Honoring the high-flyers

Honoring the high-flyers

Eleven trailblazing entrepreneurs were selected as finalists at the Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) Startup Den 2023

Eleven trailblazing entrepreneurs were selected as finalists at the Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) Startup Den 2023 recently, after edging the competition and impressing an esteemed judging panel with their forward-thinking, innovative business concepts. In a series of exclusive interviews compiled by HN and conducted by FHS, each finalist takes us on their start-up journey, from idea to implementation, and hurdles to highpoints.

Smart green solutions

The food industry contributes significantly to global carbon emissions, necessitating a shift in dietary habits and improved agricultural practices. Food-service providers face the challenge
of integrating sustainability into their operations, attracting eco-conscious consumers and enhancing their brand, while still boosting profitability. Klimato addresses this by allowing providers to calculate food environmental impact, add menu labels and access regular climate reports from sales and procurement data.

Robust dataset

What sets us apart is our extensive global reach, with a comprehensive database spanning over 40 countries. This robust dataset empowers us to provide precise, tailor-made sustainability solutions. Additionally, our methodology is certified by the prestigious World Resource Institute, enhancing our credibility. Klimato also excels in scalability, making our solution ideal for international groups pursuing sustainability. We smoothly integrate with other platforms through application programming interface (API) connections.

From supplementary to essential

Our main challenges revolved around the resistance we encountered among our clients to change and the adoption of new innovations. We recognized that chefs and catering managers were somewhat hesitant about using innovative tools. However, as they came to understand the benefits of Klimato, they embraced the tool and evolved into enthusiastic advocates of our platform. To date, we have achieved remarkable growth, doubling our monthly recurring revenue on the previous year. Today, we collaborate with a number of prestigious global organizations. Our most significant milestone lies in our transformation from being perceived as a supplementary tool to an indispensable one, enabling our clients worldwide to not only adhere to new regulations but also to advance their environmental, social and governance initiatives.

Global reach

We intend to broaden our operations by establishing a presence in both the US and the UAE. By strategically locating offices in London, Paris, Stockholm and Oslo, we aim to cover key markets and serve a global clientele.

Bookings breakthrough

Neumo was inspired by a personal need. Until recently, I didn’t possess a credit card, which made it tough to book hotels directly online or access favorable rates on travel websites. Instead, I had to resort to booking through local agents or use the ‘book without credit card’ option on online travel agencies (OTAs), both limited in choices and often more expensive. Additionally, hotels required a cash deposit during check-in, in lieu of security hold on credit card, limiting my local spending budget.
Neumo was born from this experience, aiming to provide a modern solution for those without credit cards.

One-stop solution

Our product’s core strength is enabling hotels to effortlessly accept bookings and payments from around 100 real-time payment wallets globally. Handling integration, deployment and settlement with numerous payment wallets can be overwhelming for hotels. Neumo simplifies this process, serving as a one-stop solution. Our service also offers versatility in how it can be accessed. The simplest method involves sharing a booking confirmation link directly with customers via email or messaging tools. In addition, we provide a third-party service, that integrates the ‘Book/Pay with Neumo’ option in the existing checkout page or hotel apps.

Highlighting innovations

The main challenge we faced was integrating local payment wallets. While some payment companies provided comprehensive documentation, some were leaving us in the dark, making product development challenging. The next challenge was onboarding pilot customers who weren’t always aware of the innovations in payment solutions in our target markets. However, we’ve made significant progress in both product development and customer adoption, serving over 12,000 bookings across 25 hotels during our beta mode in the last four months.

GCC focus

Our expansion plans begin with a focus on hotels in the GCC region, which attract a significant number of travelers from emerging markets in Asia and Africa. Gradually, we’ll expand into Asia-Pacific and European markets.

Bridging skills gaps

We are an ed-tech start-up with a mission to assist hospitality businesses to boost their profitability by providing a time- and cost-effective training program to bridge the skills gap. At Xenios Academy, we utilize cognitive neuroscience principles to enhance the learning process, gamification techniques to motivate and engage learners, and AI technology to personalize the pace of learning. Our innovative approach results in an enjoyable learning experience that simplifies training and ultimately increases the organization’s net profit.

Making it fun

Our start-up challenges the notion that adult learning has to be dry and serious. We’ve created a fun and engaging learning environment that empowers employees to excel. Our application teaches employees how to save costs and boost revenue, but does so by emphasizing essential soft skills, like effective communication and understanding consumer psychology. Our ultimate goal is to reignite employees’ passion for learning and self-improvement, while continuously driving significant profit increases for clients.

