Flying through CVG is about to get so much better -- thanks to some creative local startups

Want your mocha delivered to your gate?

HEBRON, Ky. -- Starbucks lovers, rejoice. You might soon be able to get that beloved mocha delivered directly to your gate at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. 

Brian Cobb, CVG's chief innovation officer, thinks that's possible thanks to new partnerships with local startups such as Hipaax, Losant and Wyzerr. Lately, airport officials have been playing heavily in their space -- and it could mean for some pretty cool new features coming to an airport near you. 

Cobb recently signed on as a mentor at Cintrifuse, a Cincinnati startup advocate, and it's proved an incredible learning experience -- for him. It also gave him a seat at the table and an inside look at some of the region's best talent, which CVG is now leveraging in a variety of ways. 

No other airport in the region is working with startups in a capacity like this, Cobb said.

"Selfishly, I would say we're pretty far ahead of the game, even domestically," Cobb said. "Outside the U.S., it's a different story; (those) in Germany and London see the opportunity, but there's nothing that says we shouldn't be playing in that space, too. And we all know the startup ecosystem around Cincinnati is on fire, which is incredibly fortunate for us on so many fronts."

Here are three local companies, in particular, that are taking off now at CVG and what their services could mean for passengers traveling through: 

Wyzerr surveys passengers at CVG.

THE STARTUP: Wyzerr | Covington, KY

ABOUT: Wyzerr aims to make surveys fast and fun -- a refreshing take, considering such polls have an international completion rate of less than 0.04 percent because "they're boring and take too long to complete." Wyzerr, headed by co-founder Natasia Malaihollo, moved to Covington's Innovation Alley in 2016 after Malaihollo and others moved from Los Angeles to Greater Cincinnati two years prior.

AT CVG: Traveled through CVG lately? Chances are you've taken a Wyzerr survey; you can't connect to the airport's Wifi otherwise. CVG has many uses for your responses -- it's invaluable business intelligence, and even the simplest question can yield surprising results. 

CVG assumes it pulls most out-of-town travelers from cities in the north, like Dayton and Columbus, but a closer look at valid zip code entries -- gathered through the survey -- revealed a larger percentage actually travel from the Louisville/Lexington area. 

"People are driving right past major competing airports to fly with us because we have the frequency," Cobb said. "Which is exactly what happened to us for so many years. We can take that information to chambers and visitors bureaus on both sides of the (Ohio) River" to better tailor marketing messages.

CVG rolled out its first Wyzerr survey in October and is currently in its third iteration, said Stephen Saunders, senior manager of terminal operations at CVG and Cobb's so-called "partner in crime." The airport consistently collects about 40,000 responses per two-week period. 

"I think we officially Kardashianed (or crashed) their server, from where we're collecting so much data," Cobb said. "A typical Fortune 500, they're thrilled if they can get 3,000-4,000 completed surveys in as many months. We just continue to be stunned."

CVG bought into a contract with Wyzerr, so expect the surveys to continue and evolve.

"With all this data, our desire is to push it back to another organization, like (Cincinnati data startup) Astronomer, who was actually one of our first pilots … and essentially create a working dashboard that says, 'Here's the state of the airport at any given moment,' " he said. "From there, we can share it with airline stakeholders, federal stakeholders like TSA, and our staff to let them know, 'Is the airport functioning OK, or are we struggling?' And if we're struggling, where are we struggling?

"All that said, if you're willing to share who you are and why you're traveling with the airport, we can start to leverage that data that says, 'Liz is traveling tomorrow, she's heading to Boston, she's going with her spouse and one child, and her preferences are parking in long-term parking.' Now we can start looking at predictive analytics that tells Liz, 'On Wednesday, the parking lot is going to be full in this section, so why don't you head to section G? There should be spaces between (rows) 6 and 10. Once you're on the bus, it will be a three-minute ride to the front door. Your check-in position is X. Security wait times should be Y. And when you're on the other side, we'll have your mocha latte ready for you at Concourse A. Would you like it delivered to your gate or would you like to pick it up?'

"It just becomes that whole concierge experience that so many consumer-driven organizations are trying to get to. If we're collecting all this data, we should try to make it user friendly and put it back into the customer's hands to start tailoring what your experience should be."

Using Hipaax's TaskWatch, housekeepers at CVG can better keep the airport restrooms clean.

THE STARTUP: Hipaax | Mason, OH

ABOUT: Bharat Saini created Mason-based Hipaax in 2012, and the company played in the health care space before introducing TaskWatch, a wearable technology. The company announced a partnership with Samsung -- pairing TaskWatch with its Gear S3 smartwatches -- in 2015.

AT CVG: Cobb said his team saw at least one immediate application with TaskWatch -- helping keep the airport restrooms clean.

CVG is experiencing a boom in local passenger growth, thanks in part to Frontier and Allegiant, but that's also "put tremendous pressure on our facilities," Cobb said. "Not only do we have 15,000-20,000 people a day coming through the front door," he said, there are also "meeters and greeters" who pick up and drop off.

During pilot testing, sensors were placed at entrances to four restrooms in the terminal, or the ticketing and baggage claim areas, and cleaning crews were notified via a smartwatch when counts reached a certain pre-set threshold -- 150 customers, for example. 

The goal is to move away from paper scheduling and better utilize staff resources. Clean restrooms also rank high in terms of customer satisfaction. 

CVG ran the pilot successfully throughout 2017. Cobb said he's planning for a full deployment this summer, meaning all restrooms will be equipped with the technology. Saunders said they are exploring other airport applications as well.

"This is just barely scraping the surface," he said. 

Cincinnati startup Losant partnered with CVG to better track its underground train. New displays -- based on this rendering -- will be posted around the airport this summer.

THE STARTUP: Losant | Cincinnati

ABOUT: Cincinnati-based Losant is an IoT, or Internet of Things, platform, which means it connects devices to the internet to gather data. The company was co-founded by Brandon Cannaday, Michael Kuehl and Charlie Key in 2015, and it raised $5.2 million in a Series A financing round in February.

AT CVG: Officials wanted a better way to track the location of its underground train, which takes passengers to and from the terminal to concourses A and B, respectively. It's often a source of confusion for passengers, Sauders said, who have no way of knowing when it's going to arrive. CVG needed a real-time solution but wanted to avoid adding massive infrastructure or burdening its current IT.

Enter Losant. In a pilot study, the company placed wireless sensors inside one train tunnel to gather data. It developed a dashboard so CVG officials could see, "at any time, (the train's) current location," Saunders said. 

When CVG goes full scale -- which it plans to do in May or June -- that will mean new displays at the entry doors. The display, while still conceptual, would show the tram's location real-time while also conveying when it would arrive at your location and how long it would take to walk or ride based on that information. 

"We're really trying to provide better communication, while updating the facility a little bit, but we're also giving the power to the customer," Saunders said. "They want that information, and we can provide it to them. Losant knocked it out of the park."

Saunders added Losant is the first startup to win an RFP, or request for proposals, at CVG. CVG had received some off-the-shelf solutions, but those proved expensive and difficult to scale. 

"We don't need the (same) system as the New York (City) Transit Authority," Cobb said. "The difference we've seen with these startups is, when we sit down and work with them, especially if they're local, we can encourage them and say, 'Tell us what you want to see. You're a customer, too. Help us design something that's user friendly. And simple.' " 

Saunders said there's more to come. CVG will continue to tap into the startup space and leverage the best of talent and tech.

"We look at ourselves as a test bed, really. We have the eyeballs," he said. "We (served) 7.8 million passengers last year, and that's only increasing. We're this open lab. And to be able to work with all this great talent in the city and the region is fun."

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