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TAMS to Launch Startup Incubator Program

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The Travel and Meetings Society is preparing to launch a free global incubator program for early- to mid-stage travel startups to help entrepreneurs further their business models and ready them for investments, leaders of the organization’s incubator team told BTN.

TAMS plans to open applications in May for the program’s inaugural six-month cycle, “so we can kick off in July and complete a full cycle in 2021,” said program co-founder and co-leader Hansini Sharma, corporate travel practice lead at Acquis Consulting Group. “We’re looking to accept five or six companies [for the first round]. We want to keep it small and then scale up over time. We want to make sure companies are getting the attention they need and valuable use of time.”

The selected participants will be paired up with subject matter experts—TAMS currently has about 2,700 volunteers, but non-members are welcome, too—who will serve as mentors. “The idea is that mentors will be available to the selected companies as often as needed,” said the program’s other co-founder and co-leader, Suzanne Boyan, meetings and travel manager at ZS Associates and BTN’s 2019 Travel Manager of the Year. Boyan added that the access would likely be limited to the six-month duration of the program. “But we hope to get enough mentors so it won’t be a big burden on any one person’s time.”

Though TAMS has positioned the incubator program for travel-related companies, Boyan was hesitant to limit it to that designation. “Certainly, the expertise [the TAMS] group has is travel, specifically corporate travel and meetings, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be interested in something that might be able to bridge a gap that exists currently in the corporate travel and meetings ecosystem,” she said.

Sharma agreed, adding that TAMS is looking for travel industry and travel-adjacent companies. 

“Some of the more successful companies in the last five to 10 years—a ride-sharing company, one of the largest online [travel management companies] to ever exist—were started by non-travel professionals,” she said. “They were business consultants or finance professionals that had an idea and surrounded themselves with smart travel professionals to create some of the largest and most successful companies in our time. Our hope is that by leveraging our expertise as travel professionals, we might be able to help identify some of these ideas that aren’t organically travel from the get-go, and that will allow us to pull them into the industry and give them the expertise that they may need by leveraging the network of subject-matter experts we have at our fingertips.”

The end goal for the effort is to position program participants to be able to raise money, whether through a friends-and-family round or a Series A round, Sharma said. “It’s to position them to have the right documents in place, the messaging and the confidence in their idea to pitch and go forward with their business plan.”

In tandem with the incubator program, TAMS is preparing to launch a new advisory fellows program that aims to help aspiring investors learn basic investment strategies, and each six-month incubator cycle will culminate in an investor showcase event. The fellows program will be designed for aspiring board members and those interested in getting more involved in the advisory and investment side of startups. 

“There’s a separate application,” Sharma said, adding that the interaction between the incubator participants and the advisory fellows could be mutually beneficial.

Sharma, Boyan and the other members of the incubator team will review each application for inclusion in the program. Team members include Lumo CEO and co-founder Bala Chandran, Traxo chief product officer Matt Griffin, associate dean of New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality Nicolas Graf, DigiTravel Consulting SVP of consulting Greeley Koch and Options Travel EVP Mark Walton.

Boyan credited Sharma with coming up with the incubator idea. “I felt there was a gap in the industry, that there wasn’t a safe place for people to go and take their ideas and learn and grow from people more experienced than them,” Sharma said. “Our hope is that people will feel free to come to us with ideas and thoughts and business plans to be challenged and pushed to create a better product and leverage resources around us.”

“The more innovation in our space, the stronger and better our industry is going to be,” Boyan added. “Competition is a good thing—anything that disrupts the industry and pushes the industry forward to be better. The only people who get grouchy about innovation are those unwilling to change.”

Interested applicants can find more information at www.tamsincubator.com

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