Technology, tourism, and travel: How Goa is poised to become TourismTech hub by 2030

Goa is gearing up to become the world's premier destination for TourismTech startups, thanks to Goa Tourism Accelerator, a programme of FiiRE (Forum for Incubation, Innovation, Research, and Entrepreneurship).
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[This article is part of Startup Hatch, a series launched in 2013 by YourStory featuring incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, and coworking spaces in the startup ecosystem.

See profiles of initiatives at IIT BombayIIM Bangalore, BITS PilaniNCLTata Elxsi, AxilorNIDIIIT-BangaloreIIIT-HyderabadVellore Institute of TechnologyPSG CoimbatoreElectropreneur Park, Workbench ProjectsMakers AsylumNetApp Excellerator, TechStars, Indigram Labs, WeWork, Z Nation Lab, Sandbox Startups, Brigade REAP, Target India Accelerator, Maersk, Anthill Studio, India Accelerator, UnternehmerTUM, AZO, EXIST, InsurTech Hub Munich, Afthonia Lab, Supreme Incubator, IISC-SID, CoWorks Foundry, and Ashoka Innovators.]

D S Prashant- CEO, FiiRE

DS Prashant is CEO of FiiRE (Forum for Incubation, Innovation, Research, and Entrepreneurship). He has supported establishment of over 2,000 micro enterprises and hand-held more than 100 startups over the last 23 years in Goa.

Prashant began his career with Glaxo India, and now helps implement startup investment projects of Govt. of India including Startup India Seed Fund, NIDHI PRAYAS, and NIDHI EIR.

Thejus Joseph is COO of FiiRE, and earlier spearheaded Lab32, India’s largest incubation programme at T-Hub in Hyderabad. Lab32’s first batch of 70 startups reportedly generated INR 1+ billion funding, and 2,000+ jobs.

As the Incubation Lead, Thejus has successfully impacted over 500 startups. He founded hardware startup Techjeeva at the age of 21, and was Principal Consultant for a college under Kerala Technical University.

Prashant and Thejus join us in this extended interview on the role of FiiRE, the special Goa Tourism Accelerator programme, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and plans for the future. Edited excerpts below:

Thejus Joseph- COO, FiiRE

YourStory [YS]: What was the founding vision of your incubator, and how is it supported?

DS Prashant & Thejus Joseph [P&T]: When we started out in 2018, it was our aim to help technology startups get the right mix of education, network and capital support. We hand-held startups through the initial phase of their businesses–from GTM (go to market) strategy and prototype/MVP (minimum viable product) testing to market access and guidance from industry and government.

With the pandemic having brought in fresh dynamics in the economy, we micro-tuned our role as an incubator, and are geared towards our vision of making Goa the world's premier destination for TourismTech startups by 2030.

Based in Goa, one of India’s most-preferred tourism destinations, FiiRE has access to the ecosystem as well as government support.

We wish to nurture startups who have tech-enabled solutions for the tourism sector and take them to a stage where they become investable.

[YS]: Which startups have graduated so far?

[P&T]: Around 20 startups have graduated in a number of sectors such as healthcare (Avital Software Development, Thermodrip, Magellan Life Sciences, Med Interventions & Beyond), gaming (Bidtronix), platforms (Decimi Technologies Fitness Konnect), UAV (Drone Sena), and ed-tech (Eduvannce Intelligos, Foreign Admits, Innovantix Systems, Internship Station Connection).

Other startups are in the categories of agri-tech (Letcetra Agritech, Ulavan Agritech), mobility (Mechgiri Autocare), food (Narla Zest Vida), blockchain (Sparkplus Technology), travel (Synchronicity Platform), IoT (Neerovel), and medical waste management (Goa Health Monitoring Services).

FiiRE Goa Tourism Aceelerator

[YS]: Which startups are under incubation?

[P&T]: We have a number of startups currently in the programme, in sectors such as education (WebFills, FunMinds Learning Tech), tourism (Awayddings, Clubr Technologies, Lafabrica Craft), AI (Cognicue Analytics), and marine robotics (Reikse Marine).

Other sectors include platform (WebFills, Custom Elements), HR (Creative HR Solutions), agri/food (Design Lab Biosphere), and waste management (GreenWaves, The Trash Company).

[YS]: Which startups have graduated from the Goa Tourism Accelerator programme?

[P&T]: While we have supported 100 startups and funded 26 of them, our focussed approach towards TourismTech post-pandemic, has led to 14 unique startups that are currently in the acceleration programme.

