Partnerships for tourism and innovation: start-ups accelerating the achievement of the SDGs

Partnerships for tourism and innovation: start-ups accelerating the achievement of the SDGs

Side event at the 7th annual Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI Forum)

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Date: 5 May 12:00 NYC time
Platform: Zoom

While the pandemic has jeopardized many sustainability efforts, it has also accelerated digital transformation and technology adoption throughout the tourism value chain, which would not have been possible without public-private partnerships. For this reason, UNWTO has led a process of strengthening the global tourism innovation ecosystem by encouraging Governments, institutions, corporations, investors, education centers, accelerators, and start-ups, to keep a flow of knowledge and funding that could drive scalable solutions.

This session aims to showcase selected success cases from the UNWTO Top 100 Startups, which 48% uses Artificial Intelligence1 in such a way that we can boost the economy, generate social impact and protect the environment. In addition, the side-event is intended to prove the interest of Member States and investors in tourism with a long-term perspective: “despite the 2020 drop in global investment, the amount of funding towards the travel tech sector remains not only stable, but experienced an increase during the first semester compared to 2019”2.

By bringing entrepreneurs, investors and ministers to the stage, the audience will have the opportunity to understand the importance of innovation and partnerships for the global recovery of the most cross-cutting economic sector.

1. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO. (2021). UNWTO Travel and Tourism Tech Startup Ecosystem and Investment Landscape. Retrieved from World Tourism Organization (UNWTO. (2021).
2. UNWTO Travel and Tourism Tech Startup Ecosystem and Investment Landscape. Retrieved from

Preliminary programme
Thursday, 5 May 2022 | 12:00 – 13:00 NYC Time

Master of Ceremonies: Mr. José Ricardo Díaz, Senior Specialist at the Innovation, Education and Investments Department

12:00 – 12:05

Welcome remarks

Ms. Natalia Bayona, Director of Innovation, Education and Investments, UNWTO

12:05 – 12:15

Introduction on innovation and partnerships: the leadership of entrepreneurs

Mr. Florent Varanne, Senior Program Manager and Transverse Innovation Leader, Sommet Education (Switzerland)

12:15 – 12:30

Startup pitches

  • Mabrian Technologies (Spain)
    Ms. Anna Borduzha, Business Development Manager
  • Enexor BioEnergy (United States of America)
    Mr. Robert Grajewski, Senior Vice President
  • MyStreetBook (Spain)
    Mr. Carlos Sánchez, Co-founder and COO (TBC)
12:30 – 12:50

Panel discussion

Moderated by Mr. Florent Varanne, Senior Program Manager and Transverse Innovation Leader, Sommet Education (Switzerland)

12:50 – 12:55

Video of the UNWTO Awake Tourism Challenge

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Natalia Bayona
Natalia Bayona
Director of Innovation, Education and Investments, UNWTO

Natalia Bayona leads the innovation, education and investments strategy of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations specialized agency for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and accessible tourism worldwide.

With a diverse background on politics, destination management and business, she has become the first innovation director at UNWTO, has introduced entrepreneurship and education as key factors for tourism and development, and has positioned UNWTO as an innovation benchmark within the wider United Nations system as recognized in the UN 2020 Mapping of Innovation, Data and Digital Capacities. Furthermore, she has joined the UN Executive Leadership Programme for Sustainable Development led by the UN System Staff Collegue (UNSSC).

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Florent Varanne
Florent Varanne
Senior Program Manager and Transverse Innovation Leader, Sommet Education

Passionate about transformation challenges, leveraging innovation and collective intelligence to make positive change happen, Florent Varanne leads digital transformation programs & global transverse innovation at Sommet Education*, the world leading hospitality education group with premium renown brands as Glion, Les Roches, Ecole Ducasse, Invictus & Indian Hospitality School. In particular, he led with Les Roches teams the development of Spark – an innovation hub dedicated to Hospitality including start-ups incubation, corporate innovation projects in academic programs, new facilities on campus & partnerships to develop new solutions for hospitality industry. Before the last 5 years, Florent worked for 15 years as manager consultant in strategy, organisation & information systems for various international companies around the world.

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Anna Borduzha
Anna Borduzha
Business Development Manager at Mabrian Technologies

I am passionate about technology and its ability to impact lives at a level and scale that has never been realized in the history of mankind. After more than 15 years of global experience in marketing, sales and business development in FMCG, Tourism and Leisure sectors, I joined Mabrian’s team to take Big Data to the next level and help to Tourism Sector to understand reality and manage tourism development in more efficient and sustainable way. Mabrian Technologies

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Robert Grajewski
Robert Grajewski
Senior Vice President at Enexor BioEnergy

As Senior Vice President and a member of the leadership team, Robert Grajewski sets the strategy for and leads new market expansion, capital formation, and business development efforts at Enexor BioEnergy. Prior to Enexor, Grajewski launched and led the Innovation Center at Vanderbilt University growing it into what was later recognized as The Top Emerging University Entrepreneurship Center Globally. Grajewski is also a serial start-up entrepreneur having served in founder/C-Level roles at Edison Nation Medical (Top 40 Healthcare Startup, Acquired by a Major Healthcare System), Prestige Staffing Solutions (Acquired by an Industry Leader), and Pro-Techs Antimicrobial (Acquired by a Private Equity Firm). Grajewski also spent 8+ years as venture capital investor for leading firms including J.H. Whitney Capital Partners, Westwind Investors, and Kamylon Capital investing in early-stage cleantech/sustainability, business services, and healthcare companies. Notably at J.H. Whitney, Grajewski assisted in the successful acquisition and subsequent operational turnaround of Wellman Advanced Materials – a Thermoplastic Resin and Nylon Compounder and Recycler - that was later acquired by an international conglomerate. Grajewski received an MBA from the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania), an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, and an AB degree from Harvard University.

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Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sánchez
Co-founder and COO at MyStreetBook

Master in Architecture and Urban Planning, specialized in Project Management and e-tourism.

Carlos has worked as technical manager at the Technical University of Madrid, participating in European innovation projects for new ICT solutions addressed to cultural heritage and urbanism. He has collaborated with Spanish National Trust researching for the reactivation of historical heritage sites, where he specialized. After that, we worked as project manager in the European Organization for Technical Assessment and became interested in the development of Big-Data programming and Internet of Things based technologies aimed at cultural dynamization. This background led to the founding of MyStreetBook in 2016.

As COO of MyStreetBook, he has contributed to the creation of a pioneer recommender system able to create smart itineraries addressing tourism, smart mobility and logistics. A software solution that has merited the Costa del Sol Entrepreneurship Awards 2018, the Andalucia Tourism Award 2020 or the UNWTO Competition for Rural Tourism 2020 Award, amongst others.

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Naomi MacKenzie
Naomi MacKenzie
Co-founder at Kitro

With experience working in the food and beverage industry both in kitchens and service Naomi witnessed every day the enormous amount of edible food that is being thrown away. This has led her to commit herself to reducing the avoidable food waste in this sector. The environmental impact that KITRO could have inspires her to push it to its full potential and leave a positive footprint.

Since starting KITRO everyday has been an exciting learning experience, full of inspiring individuals and new discoveries. The opportunity to build something you can proudly stand behind and fully believe in has so far been an incomparable experience for her!

The idea behind KITRO originated during Naomi’s educational studies at the École de Hôtelière de Lausanne. Since then, she together with co-founder Anastasia Hofmann have been vigorously working to bring the hospitality industry a solution to tackle this growing issue of food waste. Their goal is to bring back the value of food, so that all food is appreciated and not wasted.

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