Early-stage investment in youth entrepreneurs makes local travel more affordable and convenient

Distribution costs are typically one of the most significant expenses for airlines, usually because of the technology involved. AirStudent connects directly with airlines to reduce those costs, and in turn pass savings on to customers. This strategy has helped the company to grow rapidly and net an undisclosed investment from the impact investment company, E Squared Investments in 2021.

As the travel industry looks to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, AirStudent not only looks to take advantage of the advancements in travel technology but seeks to be at the forefront of its adoption and development. Securing significant backing from E Squared Investments will help the company’s efforts to grow their operations and scale-out the innovative technology they have developed that is already in production and use, for the benefit of their customers and partners. AirStudent works closely and directly with some of the leading industry players such as Comair (operating British Airways & Kulula.com), South Africa’s latest airline Lift, Europcar, and many others to deliver tailored travel packages, and improved benefits and services that ensure their customers enjoy flexibility, convenience, and affordable travel.

Founded by Allan Gray Fellows Ndabenhle Ntshangase and Lwanda Shabalala in 2017, AirStudent organises students traveling between home and university into coordinated groups affording them preferential deals by leveraging their numbers – currently offered only on local travel – which can also be applied to non-students traveling in larger groups. 

The accessibility of South Africa’s business culture played a big part in AirStudent’s launch

Ntshangase and Shabalala hail from Northern KwaZulu Natal but studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Ntshangase, the only student from his school to study at UCT that year, had to navigate the travel process for the first time alone. “Coming from a big family, I understood the power of the collective. From buying groceries at wholesalers in bulk to getting discounts at carnivals with my siblings because there were so many of us. Once I looked at the traveling student body as a family, I knew we could get a lot of value from coordinating our travel.” says Ntshangase. 

To gauge potential interest for a company that could arrange bulk discount travel, the entrepreneurs asked students their thoughts and received a whopping 963 expressions of interest. They used these to approach Comair Ltd about a potential partnership. Comair readily agreed to be a part of it. Shabalala adds, “I think it’s testament to South Africa’s dynamic business culture, that an established brand like Kulula was eager to work with us even at concept stage. Our idea was leveraged by the interest from all those students, but not much more, and we are grateful for the chance they took on us.” This was the launch of AirStudent.

Innovative technology behind the cost savings

When the global pandemic hit, many airlines and travel agents realised how unsustainable paying exorbitant fees to international distribution companies was, which gave AirStudent and its partners a massive opportunity. AirStudent introduced a new approach to their service offering and started licensing their technology to other travel agents who would not otherwise be able to continue operations.

Following a successful pilot and growing student adoption, AirStudent teamed up with Trans-end Technologies and Botlhale.ai to bolster its innovative technology capabilities and capacity, thereby enhancing a customer’s travel experience and the company’s travel management capabilities. According to the company, this technology will address ongoing issues and feasibly improve travel procurement and management for agents, whilst also giving customers greater choice and access to benefits at a fraction of the cost of traditional (GDS) bookings.

Backing youth entrepreneurs and businesses for sustainable growth

E Squared’s recent investment into Johannesburg-based startup AirStudent is a major boost and backing that indicates confidence in the massive opportunities that lie ahead for the growing company. 

With the investment from E Squared, AirStudent looks to develop and expand its solution further while going to market. 

“Having worked with our technology partners and early adopters to develop some really interesting technology, our goal now is to scale the technology and hit the market hard. We are confident that we have a great product and are super excited at the opportunities that lie ahead,” says Shabalala, AirStudent co-founder.

Ndabenhle Ntshangase, CEO and co-founder, notes his excitement for what is coming to the travel industry with the advent of this type of technology and new distribution channels, “Our ideas have always been around creating something that benefits all stakeholders from our travel partners to our traveling customers, all the way through to independent third-party partners. Our growth further highlights the importance of funding partners such as E Squared that back young South African entrepreneurs and businesses. We believe our technologies and systems will bring a lot of positive change and we are excited at the traction we have already seen from stakeholders in higher education to corporates and independent travel companies. As travel opens up, we are looking to drive a number of efforts aimed at growth and expansion.”

Tap into this technology and partner with AirStudent

At the moment, the searchable content on AirStudent’s website is limited to domestic air travel only. However, third-party partners looking to work with and use AirStudent’s technology will have access to a wider variety of content (air, accommodation, and car hire). The company, alongside Trans-end Technologies, welcomes new partners willing to adopt their technology as a way to emerge stronger from the pandemic.

Featured in Ventureburn, 13 January 2022 https://bit.ly/3GtNoud