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The inaugural Build In Tulsa Techstars Accelerator has group travel, payments and even networking in its sights as it builds on the Black Wall Street legacy.

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Global accelerator program Techstars is no stranger to the travel industry, having backed a range of startups, from corporate tool TapTrip to outdoor travel search site Sekr.

Now it has partnered with Build In Tulsa, whose mission is to “build the infrastructure for Black multi-generational wealth creation,” to launch a new program that focuses on minority entrepreneurs.

Build In Tulsa Techstars Accelerator is acting as a launchpad for two travel startups in particular that are focusing on the future of work: SquadTrip, and Workbnb (which Skift profiled in January.)

SquadTrip’s co-founder said he’d tried multiple times to join Techstars before with his previous event technology companies, but was especially interested in the new Build In Tulsa Techstars Accelerator, which comprises 12 startups that are spending three months in Oklahoma networking and showcasing their products to potential investors.

“There have been different satellite programs in different cities, but looking at the ecosystem, looking at the managing director (Tre Baker) running the program, it just seemed like an amazing place for us to bring our company,” said co-founder Darrien Watson.

Baker in a statement said that during the first half of 2021, Black entrepreneurs received a little more than 1 percent of a record $147 billion invested in U.S. startups.

Darrien Watson, SquadTrip and Tre Baker, Build in Tulsa Techstars. Picture: SquadTrip

Darrien Watson, SquadTrip and Tre Baker, managing director of Build in Tulsa Techstars Accelerator. Picture: SquadTrip

Now Watson said he wanted to build something “huge” that would help a lot of people.

SquadTrip aims to help travel organizers, including agencies, reduce their stress levels when planning group trips, getting rid of the need for tracking payments using spreadsheets or sending multiple texts and emails. Its “flagship feature” is flexible payment instalments.

Corporate Focus

Group travel is being tipped as a major growth area in corporate travel, with many agencies launching new tools and platforms to cater to clients that want to run more offsites and retreats. Watson said SquadTrip was already being used by corporate customers, but he also claims it is the first travel platform targeting millennials.

“Since launching, we’ve opened up our eyes to how a lot of travel agents are transitioning to curating travel experiences,” he said. Next week it begins piloting an account user feature with Travel Goddess International, so its multiple consultants can use SquadTrip.

“She’s part of a new age of social media travel agents. She’s got 40,000 or 50,000 followers on social media, and they use social media to get people excited to curate their own trips,” Watson said. “Gone are the days of Groupon and Booking.com flash deals.”

Black Wall Street Legacy

Build In Tulsa Techstars Accelerator is building on the legacy of Black Wall Street, a racially motivated massacre that took place in the prosperous Greenwood district, at the time one of the wealthiest Black communities in the U.S, in 1921.

“This is a really big deal in technology in the U.S. since the death of George Floyd, especially since our program is near Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” said Yeves Perez, founder of Workbnb, which is also part of the accelerator.

Workbnb has set up a pilot program to offer apartments in Tulsa to fellow members of the Techstars program. “The goal is to scale the program to supply mid-term housing for all Techstars programs in 40 cities around the world by next year,” Perez said.

Build in Tulsa Techstars Accelerator’s Baker added: “The housing industry is broken, and there are large segments of the population that aren’t being served by existing solutions. I accepted Workbnb into the Build in Tulsa Techstars Accelerator because they fill a huge gap with traveling workers and the companies that employ them, who aren’t best served by hotels or vacation rentals. This is a huge market, so even capturing a small percentage of it would be a big win for Workbnb and Techstars.”

Workbnb has also just appointed business solutions agency Copper & Vine to help it prepare its app for beta launch.

On the periphery of travel, another startup included in the program wants to improve the way people network. NGHBR, which is an Indonesian company, is a professional network that facilitates in-person connections based on your location in real-time.

The Build in Tulsa Techstars Accelerator is being run in partnership with the George Kasier Family Foundation and the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. The George Kasier Familly Foundation also backed an initiative called Tulsa Remote, which offered $10,000 to attract talent. It launched in 2018 and received more than 20,000 applications.

Techstars has invested in more than 2,500 companies, with a combined market cap of more than $220 billion, since it was founded in 2016.

Meanwhile another startup, Adventurely, a “travel club and meetup app for digital nomads, solo travelers and adventure seekers,” this week secured $100,000 from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.

It’s been awarded the cash, plus $100,000 in Cloud credits, hands-on support from Googlers and access to mental health and business coaching. “No longer a mere niche following, digital nomadism has now gone mainstream, as millions of businesses around the world adopted fully remote or hybrid/part-time remote work policies, in addition to work from anywhere policies,” the company said in a statement.

‍Eventnoire, a platform for event planners, organizations, and marketers that celebrate and embrace Black culture, was also selected.

Sidenotes

The UK Conservative Party appointed a new prime minister this week. Liz Truss replaces Boris Johnson, who leaves behind a unique legacy when it comes to travel and hospitality. Early on in his career he championed building an airport on the Thames estuary, dubbed Boris Island Airport, while more recently led the UK’s controversial exit from the European Union, followed by a bizarre and very expensive traffic light system to counter growing numbers of Covid-19 infections, and finally a bullish Covid recovery plan.

Truss on Wednesday overhauled her cabinet, replacing long-time transport secretary Grant Shapps, who spent three years in the role. He was replaced by Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

“As the Cabinet meets for the first time, we urge ministers to acknowledge the contribution of business travel in helping with the major concerns of our times,” said Clive Wratten, CEO of the UK’s Business Travel Association.

The association shouldn’t worry too much, though, as the new prime minister is probably already well informed on all things business travel. Her brother, Chris Truss, has been working in the sector for 20 years, with previous roles at Capita Travel and Events (now Agiito), HRG and Reed & Mackay — where he’s been international development director since 2017.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated the Build In Tulsa Techstars Accelerator comprised 14 startups. 

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