The first cohort of the Goa Tourism Accelerator programme attracted over 50 applications from seven countries and 25 cities. We have selected 14 startups for the accelerator programme, listed as follows.

Digitour provides immersive audio-visual guided tours of historical heritage monuments through their apps. It meets the needs of the millions of tourists who visit historical monuments every year with the keen interest to understand Indian heritage.

Momingly (Auxbrains Ventures) provides an online marketplace exclusively for home chefs who can own and handle their business independently. Foodies can rate and review the platform for homely food products. The incubation support they offer to homechefs helps them to build a business with a professional touch.

Srishti Lifescience aims to create an ecosystem of hygiene assured, healthy, and enhanced bottled water at affordable prices. They also empower consumers to shift their choices from single-use plastics to zero-waste packaging.

Zodhya can help reduce energy bills of commercial spaces by 30 percent from Day One, and lowering their carbon footprint using AI-based tech.

Tyndis offers tours with local storytellers, community leaders, and activity service providers. They showcase local experiences, heritage, culture, food and adventures in the tours.

Campper helps campsites in digitising their business, standardising operations, and manage demand generation, reservation and revenue. It also helps with landowners in building standardised Campper branded campsites.

Instio offers an integrated digital solution for mobile check-in, guest management, marketing and service quality monitoring for hospitality companies. It helps accommodation providers like hotels and resorts enhance guest experiences and attain operational efficiencies.

Revio is a revenue management company with advanced dynamic pricing technology. With creative software and strategies, they aim to turn around hotels and reposition them to outperform their competitors.

Highway Delite is a digitally-connected highway wayside amenities platform to enable travellers to discover verified pit stops and facilities and transact. Its current coverage is more than 60,000 km pan-India.

hav.life is a fitness app to encourage walking behaviour by counting the steps and rewarding users with gift vouchers. It is available in India and Indonesia and has got more than 500K app downloads.

TravStack provides AI-based SaaS tools to tour operators, travel agents, and other travel businesses. The product suite includes smart itinerary builder, online travel store with CMS, travel planning, and a travel CRM with dashboard. This helps travel professionals improve turnaround time, and boost brand identity and customer engagement.

Offbeat Tracks is an experiential travel company that promotes sustainable and immersive travel across India, exploring local life and culture. It showcases Indian villages as a huge repository of experiences for the immersive millennial traveller, making them the next sought-after tourist destination.

Lokaso Media provides unique photography experiences. It focuses on local talent and curates the best photographers to help travellers freeze special moments of your holiday trip.

10Times is a professional event community and event discovery platform. It enables local commerce focused on inbound tourists and events. It helps with forecasting and planning for transportation, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment.

FiiRE Events

[YS]: What would you say are the top three opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs?

[P&T]:

1.      The opportunities currently lie in the sectors that will boom over the next decade. TourismTech is gaining attention of investors as well as industry because of the huge challenges it faced during pandemic. There are also innovations in this sector in areas like mobility, customer experiences, and clean tech – these will be areas to explore and build technologies in, over the next decade.

2. While we have the benefit of a vibrant startup ecosystem supported by industry and government, entrepreneurs have taken the lead and tapped into opportunity areas. Industry is focussed towards supporting the booming startup ecosystem. At FiiRE, we support our startups with invaluable collaborations with organisations like Travel & Tourism Association of Goa, Start Up Promotion Cell, and NABARD.

3. Entrepreneurial spirit has grown to an extent where we can now boast of a 100 unicorns! Just as e-commerce and fintech have seen a huge rise, we believe that TourismTech will be a strong sector that will see immense growth over the next five years, given the fact that responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism is the global need of the hour.

[YS]: What are the key challenges faced by startups in India, and how can you help bridge the gap?

[P&T]: Startups need to reach out to the right mentors very early on in their journey. Effective mentorship can help them steer away from common pitfalls, test the viability of their tech solutions, guide their business strategy, and set them towards a definite path of growth.

Similarly, the right incubation centre can prove to be invaluable – offering support with networks, entrepreneurial skill building workshops, affordable co-working arrangements, and more.

At FiiRE we support and accelerate technology startups - and especially in TourismTech - an industry that will grow over the next few years. With access to our 2,500 sq-ft space located in Goa – and with mentors that have been especially selected for the expertise they can be provide in this sector – innovators who can provide solutions to challenges faced in the tourism sector worldwide, will stand to gain in the early stages, through being accelerated at FiiRE.

Our partner network of government, academia, investors and other eco-system enablers all add to empower these startups in early stages.

