Skyscanner invites start-­ups to disrupt travel industry

We've launched a competition calling on start­-ups, developers and aspiring entrepreneurs to build the next big thing in travel technology. To change the game. Pioneer something completely fresh.

David Low heads up developer advocacy at Skyscanner. Picture: Contributed

The Build with Skyscanner competition offers the best new travel product the chance to be coached by our chief executive, Gareth Williams, and spend a week based in our Edinburgh HQ, as well as bag a £1,000 cash boost to kick-­start their new business, an initiative we’ve never offered before.

We’re looking for product ideas that have the potential to truly disrupt the travel industry, giving entrants four months to come up with and build their new site or app using our own back­ end technology.

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The competition offers the winning team invaluable one-­on-one coaching time, in addition to mentoring from a world-­class team of engineers, product managers and growth strategists to steer their new venture in the right direction, ensuring they are supported straight from the start.

But why should Skyscanner care about start­-ups, given our position as one of Scotland’s most successful tech companies?

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Well, the reason is rather innate. Way back in 2003, Skyscanner started life as a spreadsheet. It was an adverse start for the company’s three co-founders – Gareth, Barry Smith and Bonamy. At first they coded the website from Gareth’s spare room, initially with no office space, and no employees. With little more than a vision – to build a tool capable of comparing the growing choice of cheap flights to Europe – the founders were faced with the daunting task of building an engine capable of comparing the world’s airlines.

Fast forward 13 years and Skyscanner has grown to become a world-leading travel search engine, attracting over 50 million monthly visitors, with ten global offices and over 770 staff, and now offers a full range of travel search with over 1,200 partners across flights, hotels and car hire.

For Skyscanner, and for our chief executive, the potential for start-­ups is clear. Pioneering new ideas and ambitious newcomers have a chance to make their mark in an industry that is competitive, yet still has traveller problems waiting to solved. There is still room for trail­blazing new ideas to disrupt. And the business wants to support the thriving start-­up community from which it emerged.

Although Skyscanner has never launched a competition like this before, we have already supported a number of innovative new start businesses, teaming up to offer our back end data, powering the travel element of their new products. Take UK­-based start-­up LuckyTrip for example, a fresh inspirational all-round trip ­planning app who power their flight search using Skyscanner’s flights data and were named as ones of iTunes’ “Top Apps for 2015”.

Or consider start­-up diary scheduling engine, Meekan, who just last month were able to build and launch a Facebook Messenger “chat bot” for travel search using Skyscanner’s data. We have firmly embedded ourselves within the conversational search trend, having launched our own Messenger bot, as well as a voice search skill for Amazon’s Alexa. But in order to support other businesses, we’ve always tried to make our data as versatile and accessible as possible, and are pleased to see newcomers create innovative products with our powerful technology. This is something we hope to emulate and scale further through the Build with Skyscanner initiative.

We are delighted to invite start-­ups and developers to take part in this competition, which we hope will inspire young programmers and businesses to build something truly cutting­ edge and bring something fresh to the travel industry. Travel is one the most fascinating industries due to its complexity and size, and I believe there are endless traveller problems still waiting to be solved.

With the right drive and a great idea, there is boundless opportunity for trailblazing new products within the travel space.

The competition is now open and entrants can sign up and get started through the Build with Skyscanner page.

• David Low is head of developer advocacy at Edinburgh-based travel search engine Skyscanner