“There's an ecosystem in Ireland where people understand what these startups are going through in particular,” said Propeller Co-Pilot Brian Marrinan. “That has been a major benefit to build startups we're bringing from abroad to this ecosystem, as well as the locally based ones.”
The city of Shannon, located in the Mid-West region of Ireland, prides itself on its trailblazing tradition in supporting international travel. So it’s fitting that Propeller Shannon, an accelerator program for startups focused on travel tech and aerospace, supports new businesses far from its home base.
Known as the birthplace where free trade zones and the idea of “duty free” shopping at airports began, as well as the site of the first global aircraft leasing companies, Shannon’s commitment to spreading arms around global travel has a foundation in the International Aviation Services Centre (IASC), which seeks to attract and develop global business serving airlines within the city, aviation and travel innovation experts Journey Partners, and DCU Ryan Academy, which supports early stage companies in Ireland through a partnership between Dublin City University – Ireland’s University of Transformation and Enterprise – and the family of Dr. Tony Ryan, who co-founded low-cost carrier Ryanair.
But instead of looking to pull entrepreneurs into Shannon, Propeller’s interests in aviation and tech are largely oriented outside of Ireland.
Establishing A Global Aviation Tech Community
As Brian Marrinan, Co-Pilot for Propeller, explained it, there are a variety of ways of expanding Ireland’s influence across the field of aviation, tech, and entrepreneurialism.
“Propeller came about in 2017, when we noticed that the grassroots of a digital ecosystem was happening here in terms of the aviation and travel space, but it hadn't fully been recognized,” said Marrinan, who had previously spent his career focused on fintech and investment banking. “Ireland has this important history, especially Shannon, when it comes to the business of travel. It's the place where Duty Free was invented, and that's obviously now gone all around the world. It is the place where the first aviation leasing company was properly created, and now Ireland leases 50 percent of the world's leased aircraft. That's from the heritage of that one company, Ryanair, which was founded by Declan and Tony Ryan.”
For the most part, Propeller’s goal is to establish a “global community” devoted to changing the old practices associated with the business of air travel generally. In addition to its starting backers Journey Partners, IASC and DCU Ryan Academy, Propeller has since brought partners such as Boeing’s venture arm HorizonX, travel e-commerce company, Datalex, IAA, Ireland’s aviation regulator, and the Irish government through Enterprise Ireland.
“There's an ecosystem in Ireland where people understand what these startups are going through in particular,” Marrinan said. “That has been a major benefit to build startups we're bringing from abroad to this ecosystem, as well as the locally based ones.”
Propeller has completed two groups of fundings, or “cohorts,” and is planning its third.
“We're constantly developing our thinking on what fits into our cohorts,” Marrinan said “We're traveling globally constantly, just looking for new ideas, seeing where the trends are. Sometimes avoiding those trends like the plague.”
In particular, Propeller is acutely interested companies advancing the use of data. For example, its partner IAA, wants to see companies capable of using data to help it reduce regulation.
Another hot area for Propeller are startups with a promise to improve sustainability whether it’s more efficient use of bio-fuels for airlines or making airports more eco-friendly.
“There's lots happening in solving the issues around ancillaries and revenue management, but we probably think it's a space that there's still a bit of road to go on, ” Marrinan added. “One of the areas that potentially we have decided not to go into, is the whole, VR/AR space: the ability to see where your seat is, is maybe important to a few small customers in first and business class, for the vast majority of travelers, it is not important at all. Those kinds of elements, we tend to stay away from. At our core, we are looking for problem solvers. If we don't see that there's a distinct problem there that the company is solving, then we tend to walk away.”
Marrinan offered Kambr Media a closer look at some of the 20 “problem solvers” that were funded in the two past cohorts the company has done in the last two years, with an eye toward issues affecting airlines. Here are his descriptions:
Countalytics is a company founded by David Hailey and Rob McFadden out of Atlanta. They developed an interesting piece of technology that allows the cabin crew to take a photo of the drinks trolley and from there, use image recognition to do immediate counting of what is on board, in terms of their stock.
David is an ex-auditor for Delta. They estimated the airlines lose up to 25 percent of their stock every year. What Countalytics does represents a big opportunity for airlines to see where that shrinkage might be happening, and put in controls around those inefficiencies. They can also see if that technology can be applied to basically anything that needs counting.
The idea is “if you can see it, it can count it.” It's a simple photograph on someone's phone. It's run through their machine learning platform, which they have partnered with IBM Watson on. It’s a practical example of how innovation can make immediate impact. And Countalytics has been around just 18 months.
Frequency: We are going from a place where very few airplanes had wifi a couple of years ago to a point where it's estimated that three-quarters of the fleet will have connected access within a couple of years. That opens up whole new possibilities in terms of communication.
