Last night I tweeted my top four picks. Two of them made the final four. My picks were all transportation search companies. I chose air search companies Everbread and Vayant, metasearch innovator Hipmunk and online rail company SilverRail.
It is true to say that I came to the conference with some pre-conceived notions on these companies.
I believe that while mobile and social media are the areas of innovation that have captured the bulk of the buzz and media attention this year, it is in transportation search and results that can have the most immediate impact in sales and conversion.
As a reminder, innovation is not just an idea or a beta or something that is cool to look at.
True innovation is a creative idea put into action â€“ successfully executed â€“ that has impact on changing a market. Online transportation search (air, rail, car) looks in 2010 much like it looked in the early days of online travel.
There are a lot more filters and options presented to consumers but the list approach with predictable combinations of fares from one type of transportation has remained.
The four innovators I picked have been trying to rewrite those rules and have taken steps to put the new rules into action.
In the case of Everbread and Vayant, they have products the claim to (I need to see more of them before I can â€śdefinitely doâ€ť) provide search results with routing, carrier and fare combinations that are not available in tradditional search.
If true and they develop traction, this could profoundly change not only consumer behaviour but also airline yield and route management. See my story from yesterday on Everbread. Clearly â€śthe crowdâ€ť will need more convincing.
Hipmunk has generated more buzz that any other three month old start up I have come across (Tnooz piece here).
During its presentation, CEO and co-founder Adam Goldstein showed screen after screen of airline search results from top tier OTAs where less than a third of the screen was devoted to the search results.
In Hipmunk they have devoted more than 90% of the screen to search results indexed by â€śagonyâ€ť (internal algorithm for measuring how painful a flight will be) rather than price or time. It looks good. Really good. If Hipmunk gains traction their look and feel will influence product developers across the online travel world.
Finally to SilverRail. CEO Aaron Gowell felt the need to prove to a mainly US audience the importance of and potential for online rail. He won that part of the case easily.
Jim Hornthal (of Preview and Triporati fame) pointed out a number of the challenges in selling rail online (story from yesterday here). Â But if anyone can get it right it looks like Aaron and the team can.
If they do, and can do to rail what online distribution has done for air, it will be one of the most profound innovations in the sale of transportation.
I spoke with him just after the announcement of the finalists and (unsurprisingly) he was very happy with the announcement and busy doing some refinements and tweaks to his pitch.
In the end, it does not matter what I think, as democracy has a funny way of producing results that no one expects (as recent election results in Australia and the UK prove).
While I may be hot for transportation search, the attendees of PhoCusWright also have a lot of time for mobile innovation bringing mobile search company Goby and mobile app developer Kony into the top four.
Later today and tomorrow, all seven will pitch â€“ this time to a panel of judges.