FiiRE team

[YS]: What are the unique challenges for social entrepreneurs as compared to tech or profit-led enterprises?

[P&T]: An obvious challenge for social entrepreneurs is access to funding and availability of human recourses that have the emotional bandwidth and high work ethics to perform well in a social enterprise.

For some technology-driven startups who are recognised as engines of growth and job-generation, the attention towards social entrepreneurship may be low.

[YS]: What are the selection criteria for startups in your incubator?

[P&T]: Eligible startups are selected based on scalability, innovation, commitment towards the business idea, and the stage of the business.

Startups in the TourismTech space are identified through the Goa Tourism Accelerator, a 16-week accelerator programme for startup founders who are developing solutions to future-proof the travel, tourism and hospitality industry and thrive amidst the challenges brought about by COVID-19.

[YS]: Who are some of your institutional partners, and what kinds of agreements are in place?

[P&T]: We have tie-ups and partnerships with Government organisations such as Dept. of Science & Technology, Govt. of India, Goa State Innovation Council, Goa Shipyard Ltd., Goa State Schedules Tribes, Finance & Level. Corporation, Ltd, NABARD, and Start Up Promotion Cell Goa.

We also have partnerships with academia (Don Bosco College, Manovikas), ecosystem enablers (CII, Goa Technology Association, Indian Academy of Venture Capital), investors (Sea Fund, Unicorn India Venture), and others We are an approved incubator for disbursement of the Startup India Fund Scheme.

[YS]: What support and services do startups receive in your incubator?

[P&T]: FiiRE as an approved incubator to disburse the Startup India Seed Fund Scheme, playing the role of providing financial assistance to startups for proof of concept, prototype development, product trials, market entry, and commercialisation.

FiiRE supports entrepreneurs under the NIDHI Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) Programme (set up to minimise the risk involved in initiating a startup, and to partially set off their opportunity costs of high paying jobs). We provide guidance from experienced and successful entrepreneurs on business concept, strategy or venture and insight into specific industries or markets. Currently, eight startups are being supported under NIDHI EIR and 10 under NIDHI PRAYAS.

Our co-working space (MakerSpace) is freely available for startups who are incubated under the above two schemes.

Under NIDHI (National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations) PRAYAS (Promoting and Accelerating Young and Aspiring technology entrepreneurs), FiiRE supports innovators in trying their ideas without fear of failure, allowing them to reach a stage where they have a ready product and are willing to approach incubators for commercialisation. The maximum grant support extent to each innovator or incubatee is Rs 10 lakh.

[YS]: What percentage of equity do you take in your startups?

[P&T]: No equity or royalty is charged to a startup. We have a mission to support tourism tech startups as we have access to stakeholders needed for the tourism startup ecosystem.

We believe in fulfilling our role as an ecosystem enabler for the tourism sector, by garnering support from government, market, and placing startups in a position where they can be funded in the future.

Dr Anita Gupta, DST at FiiRE

[YS]: What kinds of IP are being created by your startups?

[P&T]: The flagship program of FiiRE, Goa Tourism Accelerator is a 16-week accelerator programme. It is designed for early and late-stage startups to harness the global customer perspective from Goa and build a truly global business.

The first cohort attracted more than 50 applications from which we selected 14 startups. We also have a virtual programme which provides opportunities to network with local and global experts and learn with fellow founders from all around the world.

Four of the startups have filed for patents as well: Rekise Marine (autonomus battery operated surveillance vehicle), Brave Technologies (lifesaving temperature-regulating machine), LaFabrica Craft (paper bag that can carry up to 10 kilos), Team Yaguar (drag reduction for increased performance and multi-contour duct, designed for increasing velocity by 2.5 times).

[YS]: How would you differentiate your incubator from the other incubators in the field?

[P&T]: While we are a technology business incubator with special interest in product development and manufacturing startups, post the pandemic, we realised that one of the worst affected industries was the travel and tourism industry. 

It appears to have taken the hardest hit globally, impacting various associated sectors. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTCC), the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cost the tourism industry almost $22 billion and a loss of nearly 50 million jobs worldwide.

Goa’s tourism alone suffered a loss of Rs 2,000-7,200 crore in 2020. We have now made it our vision to help rebuild this industry by accelerating startups with innovative TourismTech solutions. Since we are based in Goa, the access to the tourism ecosystem helps provide startups with a ready network of industry experts as well as avenues to test the viability of their solutions.

TourismTech is yet a nascent concept, especially in India, with few realising the scope and impact that innovation can bring about to this industry.

