Paris Hilton Backs New AI Trip Planner and Jet Engine Startup Raises $116 Million



ZeroAvia Dornier 228 on takeoff during 10th flight test of prototype ZA600 engine in July 2023

Seven travel tech startups have raised more than $171 million over the past two weeks. 

>>Layla, a new generative AI trip planner app, has announced its launch and a seed fundraise of $3.3 million (€3 million).

Investors include Paris Hilton, Booking.com co-founder Andy Phillips, and Skyscanner co-founder Barry Smith. The funding round was led by Firstminute Capital, which was established by Lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman, as well as the fund M13.

Users can access the trip planner chatbot through the Apple and Android apps, or by messaging the Instagram account @justasklayla.

Berlin-based Layla said that the chatbot can deliver a personalized travel plan following a series of prompts and responses. The itinerary could include relevant videos and information about accommodations, flight prices, cultural insights, and weather. The app also enables users to book flights and lodging through Skyscanner and Booking.com.

The startup said the chatbot is informed in part by social media-based travel content, which is where many younger travelers turn to get travel advice. 

Layla was created by Jeremy Jauncey, founder of travel media brand Beautiful Destinations, and Saad Saeed, co-founder of European grocery delivery service Flink. 

“Travel discovery has been broken for decades,” Jauncey said in a statement. “People today get inspired by short-form videos on social media first and foremost, but there is no way to turn this inspiration into a trip. We want to help users discover the perfect places by bridging the gap between social media, planning and booking.”

ZeroAvia: $116 Million

ZeroAvia, which is developing a hydrogen-electric jet engine, has raised $116 million in series C funding.

It was led by the UK Infrastructure Bank, with support from previous co-leads Airbus, Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital, and NEOM Investment Fund, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Alaska Airlines, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, AP Ventures, and Amazon Climate Pledge Fund. 

ZeroAvia has now raised over $256 million, according to Crunchbase. The latest funding amount, in September, was undisclosed. 

Headquartered in the UK and California, ZeroAvia said it is developing hydrogen-electric engines that use hydrogen in fuel cells to generate electricity. That electricity is then used to power motors that turn the aircraft’s propellers, with water being the only byproduct during flight.

The company is focusing first on engines that support a 300-mile range in aircrafts of nine to 19 seats by the end of 2025. The next focus is on engines that support a range of up to 700 miles in aircrafts with 40-80 seats by 2027. The company said it has signed engineering partnerships with major aircraft manufacturers and has nearly 2,000 engine pre-orders from airlines. 

 The funding will go toward certifying the startup’s first engines and advancing research and development around engines for larger aircrafts. 

“Aviation and hydrogen are sectors that need significant private investment to get to net zero,” said Ian Brown, head of banking and investments at the UK Infrastructure Bank, in a statement. “By providing confidence to investors, our equity has helped to crowd in the private investment needed for the continued development of this cutting-edge technology and should help stimulate the development and deployment of hydrogen technology across other hard to decarbonise sectors.”  

Scapia: $23 Million

Scapia, which offers a credit card and app dedicated to Indian travelers, has raised $23 million in a series A funding round.

It was led by Elevation Capital and 3STATE Ventures, with support from Matrix Partners India and Tanglin Venture Partners. 

The Bangalore-based company released a co-branded Visa credit card in partnership with Federal Bank near the time it announced a $9 million fundraise in June. 

Benefits of the card include no foreign exchange fees, unlimited domestic airport lounge access with a minimum monthly expenditure, no annual or joining fees, and 10% rewards for all purchases. 

The credit card app includes a tool that enables customers to instantly redeem points for flight and hotels, bookable through the app, the company said. 

The capital will go toward growing the startup’s customer base, adding more banking partners, and strengthening the software product. 

@hotel: $4 million

@hotel, a consumer booking platform for hotels, has raised $4 million. 

Investors include former Booking Holdings CEO Jeff Boyd, Booking Holdings chairman Robert Mylod, PAR Capital, Shopify executive Luc Levesque through his fund 20GROWTH, Facebook executive David Fischer, Instagram lead Morgan Brown, and others.

Formerly called Tripscout, the startup raised a $10 million series A funding round in June 2022.

The Chicago-based startup has a strong focus on selling its product through social media, particularly Instagram, with more than 100 accounts focused on different destinations. The accounts receive more than 2 billion views each month, according to the website. 

Maison Sport: $3.9 Million

Maison Sport, an online platform connecting skiers with professional instructors, has raised $3.9 million (£3.1 million).

Investors include Skyscanner co-founder Gareth Williams and Checkatrade founder Kevin Byrne. 

London-based Maison Sport said it offers lessons at more than 400 resorts with more than 1,300 instructors in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria.

The funding will go toward adding lessons for skiing and snowboarding, as well as partnering with more travel agents, who can get a commission by selling lessons to clients. 

BeCause: $1.9 million

BeCause, which helps travel companies manage sustainability data, has raised $1.9 million (€1.8 million) in seed funding. 

The round, which is still open, has been co-led by Ugly Duckling Ventures and Superangel.io, with support from individual investors Sean Brown, Sean Evans, and Patrick Patrong.

“We have retained the possibility of adding another investor to this round and hope to find a partner that has experience with high-growth startups in the impact space, particularly those with a background in B2B SaaS models, travel and big data API, to help accelerate our mission even further,” said Frederik Steensgaard, BeCause co-founder and CEO, in a statement.

Demark-based BeCause said its AI-powered platform acts as a centralized hub for all sustainability data between travel company partners.

The company said its network includes more than 20,000 hotels, more than 50 certifiers, and 15 travel booking marketplaces. Clients include Booking.com, easyJet, Google, Radisson Hotels, and TUI, the company said.

The funding will go toward strengthening the product and expanding into other travel sectors, like corporate travel, tours and activities, and meetings.

WeRoad: $19.6 million

WeRoad, a tour operator based in Europe, has raised $19.6 million (€18 million) in series B funding led by H14.

Milan-based WeRoad is developing its travel booking platform, meant for millennials who want to travel with groups. The company plans to advance its technology and scale in Europe before moving to other regions.

(See Skift’s story.)

Company Stage Lead Raise
Layla Seed Firstminute Capital and M13 $3.3 million
ZeroAvia Series C UK Infrastructure Bank $116 million
Scapia Series A Elevation Capital and 3STATE Ventures $23 million
WeRoad Series B H14 $19.6 million
@hotel Unspecified Unspecified $4 million
Maison Sport Unspecified Unspecified $3.9 million
BeCause Seed Ugly Duckling Ventures and Superangel.io $1.9 million

Skift Cheat Sheet

Seed capital is money used to start a business, often led by angel investors and friends or family.

Series A financing is typically drawn from venture capitalists. The round aims to help a startup’s founders make sure that their product is something that customers truly want to buy.

Series B financing is mainly about venture capitalist firms helping a company grow faster. These fundraising rounds can assist in recruiting skilled workers and developing cost-effective marketing.

Series C financing is ordinarily about helping a company expand, such as through acquisitions. In addition to VCs, hedge funds, investment banks, and private equity firms often participate.

Series D, E, and, beyond These mainly mature businesses and the funding round may help a company prepare to go public or be acquired. A variety of types of private investors might participate.





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