The three founders are Frequency are pilots. They would say that over the course of a pilot's journey, you could use up to eight different communication technologies, from their own mobile phones through to radios in the cockpit to ACARS.
The issue with that is, firstly, weight on the plane. Each of those is costing fuel every time it flies. There's expense. ACARS charges per letter that you send. Which seems very old fashioned considering the way we’re all sending texts now. The possibilities are definitely opening up there for a new communication technology to come through.
Frequency have just finished up a trial with Aer Lingus, which has gone very positively. They're in talks with them around putting it in more permanently. They are starting with ground works. Obviously, this is a highly regulated space, so it's going to take time before it actually takes over in the cockpit for all of comms.
Blockaviation is working on issues related to leasing and data. So Block is a fascinating company. It's built on blockchain. The name kind of gives that away.
They had originally considered being the data repository for the airline industry. They realized that was a pretty significant goal. However, they have spotted a gap in the tools many legacy airlines and aviation leasing companies are using that aren't talking to each other.
They've recognized the challenge and are now putting in a layer above those existing data providers which will actually allow much better functionality for all those organizations using blockchain.
In essence, they’re creating the world’s first universal registry for aircraft records. The legacy data providers are quite happy because it keeps them more relevant. And the end user is happier because they're getting much higher quality of information coming off the back of that. Blockaviation are just about to hit the market.
Inflightflix is providing content to the airlines that promote destinations and attractions on the ground. The content for the airlines to use in flight, but also on their online channels. They then share the advertising revenues with the airlines, from those activities.
The destinations in Inflightflix’s video guides pay them for the creation of that content, but also to be on particular routes. When that content then is shown online, the airline get a cut of revenue.
Martin O'Regan, one of the founders, has been in the hospitality space for a while, and also has a video content background. That's probably one which doesn't even need investment. It's going to be one that flies, just because it's a no-brainer for the airlines.
TrustaBit a Los Angeles-based flight disruption management solution that helps airlines harness the power of blockchain and smart contracts to improve the passenger experience.
Saritta Hines, the founder, is fantastic. She’s come up with quite an interesting model. What we loved about Saritta was, she had taken what could be quite a negative experience for airlines, and turned it into a positive.
In Europe, we have the EU 261, which requires that a passenger be compensated for a delayed flight lasting more than three hours. There are other regulations elsewhere in the world. That whole process needs to be automated, and she has done that.
What is different about TrustaBit is that it lets the passenger choose how you want to be compensated. Is it cash? Is it vouchers that you can use in the airport? Is it miles, which we know cost pennies on the dollar for airlines?
Giving the customer that flexibility will certainly, I feel, alleviate the frustration of an event like a delay, and perhaps even tie the customer more into the airline because of that level of service that they're getting. That’s the definition of turning a negative experience into a positive one.
Flightbuddy has developed the technology tying the EU261 notifications and integrated it into the airline systems at a deeper level than any other company. They're actually doing that for Ryanair at the moment.
They've also expanded to VivaAerobús in Mexico, and a couple of other airlines. So they're expanding quite rapidly and are probably quite complementary to what Saritta’s doing with TrustaBit.
OneAire is looking more at a maintenance side. While there are lots of organizations looking at predictive maintenance at the moment, OneAire has taken a slightly different approach.
Rajiv Tayal, the founder, has been both an engineer, an aircraft engineer, and a pilot in his previous life. So he understands this whole space in depth.
He's doing is providing a service that is focused on the engineer on the ground. The company’s software quickly runs through all the manuals for the engineer and it pulls up the relevant information that they need to see to make a quick decision on that point.
That means an engineer is not sitting there with these enormous manuals trying to figure out what that green or red light means, or whether a particular switch needs to be turned on or off. It will save significant time in terms of engineer turnaround time, and hopefully increase the levels of safety that we're seeing also from that maintenance place.
Wanda was founded by an American lady named Navit Reid who lives in Poland, and she has a Polish co-founder. Two women founders. Navit and her colleague have developed an interesting idea around mapping.
Currently most of us would use Google Maps or Apple Maps when we're traveling. And that's convenient to just see what's around you. But it’s not necessarily good when it comes to seeing what you should be experiencing in a place. Wanda – the name refers to “wandering”—is developing the first maps that will allow you to track market stalls that you wanted to go see in the souk in Marrakech? Or, it can show you the different stops you made on your road trip as well as suggest what restaurants in a given city might you like.
Users can save those place-based details, add photos, and comments. What is particularly interesting around that for airlines, is the data that they're going to be gathering is going to fill a huge gap in the airline's data.
Airlines do a lot of work on persona building – seeing why they think people are traveling to different destinations. For the first time, Wanda will actually tell airlines that answer. It’s great for airlines, but also for destination marketing organizations, they'll be able to create really tailored advertising campaigns for each destination they fly to.