Pioneer Batch Of Start-Ups Graduate From SIA Accelerator Programme

Published on 27 June 2019

27 June 2019 - NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Singapore Airlines (SIA) today revealed that five start-up companies have graduated from the inaugural SIA Accelerator Programme. The SIA Accelerator Programme is a joint initiative by NUS Enterprise and SIA, which aims to boost efficiencies and the customer experience within the travel sector, while simultaneously creating new business opportunities for innovative start-ups. The initiative brings together NUS Enterprise’s expertise and networks within Asia’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems, and SIA’s wealth of experience in the travel and aviation sector. These start-ups showcased their solutions at Innovfest Unbound 2019, Southeast Asia’s largest, most exciting and award-winning innovation festival, which is organised by NUS Enterprise and Unbound.

The SIA Accelerator Programme is a 10-week initiative that started in January 2019, under which start-ups presented their solutions to tackle a range of problem statements identified by SIA. These problem statements included the tracking of on-board food wastage, seamless integration of offline and online retail for a better in-flight shopping experience, as well as optimisation of seat capacity and revenue maximisation.

The five start-ups graduating from the inaugural Singapore Airlines Accelerator Programme are:

1) airfree
2) F5Shift
3) Migacore
4) Traversel
5) Volantio

Details on these start-ups and the solutions they are developing are in Annex A.

As part of the accelerator programme, participants went through mentoring, coaching and a validation programme run by NUS Enterprise covering areas such as customer discovery, tech solution identification, product-market fit and business model viability. Participants were also provided incubation space at NUS Enterprise’s The Hangar and SIA’s KrisLab. They met regularly with SIA business unit mentors to gain insights for better problem-solution fit. NUS faculty from the School of Computing and Business School who are subject matter experts in areas including robotics, AI, wireless networks, digital innovation and new venture creation, also interacted with the participants to provide domain-specific advice on their product development and entrepreneurship efforts. In addition, participants attended masterclasses, networking events, fireside chats and site visits at NUS Enterprise’s BLOCK 71, for a better overview of the aviation and entrepreneurial sector in Singapore and ASEAN.

Teams that complete the SIA AppChallenge, one of the largest digital hackathons for aviation innovation, are also invited to join the SIA Accelerator Programme. The fifth edition of the SIA AppChallenge was launched on 17 June 2019, inviting start-ups and innovators from all over the world to propose solutions to business problems and explore opportunities in the aviation industry. More details of the SIA AppChallenge can be found in Annex B.

“The SIA Accelerator Programme is an excellent programme for start-ups and entrepreneurs to productise and commercialise their innovations to the next level with us, and we are proud to have partnered with NUS Enterprise and seen the first batch of start-ups graduate from this programme. After providing the infrastructure and coaching support to propel their innovations into viable prototypes, we now hope to be able to incorporate their solutions for our use,” said SIA Senior Vice President Information Technology, Mr George Wang.

“We are delighted to work with Singapore Airlines, to help bridge the aviation sector with the entrepreneurial and innovation community. By bringing together innovative high-tech start-ups and corporates, we encourage the co-development of dynamic solutions for global markets, that will boost customer satisfaction and operational efficiencies resulting in win-win benefits for all,” said Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise).

Annex A

Details of Start-ups

The start-ups graduating from the inaugural SIA Accelerator Programme are:

1) airfree – In-flight shopping services have not yet entered the digital era. Customers typically browse catalogues or can choose from limited merchandise based on what can be stored within the in-flight trolleys. This results in passengers being less inclined to shop in-flight, compared to shopping at retail outlets on the ground. According to Generation, the average spend per person is US$2 in flight, compared to US$30 in an airport. airfree aims to be the “marketplace of the sky”, providing airlines with an online marketplace accessible during flight via personal devices or in-flight entertainment. Purchases can be made online during the flight and collected upon landing. airfree manages all dealings with retailers, secures online payments and handles global implementation. Its solution is based on an innovative technology that minimises the usage of satellite bandwidth. airfree’s portal has multiple benefits; Retailers have an additional platform to market their products to a captive and qualified audience; passengers have a wider choice of retail options (increasing from the current 200 items to over 10,000 items), as well as the ability to purchase items at duty free prices; and airlines can now offer their customers a premium service, as well as gain insights into customers’ shopping behaviour.

As part of the SIA Accelerator Programme, airfree conducted several technical tests, which demonstrated that its platform used an average of 50 times less satellite bandwidth, compared to traditional e-commerce websites. As all content is downloaded into the system before take-off, online connection is limited to the checkout process, which means controlled bandwidth costs for airlines and faster browsing with quality connection for users. In May 2019, airfree announced that it had raised €2.3 million in funds from Shiseido, the Starburst accelerator and business angels. These funds will be used to accelerate its platform’s commercial launch, which is targeted for the end of 2019.

