TORONTO—Coming off the heels of HFTP’s inaugural HITEC Toronto, CEO Frank Wolfe has reason to be proud. The conference hosted more than 6,500 industry professionals representing 65 countries, making it one of its highest attended conferences, Wolfe explained. There were also 366 exhibitors displaying 870 booths of hospitality technology.
“In order for the industry to thrive, we need innovation and entrepreneurship. As a nonprofit association, HFTP has a mandate to make the industry better for everyone. We believe that these issues are so important that we even helped start an investment fund, Wayfare VC LLC, which only invests in companies in our verticals. As far as we can tell, this has never been done by any nonprofit in any industry,” said Wolfe. “Our latest projects are in the areas of data privacy, block chain, standards—or lack thereof. HFTP is currently in discussions to start a hospitality accelerator that will be global. If it comes to fruition, it will likely encompass all hospitality areas from sleeping accommodations, private clubs, foodservice, casinos, cruise lines and even transportation.”
In addition, the conference’s E20X Toronto innovation competition for hospitality startups featured 13 companies, an expert panel of judges, and 16 industry mentors who coached the entrepreneurs. HFTP doesn’t support “pay for play” competitions, Wolfe noted. There is a $250 fee so that the startups “have some skin in the game,” but the overall goal is to get innovation out front and center in the industry.
Here, we highlight this year’s winners and deliver Wolfe’s perspectives on what made them stand out:
Stay Wanderful – 2017 Toronto Judges Winner
Product/service: Instantly gratifying rewards that can be used today
Wolfe’s Takeaway: The points earned can be used for Uber, shopping, airlines, hotels, and use is immediate.
Arrivedo – 2017 Toronto People’s Startup Award Winner
Product/service: Attract travelers with unique local recommendations
Wolfe’s Takeaway: Local information is always better than a marketing company, and the model appeals to millennials who have been flocking to Airbnb.
Hyre – 2017 Amsterdam Judges Winner & Peoples Startup Award Winner
Product/service: Online marketplace that helps connect event staff—bartenders, servers, etc.—with event organizers—event venues, caterers, event planners, etc.—without the need of an archaic staffing agency
Wolfe’s Takeaway: The idea that event staff can make more money and event organizers pay less.
Total devotion was a common thread he encountered in interactions with entrepreneurs and their startups. While a strong focus and enthusiasm for the product or service is a good thing, Wolfe noted, it could also pose challenges on the road to making the startup successful.
“In many cases, the startup is like a child to the entrepreneur. Who wants to hear that their child has any flaws whatsoever? My advice to any startup is that there is a trinity—the team creating and maintaining it; the investors who are going to fund and carry it to profitability; and the consumers who are going to buy the finished product,” he said. “Just like a three-legged stool, if they are not in sync and don’t listen to one another, the enterprise will either wobble and not be as effective as it could be, or it will fall over.”
During the E20X Toronto innovation competition, there were opportunities for mentorship in a round robin-style of networking. HFTP typically doesn’t hear of deals made until more time has passed, according to Wolfe, but there were some promising signs that the event was fruitful for mentors and entrepreneurs.
“Many of the companies and the mentors enjoyed the round robin exchanges, mutually learning from each other. One of the mentors, who are all HFTP volunteers, did indicate that they liked one of the companies so much they became a partial owner,” Wolfe said. “My favorite success story and probably my most rewarding is about a young company who, unknown at the time, had sunk everything that they had in to be at HITEC. As first-time participants, they had been rather high maintenance down the stretch. About halfway through the exhibit hall hours of the second day, they wanted to see me. As I approached their booth, they saw me coming and came down the aisle to meet me, gave me a big hug and thanked HFTP for helping their company so much. After all the excitement, they explained that they had just signed up their first major company with more than 250 hotels. It was a great day for all of us.”