Irish start-up accelerator Propeller Shannon draws entrepreneurs from across the world, delivering more business and insights to an already thriving industry.
“Ireland has a deep airline history, and the leaders of the Propeller Shannon accelerator, Brian and Clyde, are very well connected within the global airlines industry,” says entrepreneur, David Hailey.
Hailey co-founded travel tech start-up Countalytics in Atlanta, Georgia, before travelling to Ireland to develop the business under the Ryan Academy accelerator programme. Now his business has earned a place on the prestigious list of Top Travel Startups to Watch in 2019 by global travel industry intelligence service Skift, who describes it as “an inventory management platform with verve”.
Countalytics is just one of Propeller Shannon’s many success stories. Three of its start-ups — Airside Management, OneAire, and Block Aviation — are all finalists for the Rolls Royce Innovation Challenge. Another, Trustabit, was selected by Plug And Play to present to Star Alliance at their Innovation Day.
So how does an Irish-based programme like this draw applications from across the globe and propel its start-ups to the fore of the travel tech world?
Cycle of success
“If you provide good mentors and great programmes, you get a good reputation and attract really good start-ups,” says Donal Brady, who was the Ryan Academy’s chief executive until August this year. “Fundamentally, what they are looking for is very early stage companies with innovative services solving a definite problem. The success of this approach speaks to the quality of start-ups we’re getting.”
The Ryan Academy was founded in May 2005 as a partnership between Dublin City University and entrepreneur Tony Ryan. Ryan, who died two years after the programme’s inception, was the Irish billionaire, philanthropist and businessman who founded Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) and co-founded Ryanair. His accelerator programme was one of the first in Ireland. In 2011, it provided the country with its first ever angel fund. The partnership model is now recognised by the European Commission as a best practice case study in supporting entrepreneurs.
Brady believes that these roots play a part in making Propeller a very special accelerator. “One difference is the coalition with the university. There are a few critical elements to that — it means it was founded by a deep knowledge base, while the relationship with the Ryan family means we carry a deep entrepreneurship culture and we can leverage good industry connections.”
Propeller Shannon connects the dots
The Academy’s Propeller programme commenced in 2011 with support from Enterprise Ireland. In 2018, it joined forces with the Shannon Group’s International Aviation Services Centre to create Propeller Shannon, an International aviation and travel tech accelerator programme.
Already, the programme has helped numerous start-ups to achieve international success in areas as diverse as B2B travel tech, cybersecurity, and aerospace components.
An Irish speciality
Ireland is the birthplace of duty-free shops and a leader in aircraft leasing. Today it is home to a collaborative ecosystem comprising over 100 travel tech companies. Brady says:
“Ireland’s culture places us in a unique position to address gaps in the travel tech industry. Our history of emigration and the fact that, as a small island we immediately think of the bigger, multinational market in business, gives us a particular approach to business and travel.”
Accelerators like Propeller Shannon are essential to this thriving industry. “A lot of travel techs start off as one-man bands,” says Brady, “and need support to develop and expand.”
The right thinking
The travel industry is rapidly evolving, with new priorities and customer expectations. “Today’s customers expect something more tailored, more personalised,” says Brady. “They don’t want to be just another tourist; they want authenticity and a unique experience.”
The kind of thinking required for a successful start-up – innovative, resourceful and adaptable thinking — is now more essential than ever for travel businesses. He add:
“The accelerator helps speed things up, so that companies aren’t making the same mistakes as those that went before them. It speeds up the learning so the whole sector benefits.”
“For Countalytics, the main benefit of the program was industry contacts,” adds Hailey, “The Propeller team was able to introduce us to industry leaders from many of the top airlines in the world, access we would not have received without it”.
Last June, Propeller Shannon start-ups attended the Future Travel Experience show in Istanbul, which attracted its largest attendance in Europe to date. Airlines, airports, suppliers, start-ups, technology giants and disruptors gathered to discuss the future of the travel industry and explore solutions.
The event was a unique opportunity for Propeller Shannon participants to showcase their solutions. Ten Cohort 2 startups — Countalytics, Drone Consultants Ireland, Flightbuddy, Navifly, OneAire, SAR, Trift, TrustaBit, WalkABit and Wanda — exhibited their products and services and had the opportunity to participate in a dedicated pitch session, followed by a discussion with a panel of high-level experts.
With events like this, Propeller Shannon is a chance for the start-ups, not only to learn, but to showcase their solutions and connect with the right networks. Many of Hailey’s fellow cohort participants have now moved their companies to Ireland, “mainly because of their experience and the way the country embraces the start-up culture,” he says. No wonder, then, that the cycle of success continues.