“A study conducted by the London School of Economics estimated that the digital in-flight retail market could reach US$10 billion within five years. Our turnkey solution is well positioned to capitalise upon this opportunity. airfree was founded over two years ago. We have developed the platform and it is now ready to be rolled out. We are already partnering with leading duty-free groups, with a presence in more than 350 airports worldwide, allowing us to propose relevant offers to all airlines,” said Etienne de Verdelhan, CEO airfree. “Participating in the SIA Accelerator programme was a great help to airfree, as it has allowed us to implement a proof of concept for our in-flight shopping solution.”

2) F5Shift – Food wastage on flights is a concern due to unnecessary extra weight, as well as environmental and economic factors. In order to reduce food wastage, airlines adjust their menus to optimise the amount consumed. To track data on food wastage, this was traditionally done manually which is labour intensive and time consuming. F5Shift has conceptualised a solution to address this problem. Its end-to-end system automatically captures images of F&B wastage via cameras which are processed by F5Shift’s cloud-based machine learning models that are able to detect food items and identify the meal source of the wasted food. This then calculates the relative wastage proportion of each meal. These insights are easily viewed through a web dashboard, which calculates food waste percentages over time and across different flights. This allows airlines to understand better in-flight food consumption patterns and optimise meal plans accordingly.

“Our team consists of four third year undergraduate students that came together during an IT internship in Hong Kong. With backgrounds in Computer Science, Computing, Aeronautical Engineering and Advertising, as well as varied experience in aviation-related fields, we are well qualified to tackle some of the challenges faced by the aviation industry. During the SIA Accelerator Programme, we tested our Proof-of-Concept at the SATS (in-flight catering service provider at Changi airport) facility. This allowed us to test both our hardware and software solution. Moving forward, we plan to refine our solution based on inputs received in order to improve the accuracy of the system’s ability to detect and classify leftover food. Participating in this programme was an excellent way to gain a better understanding of the food wastage problem from a client’s perspective, as well as receiving guidance from mentors. Perhaps the most valuable factor was being part of this dynamic community, where we get to meet other innovative teams. This has helped us to inject new ideas as well as consider possibility of collaboration, to help bring our idea forward,” said Mary Cheng, team leader of F5Shift.

3) Migacore – Migacore is a data science company that uses contextual data to dramatically improve demand forecasting for travel. This start-up captures online signals from news portals, social media and other online properties to gauge travel intent before it materialises. This enables Migacore to identify specific events or factors that impact travel demand and learn how these factors evolve over time. Accurate demand forecasting will allow airlines to be more proactive in terms of flight schedules and revenue management. Migacore’s co-founders first came together at Entrepreneur First in London, a programme that helps individuals build technology start-ups. Migacore plans to focus on the travel sector, first engaging with airlines and travel agencies, before expanding to hotels and car rentals. During the SIA Accelerator Programme, Migacore deployed a test version of its system with Singapore Airlines and is using feedback to finetune its product to better meet airlines’ requirements.

“In most cases, accurate demand forecasting helps airlines to keep prices low, due to better utilisation of inventory. It can also help airlines plan for the right amount of capacity and frequency on a given new route, as well as amend existing routes. By understanding why people are travelling and what factors influence their travel decisions, we can help improve the overall efficiency of the travel industry, through better utilisation and less wastage. As airlines and other travel providers move towards continuous pricing systems across all their products and ancillaries, accurate demand forecasting will be the biggest bottleneck in terms of effectively pricing their inventory with high confidence,” said Abheer Kolhatkar, CEO Migacore.

4) Traversel – Traversel is a smart destination platform that facilitates the distribution of in-market products through airline, hotel and other retail channels. Traversel’s proprietary technology stack provides retailers with the capability to rapidly publish, build, sell, ticket product and product bundles, supported by media-rich content. Traversel provides customers access to an array of high-quality curated travel products. Retail partners also benefit, as they become a relevant part of travellers’ end-to-end journey. During the SIA Accelerator Programme, Traversel partnered with SIA to lower the barriers to entry for new and innovative travel products to find global distribution.

5) Volantio – To optimise seat capacity and increase revenue, airlines may overbook flights, as trends show some people will not show up for the flight. Unfortunately, this can result in situations of over-booking, where it is necessary to transfer passengers to another flight, leading to disappointed customers. To solve this problem, Volantio has developed a cloud-based capacity optimisation platform for airlines, called Yana™. The platform uses machine-learning algorithms to identify passengers who are more likely to be flexible in changing their flight.

In situations of overbooking, Yana automatically makes these passengers offers to switch to other flights. Typical offers include vouchers for future travel, loyalty points or upgrades. Yana can match specific offer types to passengers most likely to accept them and make the offer via their mobile phones, before passengers arrive at the airport, significantly reducing last-minute hassle. Volantio has already partnered with major international airlines.