Early accolades

Our official launch was on November 1st. We are currently in promising talks with a ministry of tourism for a major tourist project and have also received significant interest from over 30 hotels and restaurants who are keen to join our platform. In addition, we’ve been named the Official Winner of the 2023 Entrepreneur20X competition at The Hotel Show in Dubai.

Forging alliances

Our current focus is on the MENA region, with its significant investments in hospitality and tourism. The Middle East offers a competitive hospitality industry, but also a thriving tourism sector that ensures a constant flow of new developments. By forging strong alliances and providing maximum value to our clients, we aim to leverage the region’s landscape to solidify our position in the industry. Our long-term plan is to then expand into untapped regions like Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Alcohol-free options

Drink Dry is the first and only non-alcoholic drinks marketplace in the GCC. We are exclusive importers and distributors of most of the brands that are listed on Drink Dry Store. Drink Dry also supplies the hospitality sector with our premium non-alcoholic drinks. We currently supply over 350 venues across the UAE and close to 50 venues in KSA and Kuwait. Our mixologists help our hospitality partners with menu developments and 0.0 percent cocktail recipe creations. We also supply some of the major supermarkets in the UAE. I started Drink Dry as a passion project because I am a non-drinker myself. However, we were backed by plenty of market research and understanding of our consumer segmentation. Drink Dry products allow non-drinkers to feel included in celebrations and social gatherings.

Expansive selection

Drink Dry has exclusivity on most of the brands that we import into the region, giving us first-movers’ advantage and ensuring we are the only ones with such a wide selection of global alcohol-free brands.

Educational element

The biggest challenge so far has been creating awareness of the category itself and the educational aspect of the hospitality sector. This is expensive and takes a great deal of time and resources. We have won a number of awards and accolades for the work that we have done which is confirmation of how important it is.

Inter-regional plans

We launched an eCommerce website in Kuwait in July 2021 and have also set up our B2B operations in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia last year. We have a partnership launching with Al Shaya in November that will mean our premium non-alcoholic drinks will be available with PF Chang’s in UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. We will be launching our eCommerce platform in KSA in Q4 2023.


Longer stay niche

Inspired by the absence of tailored options for stays beyond 30 nights, Thirty Sleeps was launched to fill this niche. Our offerings include a curated range of hotels, serviced apartments and managed Airbnbs, with substantial cost savings for extended stays. Beyond serving individual travelers, we have a dedicated focus on meeting the needs of B2B partners like HR and travel teams.

Unexplored market

Thirty Sleeps is purpose built for the underserved extended-stay market. Our coverage spans various budgets and styles, making us a versatile choice. Contrary to the notion that extended stays are merely a revenue filler for hoteliers, we see this as a significant market in itself. Importantly, our model is both scalable and geographically transferable.

Genuine revenue source

One of the initial hurdles was convincing hoteliers that our model creates a win-win scenario: we bring them qualified guests who stay longer and pay less, yet increase their revenue streams. We’ve overcome this skepticism and now partner with over 300 hoteliers and Airbnb management agents. Initially, monthly rates were kept discreet, but today many embrace this market segment as a genuine revenue source. Our efforts have led to hoteliers earning an additional USD 1.7 million in the past year alone. Trust is also a big win for us; guests are confident they’re getting the best deal, which has fueled a 60 percent repeat business rate and a strong foothold in the B2B market.

Growth hotspots

Our immediate expansion focus is broadening our footprint across the UAE, offering a range of budget-to-luxury extended-stay accommodations. The next strategic move targets the GCC, focusing on Saudi Arabia and extending to Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Beyond the immediate region, we’ve identified key growth hotspots, such as Egypt, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Singapore and Turkey, based on market demand and ease of entry.

Transforming tech procurement

ExploreTECH is the first B2B digital marketplace for hospitality and travel technology in the region, connecting tech vendors with buyers. It is driven by a team of experts who have all lived the pain points of traditional tech procurement. As an impartial and user-friendly platform, it makes today’s highly complex and fragmented process easier for everyone involved. AI-enabled, ExploreTECH revolutionizes technology procurement by automating processes, reducing costs, saving time and enabling informed decision-making.

