JetBlue isn't the largest or strongest of the U.S. airlines. But it is betting its Silicon Valley venture firm will help catapult it past its stronger rivals. It's not a bad strategy.
When JetBlue Airways created its venture capital fund two and a half years ago, its leaders asked how an innovative company, like Airbnb or Uber, might someday disrupt airlines. Then they went looking for investments in those sectors.
It’s how JetBlue ended up with a stake in Zunum Aero, a company that’s designing an electric aircraft for short-haul travel, and Joby Aviation, a startup that’s building an electric aircraft capable of making vertical takeoffs and landings inside cities.
“Our thesis is that, in 50 years, yes you will still go to San Francisco to fly to New York or London on all the major airlines,” Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Tech Ventures, said recently at Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley. “Airlines as they currently exist will still be here. However, that is for long-haul travel. We believe that from one mile to 1,000 miles is incredibly ripe for disruption.”
JetBlue has other focuses, too. It’s also interested in investments that will someday help the parent company, not only with strong returns, but also with expertise it can use to improve revenues or reduce costs. Its investment in the startup Lumo might help JetBlue more efficiently predict flight delays, while its stake in ClimaCell may help the airline better understand complex weather systems.
“We think of it as a strategic investment,” she said. “We are looking for entrepreneurs who want to work with us as a potential customer.”
She also helps companies sell their products to other airlines. “I just won’t introduce you to our competitors,” she tells them, “but you are totally welcome to work with them.”
You can watch the entire interview above, or consider reading more coverage of Skift Tech Forum.
At Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley, travel tech executives gathered for a day of inspiration, information, and conversation.
Photo credit: Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Tech Ventures, spoke about her investment strategy at the Skift Global Forum in June. She was joined on stage by Christopher R. Hemmeter, managing partner of Thayer Ventures. Skift