"We noticed that many airlines were potentially sacrificing customer satisfaction for increased revenue. Yana aims to boost both revenue and customer satisfaction simultaneously. Managing the overbooking situation is typically a messy and manual affair, requiring airlines to solicit volunteers, choose alternative flight options, send compensation offers and move passengers to other flights. Yana automates all these processes seamlessly, helping airlines save resources and decrease front line stress. Moving forward, we aim to grow our team significantly, as we continue to focus on product development and launch new partnerships in Asia Pacific," explained Azim Barodawala, CEO Volantio.

Annex B


Singapore Airlines’ annual AppChallenge, run in conjunction with joint initiative partner NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS), is currently in its fifth year running and is one of the largest digital hackathons for aviation innovation. Over the years, the number of participants has increased exponentially, proposing digitally-driven ideas and solutions from all over the world. Past winners of the AppChallenge have won for themselves return flight tickets to any destination on the SIA network, and even a visit to Silicon Valley, the heart of the start-up community in the United States. The journey did not end there for these winners as they were also invited to participate in the joint Singapore Airlines-NUS Enterprise Accelerator Programme, where they received further mentorship, funding and resources to help develop their solutions.

Singapore Airlines’ AppChallenge has two competition categories. The student category is targeted at tertiary students based in Singapore, who are keen to tackle real-world challenges in the aviation industry. The open category is open to all participants globally. The AppChallenge is an excellent platform where participants can be creative and make use of technology to innovate the aviation industry. This encourages global exposure to the travel ecosystem and greater exploration of aviation-related Application Program Interfaces (API) technology and data. Singapore Airlines also wants to inspire young minds to pursue careers in the aviation industry through the competition. In 2018’s AppChallenge, over 1,500 participants from 73 countries formed teams and submitted 406 solutions during the challenge.

The AppChallenge is just one of many initiatives in the SIA Group’s overall digital transformation. Singapore Airlines hopes that through participation, start-ups and students can work with the Airline to develop innovation solutions to create a better customer experience and improve business operations. In addition to improving efficiencies and the customer experience, the AppChallenge also creates exciting new business opportunities for innovative start-ups. This initiative brings together NUS Enterprise’s expertise and networks within Asia’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, with SIA’s wealth of experience in travel and aviation.

Facts and Figures

The Singapore Airlines AppChallenge has been an annual event since 2015.

Year No. of Participants/Countries No. of Submissions
2015 171 participants from Singapore 42 submissions
2016 281 participants from Singapore 64 submissions
2017 333 participants from three countries 76 submissions
2018 1,527 participants from 73 countries 406 submissions

Singapore Airlines’ AppChallenge 2019

Singapore Airlines launched its fifth AppChallenge on 17 June 2019, inviting start-ups and innovators from all over the world to propose solutions to business problems and explore opportunities in the aviation industry. This year’s SIA AppChallenge includes a new problem statement pitched at leveraging on digital solutions to enhance SIA’s sustainability efforts. NUS Enterprise continues to be the key partner for AppChallenge 2019, for the fifth year running.

Problem Statements

Participants can choose to submit their digital solutions based on problem statements from the following categories:

1. Engineering – Aircraft Maintenance: How might we enable our engineers to achieve higher productivity in aircraft maintenance?

2. Customer Experience – On-Ground: How might we offer an effortless and customised ground experience for our passengers?

3. Customer Experience – Lounge: How might we redefine our lounge experience to cater to the needs of our premium passengers?

4. Customer Experience – In-Flight: How can we elevate the in-flight seat and entertainment experience to delight our passengers?

5. Travel Ecosystem – KrisShop: How might we bridge the physical and digital elements at various customer touchpoints so as to increase our presence in the O2O (online-to-offline, as well as offline-to-online) space?

6. Sustainability – Resource Management: How might we leverage new technologies and data to improve SIA’s green impact?

AppChallenge Participation Information

Registration for the AppChallenge commenced on 17 June 2019. Participants can choose to submit their registration in groups of up to four, or as individuals in either the ‘Start-up and Innovator’ or ‘Singapore Student’ category.

All participants will be mentored and guided by representatives from Singapore Airlines and NUS Enterprise once their solutions are selected to the semi-finals and finals stages. Partners and sponsors include Amadeus, Mastercard and more. Presentations and judging will be held on 18 October 2019, where teams will be evaluated based on the following criteria: innovation, business value, technical competency, operational feasibility, scalability and user experience.

Besides attractive cash prizes, participants stand to win experiences such as a trip to Silicon Valley in the United States, where they will get the opportunity to interact with aspiring and innovative companies such as the likes of BLOCK71 San Francisco, Google, IBM, Salesforce and more. The winning team and selected participants from both categories may also be invited to participate in the Singapore Airlines – NUS Enterprise Accelerator Programme, where they will receive further mentorship, funding and resources to help develop their solutions. Members of F5Shift, who were among the finalists in the 2018 edition of the SIA AppChallenge, have just graduated from the programme this April, and are now continuing to work with their SIA Business Mentors to materialise their solutions.

More information on registration, competition details, as well as the rules and regulations of the AppChallenge are available at Registration closes on 23 August 2019.