US low-cost airline JetBlue is looking for travel start-ups it can invest in ahead of the launch of transatlantic services to London in 2021.
The carrier’s wholly owned subsidiary, JetBlue Technology Ventures, wants to find start-ups that can help it stay ahead of disruption in the industry in the future.
Speaking to Travolution at last week’s Aviation Summit in London, Raj Singh, managing director of Silicon Valley-based JetBlue Technology Ventures, said:
“Not every challenge can be solved by a start-up. But we look to invest in start-ups with the hope that will over time be of value to JetBlue as a company and the industry.
“We are really thinking about the entire travel ecosystem. It may not be travel technology at all, but it might have use cases in travel.
“We like to match start-ups with challenges we have within our organisation and what are business units see out there and the areas they would like to see improve in the near-term future.
“So, there are near-term needs, but we also want to be really forward looking, where we can get ahead of disruption. What’s going to be disruptive in the industry in five to 10 years’ time?”
Singh said Europe is considered to be a promising region for JetBlue’s ventures arm and in particular the UK which he said he as “long tradition” of travel start-ups.
The airline offers start-ups investment as a “balance sheet investor” for a small stake but does not operate like an incubator such as BA parent IAG’s Hangar 51 programme.
“We want to be on the board,” said Singh. “We want to be able to observe. The difference between being a customer and an investor is quite interesting.
“When you are a customer the start-up will always put its best face on. As an investor you can see how the sausages are made.”
The increased profile JetBlue will have as it prepares to start operations from the US to London is expected to help it generate interest from start-ups, said Singh.
Singh added JetBlue can help early-stage firms looking to work with larger corporations offering advice and insight into the industry, opportunities for growth and regulations.
JetBlue will support the development of the technology and run pilot schemes with the start-ups with its partners including airports, accommodation providers and ground handling firms.
In the last three-and-a-half years JetBlue Technology Ventures has made 24 individual investments. It has eight proof of concepts running in the US.
“We have been successful in many ways running tests and pilots with start-ups and extending that out to our partners,” added Singh.
“What we have found internally for JetBlue when we have exposed our business units to these sorts of ideas they are saying we did not realise you could do it that way. The energy and excitement has been great.
“For us success is not that one of our companies gets sold for $1 billion. That would be nice, but success is that one of our partners uses that company over time and they see half a percent or one percent more profit each year. That would make a huge impact.”
On Tuesday this week the firm ran its first pitch night in London at which five start-ups competed for a prize package including Zendesk credit, a consultation from TriNet and a free 30-minute legal consultation.