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JetBlue CIO pilots VC arm in search of revenue growth

Clint Boulton | May 30, 2016
JetBlue’s Technology Ventures unit seeks to fund startups, and potentially commercialize services based on their technology.

When travelers book vacations through JetBlue Getaways, the company manually manages the flight, hotel and rental car experiences. If there is an issue, such as a travel hiccup, customers call JetBlue to sort it out. Marty St. George, JetBlue executive vice president of commercial and planning, says he wants to make such contingency planning more seamless. “I think that there are other pieces of the travel experience beyond what we’re currently monetizing through our vacations product,” St. George says.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research Group, says JetBlue might also explore applications that augment aircraft maintenance or employee staffing and productivity. “To me it shows that they recognize that non-aircraft technology is as important to the airline as the aircraft themselves,” Harteveldt says.

JetBlue is the latest in a string of big businesses fostering innovation outside their corporate technology departments. BNY Mellon, American Express and Ford Motor Co. are among large enterprises that have launched innovation centers in Silicon Valley in the past year. Indeed, at the MIT conference, panelists discussed the need for allocating separate units for emerging technologies, whose progress can grind to a halt inside internal IT departments.

Bleeding edge: or death by a thousand startups

Living on the bleeding edge poses its own challenges. Sundaram says he’s already learned that he can’t apply the same process he uses to assess new technologies for use at JetBlue to vet startups. Acting swiftly and decisively on potential investments is paramount, as some startups may not survive for two months if they aren’t funded at the right time. He also says it’s important for JTV to limit its scope to travel, hospitality and logistics startups that can augment the customer experience.

“Every company is impressive,” Sundaram says. “The question is, where is your priority and where is your focus?”

 

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