In demand solutions

The key strength of ExploreTECH is that we solve the needs and challenges of technology procurement, as identified in focus groups with hospitality and travel industry experts and technology providers. These include offering: a time- and resource-efficient way of sourcing and comparing the latest technologies; a transparent go-to platform with unified terminologies and functionalities; a marketplace for tech providers to reach and engage with MEA clients; and an omni-channel platform for comprehensive tech information, news and user engagement beyond conventional databases.

Positive response

We have experienced many of the usual start-up challenges. However, the industry’s incredibly positive response to our marketplace has validated our business idea. Backed by numerous strategic pre-seed and seed investors, www.exploreTECH.io was launched in January 2023 and already has a monthly average of 3,500 users, grown organically. In just nine months, ExploreTECH has listed 435 hospitality and travel tech vendors, representing over 1,100 products.

Going global

ExploreTECH‘s business model is deliberately modular and scalable. We plan to take the marketplace global in 2025, with a penetration forecast to reach 12 percent of 2.5 million potential users globally by 2027. Our scalability plans include both cross-regional and cross-industry expansion. Future plans also include development of additional platform functionalities, such as a tech stack builder, an automated RFP tool, analytics API, reviews, multi-lingual options, on-platform marketing and buyer behavioral data analytics.

Empowering decisionmakers

PerfectCheck is a pioneering platform optimizing restaurant and bar revenue and profits. Our intelligent software and data science provide accurate predictions for table occupancy, menu offerings, pricing and server efficiency, maximizing profitability. We offer comprehensive support, including training and ongoing consultation. This sets us apart, filling the gap for expert guidance in restaurant optimization. We empower stakeholders to make informed, real-time decisions while focusing on operational excellence.

Essential insights

Our product stands out with a holistic approach to restaurant success. Using data-driven techniques, we automate demand forecasts to boost traffic during slow hours, optimize capacity during peaks and improve staff and inventory management. We ensure optimal seating with high-revenue customers throughout the day. Our insights identify top menu items for sales growth, suggest pricing adjustments, and enhance menu design. Additionally, personalized coaching improves server performance, driving upselling and guest satisfaction.

User friendly solutions

We understand that some restaurants perceive data-driven solutions as complex, primarily due to the traditional look and feel of point-of-sale (POS) systems. To address this, we’ve worked to showcase the real, tangible benefits of our user-friendly platform. We’re committed to simplifying the restaurant management landscape, emphasizing ease of use and rapid integration, and we’ve forged successful partnerships with a diverse range of outlets. Our goal is to make data-driven decision-making accessible, efficient and rewarding for all restaurants.

Global F&B focus

Our vision for expansion is to serve a wide range of global F&B businesses.
We actively partner with POS companies and selective hospitality data analytics solutions to enhance our brand’s impact. Our commitment to innovation keeps our algorithms at the forefront of technology, empowering clients with advanced tools for operational excellence. We aspire to be the go-to partner for F&B businesses of all sizes, addressing diverse industry needs, from supply chain optimization to sustainability.

Simple, yet secure

Gimly is revolutionizing access control and identity verification through our Tap to ID technology. We were inspired by the need to simplify and secure identity verification, particularly in the travel and hospitality sector, where time-consuming processes and privacy concerns were prevalent. Our aim is to make access to the digital and physical world as simple as a tap, enhancing convenience and security for everyone.

A seamless experience

Our Tap to ID technology provides secure, efficient and contactless identity verification, offering a seamless experience for both businesses and customers. It’s adaptable across various industries and enhances security, privacy and convenience. One of our key strengths is our commitment to open standards and interoperability, ensuring that our solution can easily integrate into existing systems and platforms.

Fruitful collaborations

Challenges included technology adoption and market awareness. We’ve addressed these by successfully conducting pilots and collaborating with industry leaders, including our partnership with Neom, a giga-project with vast potential, reaching millions of visitors, and our collaboration with the International Air Transport Association in the aviation industry. We’ve also secured investment licenses in Saudi Arabia and are in the process of establishing our presence in the GCC region. This includes setting up our commercial registration in KSA, a significant milestone in expanding our operations in the GCC.

Post pilot plans

We aim to expand into the broader commercial access control market after the successful conclusion of our ongoing pilots. This expansion will allow us to target a serviceable market worth USD 1.5 billion, making our technology accessible to a wider range of industries beyond travel and hospitality. With our investment license in KSA and our growing presence in the GCC, we are well positioned to tap into this significant market and offer our innovative solutions to businesses across the region.

