This is only the second time the hotel giant has run its startup accelerator programme after it’s initial programme last year.
Tnooz had the opportunity to sit in on a morning of pitches to experience the startups personally, see what Marriott has learned from last year’s TestBED as well as gain a little insight on how the company is embracing innovation.
While 2016’s programme was broader in terms of businesses transforming the guest experience inside and out of the hotels, this year Marriott decided to focus in on a number of additional areas:
- The in-room experience
- Helping guests find headspace to flourish and stay inspired
According to Guy Kedar, lead judge and head of innovation at MEC, one of the changes since last year’s TestBED is in how startups are scored.
The team realised how much insight could be gained from the question and answer session at the end of each presentation.
For example, during the Q&A judges from Marriott as well as the startup world, were able to quiz the companies on the real difference participating in the accelerator would make to their businesses.
Another question was how the startups envisaged working with the individual hotels to make the nine-week pilot phase a success.
Marriott also got the startups to London a day early this year to give them some speech coaching which helped both presenters and judges
“Last year was the first time and we did not realise the appetite from startups to work with hotels and Marriott. This time we’re focused on the team. If you’re going to work together for 10 weeks, there’s great importance of liking who you’re working with.”
A further change has been in lengthening the “bootcamp” by a few days. This enables time to plan the pilot and how the following nine weeks will play out.
“Their talent lies in the technology and they don’t always know how to test it (in a live environment).”
Marriott itself has learned a great deal from having an accelerator in terms of opening the organisation’s eyes to innovation.
“It’s one of the most innovative organisations out there but we can only do so much by doing closed innovation. Consumers are finding things and doing things we can’t even think of.”
Fellow judge Chi Nguyen, director, premium brands Europe, Marriott International, adds that the ability to react and address problems quickly has also been a learning in terms of the “test, learn and pilot” process that startups employ.
The accelerator has also been beneficial from a business point of view in terms of guest feedback and generating enthusiasm from the hotels and employees. Nguyen says:
“In piloting cutting edge technology, guests were saying how much they liked it and how excited they were.”
Guests were also interested to learn how one of last year’s winners, Dazzle – a voice-activated application using Amazon Echo to deliver hotel and local information to guests – would be rolled out.
Marriott says discussions are ongoing with Dazzle to explore different ways to work with the startup.
And, so to this year’s winners:
HiJiffy – a Portugal based startup with an AI powered Chatbot designed for the hospitality sector. Chatbots are being widely adopted in the hospitality industry to improve guest communication, engagement and customer service.
HiJiffy was also a participant in last year’s TestBED and Marriott had kept in touch with the startup as it developed in the past year.
The company, which will now run a pilot at the London Marriott Regents Park, uses Facebook Messenger to enable the hotel to interact with guests on a real-time basis.
The chatbot also enables the hotel to hold a conversation with the guest from before they arrive, throughout the stay and post stay.
MyManu – a UK-based startup that has developed wireless earbuds offering live voice translation services. The ‘Click’ earbuds enable guests to talk in their native language, which is automatically translated to the member of staff’s language and vice versa.
The service, which can also be used for meetings and events, is now being piloted at Madrid Marriott Auditorium.
Optishower – a Portugal-based startup that has developed smart meters to measure water and electricity consumption to provide associates and guests with analysis of usage.
Marriott Hotels might offer its guests the ability to track consumption and reward them for sustainable energy use during a stay.
These three startups will now follow a ten-week programme to pilot their product or service in a live hotel environment. They will also receive tailored mentoring and training from industry leaders.
The other startups:
My Brain Technologies – a French startup that has created ‘Melomind’ – a brain training headset that uses neuroscience to combat stress and anxiety to help individuals relax.
New’ee – a French startup that has developed a device that wirelessly turns furniture into speakers, allowing guests to broadcast music without the need for speakers.
Phaceology – a US startup that has developed a platform enabling analysis of emotional responses in real time, to improve employee performance and customer experience. It offers the ability to track and improve communication performance of employees, such as front-desk staff.
Reward Technology – a UK startup that has developed a digital engagement platform using smart card detection. It offers guests personalised communication and services based on the detection of their loyalty and/or room key card.
Umbo – a US startup that has developed a device that turns surfaces into interactive interfaces by projecting information and using gesture recognition to navigate.
Marriott has also now launched its search for Middle East & Africa-based startups to participate in a TestBED programme.
One surprising outcome of the first accelerator according to Kedar was the huge interest it created in terms of people wanting to collaborate with Marriott:
“It increases our profile.”