Independent Lodging Congress’ INDIE Cultivate NYC

Sensible won the pitch competition for best growth-stage startup! We also gained new insights into the future of travel and hospitality.

June 23, 2022

We had two great days at the Independent Lodging Congress’  (ILC) INDIE Cultivate NYC conference this week—made sweeter by the satisfaction of being selected as the best growth-stage startup in the conference’s pitch competition.

And while winning is nice, the best part of the event was definitely the people we met, and what we learned about hospitality innovation.


INDIE Cultivate NYC

INDIE Cultivate NYC is one of four annual hospitality events hosted by the ILC. It's part of an event series that gathers visionaries, founders, and investors for thoughtful discussion and pitches.


The conference's emcees, Andrew Benioff and Bashar Wali, describe the event as one third Design Conference (à la TED), one third Ideas Conference (à la SxSW) and one third Investment Conference (à la ALIS)

This year's INDIE Cultivate NYC was held at the historic Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, and included an action packed agenda of speakers.  

Humility in hospitality

Jeff David set the tone for the event with a recollection of his ascent through the hospitality industry, and a career that hit a glamorous-yet-unsatisfying crescendo. Despite stints atop renowned hospitality brands (replete with celeb-laden parties at Cannes, Beverly Hills rendezvous, and excessive glamour), Jeff described finding greater purpose and fulfillment in his current role as a founder. He's fully embraced a beginner’s mentality in building his business, Align Hospitality, from scratch.  

Jeff also recounted the old chicken and pig business fable, that served as a rallying cry for creators and entrepreneurs that carried throughout the day:

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what's the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!

For hospitality entrepreneurs, the lesson is if you’re going to risk it all, put your reputation on the line, and bring something new into the world—you have to be all-in. There’s no doing it halfway. 

One of the most enjoyable parts of INDIE Cultivate NYC for us was interacting with other startup teams that are all-in on what they’re building. The seed-stage and growth-stage startup pitch competitions emphasized the conference’s commitment to independent travel and hospitality brands, and broke open the room for communication about the industry’s horizons. It also uncorked a great opportunity for feedback on innovative products, and on the opportunities (and challenges) they face.

Growth-stage startup pitches: coffee, coworking, and climate

The Judges:

Michael Schatzberg, Founder & Co-Managing Partner, Branded Strategic Hospitality

Brian Sparacino, President & CEO, Rebel Hospitality

Sumindi Peiris, President, Z-Pop Media

The Startups:

Kuju Coffee: Founder and CEO, Jeff Wiguna, gave an energetic (and highly-caffeinated) recap of his pour-over coffee startup’s  journey. From a bootstrapped start-up focused on the camping market to a national coffee brand with distribution at Whole Foods and other major retail outlets. Jeff’s now bringing his easy-to-use and environmentally-friendly single use coffee product to independent hotels where every detail matters. We love what Jeff’s doing and completely agree that his pour-over format is a  huge improvement over the incumbent pod-based options found in most hotel rooms.

Deskpass: Deskpass makes Hybrid Work. While many coworking concepts didn’t survive the pandemic, Founder and CEO, Sam Rosen, seems to have cracked the code with a passport-style coworking product. It’s designed to help companies contending with the post-pandemic “new normal” of managing hybrid work forces and understanding how employees are utilizing the service. Their tag line is: “Workspaces your team will love. Thousands of workspaces. Unlimited flexibility. No commitments. Pay as you go.”  As a remote-first company with employees all over the country, our team loves this idea, and we're looking forward to trying it out.

Sensible Weather:  Since you’re reading our blog, you’re probably already familiar with Sensible’s Weather Guarantee product for travelers. We’re further positioning our platform as a tool for hoteliers to enhance the guest experience and attach incremental revenue to every room.

A victory for Sensible!

Our pitch was selected as the winner by the Cultivate panel of judges after a lively round of Q&A.

Sensible’s points of difference:

  • A BIG idea: Being able to solve a real problem for our partners and consumers, while engaging everyone in a conversation about climate, and how it impacts us all.
  • Rabid focus on Guest Experience: Our message, “Bad weather isn’t something you should have to pay for” resonated with an audience of hoteliers obsessed with elevating their guest experience.
  • Traction to date: The attachment rates of Sensible’s Weather Guarantee product demonstrate clear product market fit. Add in revenue sharing with travel partners that's on par with legacy trip insurance (and 5x higher attach rates!), and Sensible's offering for hotel partners was undeniably compelling.

Next Stop: Indie Congress LA

Our team is already looking forward to ILC’s next event in our hometown of Los Angeles, which will be held in October at the Line Hotel. It’ll be a two-and-a-half-day conference covering all aspects of independent travel and hospitality, complete with expert panels, deep-dive breakouts, and great food.

Get signed up for early-bird rates now—and we’ll hope to see you there!

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