Industry overhaul

Burnt reimagines the restaurant-supplier procurement process. We are building a whole suite of powerful tools to streamline restaurant back-of-house and revamp supplier front-of-house and online presence. Being a fourth-generation food entrepreneur, I’ve spent the bulk of my childhood and adult life in the thick of the industry. I believe there is a lack of innovation around building with the industry, for the industry.

Tailored for F&B

The food industry speaks a unique language. Our company DNA, right from the way we interact with customers to the tech we build, is based on that very language. What does this mean? A sweet, synchronized harmony between technology and the food industry. By taking this approach, every feature that we release is going to bring maximum efficiency and benefit to the users, in turn making their day-to-day lives easier.

The art of persuasion

‘Old habits die hard’ they say! This is especially true for the space we are working in. Pen and paper are old friends to most, and WhatsApp and Excel sheets are often deemed as an acceptable means of building a business. A big challenge for us has been persuading an industry deeply entrenched in traditional practices for centuries to embrace technology in a space where some may question its necessity. Moving away from outdated practices is significant but necessary, in our humble opinion. However, with the feedback we’ve had from users so far, I’d like to think we are heading in the right direction.

Step by step

At this moment in time, we are just focused on building the best product for our first market, Dubai. Eventually, I see us focusing on the two largest F&B markets out there: South-east Asia and North America.

Filling the resale gap

Facing a hefty loss due to a non-refundable hotel booking, I personally sought a solution from a friend in the travel industry. However, existing platforms for reselling bookings proved inefficient. From my background in blockchain technology, I saw this could be solved via NFT tokenization. And so, the idea for Buk was born. Buk aims to bring resellability-as-a-service to the travel industry, starting with hospitality. It enables travelers to easily resell bookings, empowers travel agents with inventory trading capabilities and allows hotels to maintain control and earn royalties. We intend to use this mechanism to change the way inventory distribution happens in travel. Buk fulfills untapped needs by: streamlining distribution; offering transparency and control; and enhancing flexibility and revenue per available room (RevPAR).

Win wins

Hotels require zero technical spend, zero change and zero process change. With a transaction-based model, there is no upfront cost and hotels, intermediaries and travelers all get to win. We are creating a completely new distribution channel, with completely new business models.

Convincing the skeptics

Our primary challenges revolve around technology awareness and achieving mass adoption. Many view blockchain as complex, leading to skepticism. Even with these challenges we have achieved significant milestones, getting featured on Lufthansa’s Innovation report as a key player in inventory distribution in the travel industry using Web3, and being runner-up in E20X at HITEC Dubai 2023.

Increasing global reach

Up to 12 months: increase supply (partner with hotels and aggregators); increase distribution (deploy our technology with OTA platforms and other travel tech solutions); and increase global reach (go deeper in South-east Asia and European markets). 12 – 36 months: build newer products and solutions – fintech products to capitalize on the tokenized inventory model, which increase liquidity, flexibility and revenue-generation opportunities.

Bolstering front of house

Holoconnects was started with the initial idea of selling ‘everlasting memories’ of family and friends to connect with future generations in hologram form. We received a great deal of media interest which inspired companies to contact us, including large hospitality brands that wanted holograms to bolster their front-of-house team.

One to one engagement

The Holobox offers the efficiency of a fully digital solution but retains the human touch. Using two-way, interactive, AI-powered holograms that deliver a real-life, real-size, real-time personalized experience, Holoconnect unlocks a new level of one-to-one engagement that other technologies cannot emulate. It delivers opportunities for users to ‘beam in’ from anywhere. This minimizes the need and risk for travel, streamlines processes, reduces costs, addresses labor shortages and improves efficiency.

Embracing the tech

The biggest challenge we face is the adoption of the technology by less tech-savvy consumers, although in general, there is a learning curve for some demographics that is usually overcome in time. For adoption within organizations, there is also sometimes resistance among staff. For example, some managers are cautious about entrusting routine tasks to machines. However, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. Brands that are resistant to technology will find themselves playing catch-up and competing with companies that have already begun to innovate their business models to create an edge over competitors.

End to end holo solutions

We are fortifying our current presence in the US, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and, of course, the Middle East. Beyond our rapid expansion into 7,000 – 10,000 hotel properties over the next five years, we plan to continuously improve the quality of our software. We are developing a Holobox that can champion the entire check-in journey, including a payment portal, digital key generator and passport scanner. We are also introducing versions of Holobox in different sizes.

For more articles, click here

Add to Favorites

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *