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Aena Ventures: Discover our airport revolution

Pablo Lopez Loeches, Head of Technological Surveillance and Innovation Financing Department at Aena, tells International Airport Review, about the operator’s new start-up accelerator where successful applicant pilots are funded and if successful, can win a contract with Aena worth up to €2 million to roll out their idea across the company.

aena innovation

In our aim to promote open innovation and collaborate with the world of start-ups in Aena, the world’s leading airport operator by number of passengers, in 2021 we launched the first edition of Aena Ventures, our start-up accelerator. In collaboration with different areas of the company, five challenges were designed for start-ups to propose innovative solutions. These challenges were:

  • Streamlining procedures and travel to the airport: How to help the passenger (whether departing, connecting or arriving) reach the airport on time, pass simply through the filters and other airport procedures, move easily around the facility and reach their point of final destination
  • Passenger experience: How to make the passenger’s trip from when they decide to travel until they reach their destination pleasant and enjoyable, offering entertainment experiences for the passenger both in the airport and in flight, thinking of all kinds of passengers and cultures and seeking business models which guarantee return
  • Passenger communication: How to maintain the bi-directional flow of communication with the passenger, in real time, also trying to capture their loyalty, understood in general with all the associated diversity, from children to senior citizens, persons of reduced mobility and those with social, cultural or religious diversity, etc., and humanising this process of communication. Also seeking business models which guarantee the return on expenses and investment
  • Sustainability: How to offer arguments that the airport is a sustainable place and try to convince a type of passenger who does not wish to fly because they consider it polluting
  • Baggage as a whole: How to help the passenger not to worry about their suitcases, special baggage, pets, etc., both at check-in, in connections, and at the destination.

This first call has been extremely successful with a total of 254 projects from 33 countries and 55 per cent of the proposals coming from abroad. The start-ups selected for each of the challenges are as follows:

  • MEEP – ‘Sustainable urban mobility app that provides you the routes that best match your preferences: search, book and pay’. This Spanish enterprise has presented a project which enables route planning combining all means of transport, including the integrated purchase of tickets and analysis of the least congested routes, to provide an appropriate solution for the agility in procedures and travel to the airport challenge
  • Chinespain – ‘Zhangshang is an exclusive app for Chinese tourism with all the information, online reservation and payment through its Chinese payment platforms’. Also a Spanish undertaking, it promotes tourism experiences between China and Spain and proposes the development of an app enabling more flexible communication and payment management for travellers from China under the passenger experience challenge
  • Airport.AI – ‘Start using automation and artificial intelligence to improve your airport’s passenger experience while reducing customer service costs’. Founded in Portugal, it delivers technology for effective communication between airports and passengers to enhance the relationship between them using a multi-channel chat solution in the passenger communication challenge
  • Carwatt – ‘Decarbonising mobility through the circular economy. Conversion of industrial and transport vehicles from combustion to electric’. This French firm has submitted an initiative in which it converts internal combustion vehicles to electricity which would help to cut pollutant gas emissions at airports as part of the sustainability challenge
  • Dubz – ‘Don’t waste your time waiting for your bags at the carousel, we’ll deliver them directly to your home or hotel!’. The innovative solution put forward by this UAE-based company is to streamline baggage claim, check-in and drop-off at home and to hotel guests on the day, viewing baggage as a whole challenge.
Aena Old Control Tower

Credit: Aena’s Ventures space is located in the old control tower at Barcelona Airport (BCN)

The Aena Ventures space is located in the old control tower of Terminal 2 of Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN), where a workspace has been adapted to include the start-ups in a real airport environment. During the six months that the acceleration period lasted, start-ups and different Aena teams have worked hand-in-hand to design, plan and execute a pilot project for each challenge in a real environment. All these projects were carried out at Barcelona Airport, which served as a laboratory for the five proposed solutions.

The successful pilot schemes have the opportunity to get a direct contract with Aena worth up to €2 million, to roll out a large-scale project across the company”

The acceleration process for these five entrepreneurial projects started in April 2021 in the kick-off event called Welcome Week, a programme packed with activities and workshops for the start-ups. The purpose of these group work dynamics is to lay down the specifics of the pilot scheme which each of the companies is to carry out over the six months of the acceleration programme.

The Aena Ventures programme was guided by Aena experts and mentors, all of them experienced specialists in the airport industry, to shape the ideas of the start-ups and included up to €50,000 in funding for the implementation of the pilot project.

After these six months, in November 2021 the start-ups presented to the Aena Steering Committee, at an event called Demo Day. The conveyed the results obtained during the pilot and proposed a business plan for a future deployment of their solutions in Aena airport network. The successful pilot schemes have the opportunity to get a direct contract with Aena worth up to €2 million, to roll out a large-scale project across the company.

The experience of this first edition of Aena Ventures programme has been very valuable both for start-ups, who have been able to develop their solutions, work and get to know the airport environment first-hand, and for Aena, as we have discovered a new, more agile and innovative way of working, and the advantages of incorporating open innovation into the company’s strategy.

Open innovation and collaboration with start-ups allow us to develop the sector at the same speed as society advances.

After the success of this first edition of Aena Ventures, we are already preparing the second edition, where we will set out new challenges to continue improving and making the airport sector more innovative. We welcome all the start-ups that want to participate in this next edition with open arms.

Soon, more information will be available on our website: www.aenaventures.com.

Biography

Pablo Lopez Loeches, currently Head of Technological Surveillance & Innovation Financing Department at Aena, has worked in the company for more than five years in the innovation and customer experience unit, participating in the digital transformation, customer centricity and sustainable development of Aena airports, and being in charge of the biometric programme, among others. Previously, he worked at Airbus in the Supply Chain & Quality department. He is Graduated in Aerospace Engineering and Master in Air Transport Systems from the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

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