Developing and organizing an accelerator in just 2 months
Eugene came up with the idea of launching the Kaspersky Exploring Russia business accelerator last March, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with entrepreneurs who contribute to the development of Russian tourism in dire need of support. It was unconventional projects like this that made Eugene fall in love with traveling around Russia to begin with. He now hopes that the accelerator will not only support businesses during and after the pandemic, but will also help Russian and foreign tourists discover a new side of the country.
As early as May 6, after two months of preliminary work, the accelerator opened a call for applications until the end of the month. The participation requirements were realistic. Applicants did not need an operating business to enter the program; a handful of ideas on paper were enough. No geographic restrictions were imposed either. What did we expect from our applicants? A project had to feature conceptually new ideas, an enthusiastic team with fluent English, and, of course, a vision of the product. Importantly, the idea had to resonate with the audience and be of high value in the eyes of the audience and the experts.
And special prizes from our partners
Depending on the startup's profile, Amadeus will offer Accesstravels, Routitude, and MAPS.ME an opportunity to pitch their projects to specialists from Amadeus for Startups or Amadeus Corporate Social Responsibility, and to receive their guidance. Our partner will also feature the startups in the Amadeus Access Catalog and help pilot the projects in the Russian market.
Starta Ventures experts selected 360 Stories, MAPS.ME, and Altourism. Starta Ventures' partners will interview representatives of these startups to consider their participation in the Starta Batch 10 accelerator, which is taking place in New York from September 1 to December 5. These startups will also be considered for participation in the Starta Ventures Pre-Accelerator and the main program of Global Residency.
360 Stories and Altourism also received a special award from Propeller Shannon. The world's largest investment fund invited them to make a presentation at Boarding Pass Day, a unique event where project teams can pitch their ideas to 80–100 leading aviation players. Successfully pitched projects can be selected for participation in a partner accelerator.
First place was taken by an American startup called 360 Stories. It is a mobile app that you can use for walks and sightseeing in various cities around the world. A human local guide can keep you company, and it is a real-life experience taken online with a choice of tours to accommodate every taste. You can choose between a Buddhist walk, a visit to the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower, an overview of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and many more – without the hassle of visas, flights, tickets or lines. It is a much more user-friendly and informative way of exploring cities than browsing photographs or travelers' reviews. In other words, and rather poignantly, it is a viable and exciting way of traveling while international borders are closed due to the pandemic.
The runner-up was MAPS.ME, a startup with a big Russian audience. Its primary product is a set of offline maps for travelers, with hundreds of guides and car routes for 600 cities. The application has a total of 140 million users worldwide. You can use it to book accommodation, look for coffee shops, banks, clinics, museums, and other institutions, and to share your traveling experience. All of MAPS.ME is owned by Mail.Ru Group. The startup is working on a global multilingual marketplace of digital guides linked to maps to achieve commercial success.
The second runner-up was Altourism, a Russian startup with a strong social focus. Its chief purpose is to change locals' attitudes to the places they live in, and to prevent villages and small towns from dying out.
The changes start with grass-roots activism. Together with local enthusiasts, the Altourism team finds out what positive changes can be made for a village. They then organize a volunteering event that is both uplifting and brings value: not just an outdoor barbecue party but a meaningful activity. In the town of Tutayev near Yaroslavl, for example, they built a bridge across a creek and helped set up a public park. On the Chukotka Peninsula, tourists will join locals to help with the sandpapering, grinding and painting of whaleboats for an outdoor deep-sea fishing museum. Most of the proceeds from the sales of such tours are distributed to local businesses that provide food, tours, and accommodation. Locals work in cooperation with the “Altourists”.
Showing the world to everyone who wants to see it
We are always ready to support humanistic projects. One such project is Accesstravels, an Israeli startup that participated in our accelerator. The project is an online platform that aims to make traveling accessible to everyone regardless of their health status or specific circumstances.
The idea sprang from the personal experience of the startup's co-founder, Damir Miller, who has to use a wheelchair. In Jerusalem, he found himself unable to get into his fiancée Talia's apartment because she lived on the second floor of a house without an elevator. The couple started traveling around Israel and staying in wheelchair-accessible hotels. Eventually, their list of such places became so long that they decided to share it with others. This is how Accesstravel.com was born — the first Russian-speaking online community for people with disabilities. Its purpose was to aggregate first-hand experiences to make traveling accessible to everyone. Hotels often claim to be accessible to all categories of guests, but this is not always the case. Russian-speaking volunteers all over the world have risen to the challenge of fixing this. They check if hotels, restaurants, museums, and other establishments have elevators, handrails, wheelchair ramps, accessible showers, and even appropriate entrances and exits.
You can also book a room via Accesstravel.com and be sure that you will find everything you need. The platform features a forum where community members exchange opinions, share travel experiences, and look for guides, travel companions, and new friends.
Accesstravels fell short of winning but received a special award from Amadeus, a global system for booking flights and tourism services. The team will get an opportunity to pitch its project to the company's experts and receive subsequent guidance. Amadeus will also include the startup in its Access Catalog.