Plug and Play Joins UNWTO and Wakalua to Invite Startups to Pitch Ways to Accelerate SDGs


Plug and Play joins the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) new Startup Competition in collaboration with Wakalua, as it looks to identify innovators with the power to further tourism's cross-cutting contribution to sustainable development. 


As the United Nations specialized agency for tourism, UNWTO has been guiding the sector's efforts to contribute to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, as the global community faces just 10 years to reach this ambitious agenda for people and the planet, tourism's unique ability to advance several of the SDGs is more relevant than ever.


Against the backdrop of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2020, held under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), UNWTO has launched the SDGs Global Startup Competition. The program is organized in partnership with Wakalua, the innovation hub of leading tourism group Globalia, and is supported by Plug and Play, a global innovation platform and active early-stage investor. It also has strong private backing with the Advanced Leadership Foundation, Amadeus, Amazon Web Services Activate, BBVA, ClarkeModet, The Far Co, Globant, Google, IE University, Mastercard, Mentor Day, and Telefónica, as lead promoters of innovation.


UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashviki said: "Tourism's cross-cutting nature is unique. As a sector, it touches on almost every part of our economies and our societies. This competition will rally all sectors around efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and place innovation and sustainability at the heart of global economic recovery."


"Unequivocally, COVID-19 has challenged everyone's path to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Innovation is needed now more than ever at the intersection of travel and sustainability. As a global innovation platform that specializes in cross-industry open innovation, Plug and Play is committed to supporting UNWTO and Wakalua in discovering and sourcing high potential startups worldwide that can make a real difference to the pursuit of SDGs," said Patricia Nordstrom, Travel & Hospitality APAC Lead, Plug and Play.


The competition is not only open to innovators within the tourism sector. Startups of every kind, from all over the world, are invited to participate provided that they:

  • Are innovative in nature and provide value-added solutions

  • Are sustainability-driven

  • Are scalable, with potential for international growth and potential to be applied in corporations and destinations (countries, regions)

  • Are an Early Stage or Series A startup

  • Have a tested pilot and business plan

  • Have been accelerated before

  • Have a full-time team already in place

The 17 most disruptive startups (1 for each of the SDGs) will be given support to scale-up and make a real difference to the future of destinations. UNWTO will present the best ideas to its Member States, Affiliate Members and investors, providing them with a unique networking and matchmaking opportunity. Additional benefits on offer include the chance to pitch at a special UNWTO Demo Day and access to technological support and to the UNWTO Innovation network, as well as a curated mentorship program with both one-on-one and group training sessions on key topics such as Intellectual Property, sustainability in business and leadership.


Applications are now open and will close on 20 September 2020. The winning startups will be announced in November. To find out more and to apply, visit the UNWTO SDGs Global Startup Competition webpage.


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