As sector agnostic investors, we get a first-hand look at tech-enabled startups across a number of different verticals. One which you may not have heard much about is HTaaS — or Hospitality Tech as a Service. We’ve recently partnered with LA Fund, an innovative hospitality-focused venture fund, to launch a bootcamp for startups building products that have the potential to disrupt this space.
Recognizing the lack of support for tech-enabled hospitality companies, the LA Fund was created to help these startups fast-track their growth and connect them with the right industry leaders who can help them scale. We recently sat down with the founders of LA Fund, Lev Filiminov and Alex Balaban, to learn more about their inspiration for the fund and what excites them most about the future of the hospitality industry.
500: Can you tell me a little bit about the LA Fund?
LA Fund: LA Fund is an ecosystem for innovative hospitality-focused technology pioneers built on the premise of Hospitality Tech as a Service (HTaaS). Our Philosophy is to bring together top-notch innovation and technology solutions, products, and services with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels. We incubate, accelerate, and scale hospitality-tech startups with the support of 500 Startups, Caesars Entertainment, Intel, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the American Nightlife Associations (ANA), the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and many others.
LA Fund identified a problem: There isn’t an existing infrastructure to support and accelerate startups in the hospitality tech space. We solve one of the greatest pain points for startups in the hospitality industry by expanding their distribution to propel companies into hyper growth.
Together with the ANA, NRA, NC&B (Nightclub & Bar Show) and multiple hospitality organizations, we provide startups immediate exposure for their technology products to be sold. As part of the program, 500 Startups is running an educational bootcamp tailored specifically for the hospitality industry where founders can accelerate their business and network with other founders to help guide them to success.
500: How do you help startups in the hospitality industry?
LA Fund: The approach of the LA Fund HTaaS program is uniquely threefold, with the bootcamp (run by 500 Startups) comprising just one of the three parts.
The initial phase of the program, Hospitality Innovation Laboratories (#Hi_Labs), creates both sandbox and live testing environments for startups in their development and product/market fit phases. This process, designed for fast iteration and immediate metrics-based feedback, helps startups test their value propositions and hone their business models.
Second, the Hospitality Growth Bootcamp in Vegas, provides an exciting educational and mentoring environment where each startup focuses on optimizing their message for the purpose of scaling, fundraising and growth. The Bootcamp culminates with an open invitation pitch practice event, and later, with a Demo Day run by LA Fund where startups present their companies to a room full of viable investors and operators.
The third and most critical way we help startups is by solving expansion in the hospitality industry. Through our multitude of strategic partnerships with heavy hitting hospitality industry organizations and operators, we’re able to connect each startup with the distribution channels they need to grow aggressively. A great springboard for this effort is the Nightclub & Bar Show, the largest industry event in the country drawing upwards of 50,000 attendees, providing immediate visibility and powerful publicity for the startups.
500: What excites you most about the future of hospitality technology?
LA Fund: What really excites us is that we can take startups from an idea stage all the way to an exit. Currently, there isn’t too much VC interest in hospitality tech startups because historically, few of these companies have found successful exits.The purpose of LA Fund is to create demand for such companies. Since we’ve started, there’s been a sea change of attitudes from huge players at universities and hospitality groups. The launch of Black Fire Innovation, a four-story facility in Las Vegas that was built specifically for research and development in the hospitality space, is an example of how the industry is evolving and getting to a stage where tech startups can thrive.
And of course, at the end of the day, this doesn’t just bring value to tech companies and the hospitality industry. Customers and consumers will be able to enjoy smoother, more personalized experiences in restaurants, nightclubs, bars, and hotels that they’ve come to expect both online and on-site in other industries like banking and retail.
500: What is the story and who is behind LA Fund?
LA Fund: LA Fund started as an innovation initiative born out of a discussion between us [Lev Filimonov and Alex Balaban] and the American Nightlife Association.
We first approached the ANA shortly after Lev moved to the US to scale his startup that had already gained wide traction in his native Ukraine. Although we had validated product/market fit, the fledgling company hit a wall in reaching larger distribution networks. The ANA was an obvious partner in getting over that hurdle, with over 30,000 members and a respected name in the industry. But unbeknownst to us, the ANA was seeing its own members hit the other side of the same wall. With more than 30 years of advocating for American bar owners, the ANA was aware of escalating stagnation in the bar industry relative to technological progress in other sectors, but was powerless to help its constituents. They did not have the technological expertise to develop and implement solutions for their members, so their initial discussions with us quickly led to the idea for LA Fund. Since its establishment, LA Fund received support from many main actors in the hospitality industry, and it’s become obvious that the timing couldn’t be better: The hospitality industry is ready and hungry to evolve.
The team behind LA Fund has recently grown to over a dozen individuals, each contributing a key set of skills that are helping us scale our initiatives into a robust community. Lev has more than 11 years of experience in building an international nightclub franchise. He’s a serial entrepreneur who has designed and run some of Europe’s most successful entertainment establishments and also started his own hospitality tech startups. Together with Alex, who has decades of experience in building and exiting multinational media and tech businesses as well as consulting for multibillion dollar funds, we have grown LA Fund from an idea into a thriving community supporting technology companies in the hospitality space.
500: What kind of startups are you looking for to participate in the bootcamp?
LA Fund: We are very excited about our portfolio of companies and have just opened up the application for this year’s bootcamp. LA Fund is looking for unique and disruptive technology with strong leadership. We are accepting applications for pre-Series A startups in the hospitality space. The hospitality space is very large and we are looking for innovative solutions and technology in night life apps, marketing, payment processing, inventory, operations, and staffing just to name a few examples.
The bootcamp, taking place at the Blackfire Innovation Lab in Vegas, offers a great venue to develop practical knowledge and to meet other companies, seasoned entrepreneurs, advisors and investors in a collaborative environment. We put great effort into curation so that each group of talented startups is balanced to promote synergies within the batch. We love seeing the magic happen!
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