We wish to bring about tremendous positive impact by supporting business solutions that will benefit tourism – from operational efficiency to advanced decision making and new payment solutions.

FiiRE CoWorking space

[YS]: What are some challenges you face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

[P&T]: One of the first affected sectors globally, during pandemic was tourism. And being a state with tourism as the major revenue source, Goa was severely impacted. This is why we decided to support and accelerate TourismTech startups.

Any solutions that improve the experience in a tourism ecosystem can fall in the TourismTech category–travel and hospitality are the obvious choices, but so are mobility, clean tech, waste management, and smart city.

We are rebuilding the incubator as well as the state with a strong emphasis on TourismTech. At the same time we are encouraging start up innovators from across the country to set up their startups here at FiiRE, and take advantage of all the support we provide.

They can also choose to be part of our virtual program, where we give them access to local and global partner networks.

[YS]: What would you define as success for your incubator?

[P&T]: We have supported over 100 startups, funded 26, and engaged over 2,500 entrepreneurs through events and workshops and investor meets. Collaborating with Govt. and industry to scout for innovative solutions through startups to solve tourism challenges is the way ahead for us.

Success for us will be about moving towards our vision of making Goa the world's premier destination for TourismTech startups by 2030.

FiiRE Cafeteria

[YS]: What are some notable startups who have graduated from your incubator, and what are their achievements?

[P&T]: In February 2022, GreenPod Labs, a Chennai-based agri-biotech company received Rs 4.05 crore investment from IAN with Rockstart as a co-investor. FiiRE had helped them with the Startup India seed fund grant and took them through the prototype development stage.

FiiRE also helped Runo, a new-age call-management CRM, raise $5 lakh in a pre-Series A round led by Unicorn India Ventures.

[YS]: How do you compare and contrast India’s incubators with that of other countries like US and China?

[P&T]: Over 60 percent of incubators in China are private enterprises with business-oriented operations. The US has over 2,000 accelerators and incubators, some independently run, while others are backed by governments, investors or corporations.

Even though India’s startup ecosystem is still in its infancy, it is already the third-largest in the world. With over 61,400 startups recognised by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), the 300+ incubators in India can play a large role in boosting the startup ecosystem through the power of their collaborations, networks, and access to other startup enablers.

Incubators in India are predominantly housed within academic institutions like FiiRE – which is housed within Don Bosco College of Engineering. Almost half the incubators are affiliated with the Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India.

Considering the fact that startups are going to play a huge role in the development of all three countries in the coming years, India would benefit from incubators that support startups providing solutions to global challenges. These include tourism revival, sustainable living and working, wide-spread and affordable healthcare, e-learning solutions, or fintech solutions.

FiiRE Award - Business Goa Awards 2022

[YS]: What are your plans for the coming 3-5 years with respect to new startups?

[P&T]: Over the next 3-5 years our focus will be on incubating, and accelerating TourismTech startups who are reshaping tourism for travellers, suppliers, and the environment. We believe that incorporating technology in the tourism value chain to enhance quality of experience for tourists is an essential part of the revival strategy for this sector

With a vision to make Goa the world's premier destination for TourismTech startups by 2030, we have launched Goa Tourism Tech Accelerator Programme to identify innovations in this sector and then provide the necessary support.

With 14 unique startups already being accelerated under this programme, we will be planning to launch the second cohort to identify more such tech innovations in the tourism industry.

[YS]: What are your recommendations for Indian policymakers to make business easier for incubators, investors, researchers and startups in India?

[P&T]: The World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index ranks India 63rd of 190 countries in 2021. India being the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world after the US and China, (as per the Economic Survey 2021-22), policy makers may need to bridge the gap.

We believe that as an incubator empowered to disburse the Startup India Fund and implement various startup schemes, the Government plays its role as an enabler, propelling growth through incubators like us.

The game-changers in an economy such as Goa, where tourism has been the main stay, is innovative ideas that address larger global challenges. It is in our interest to reach out to and identify technology startups that will change the face of tourism. This can lead to sustainable solutions, mobility, lifestyle or experiential products that will interest future travellers, frictionless payment solutions, personalised travel experiences, and more.

FiiRE Women’s Day

[YS]: What are your tips or words of inspiration for the startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?

[P&T]: Tech startups need to look at the global landscape – identify the sectors that will require their solutions, pivot their offerings to serve not only a specific audience, but the larger global community as well.

They should always keep at the forefront of their business plan a sustainable way of operating and growing their businesses.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti