep working on adding value for them. If you can help them save money or time, chances are others will want it too.
This year’s larger North American event, HITEC Toronto, will take place from June 26-29 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada.
E20X Toronto will take place on Monday, June 26 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm at HITEC Toronto.