The Top 25: Bonny Simi, Jetblue Technology Ventures

Bonny Simi is president of JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV), the wholly-owned venture subsidiary of US-based JetBlue Airways.

JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV) not only invests in startups, but also introduces them to JetBlue as a potential customer. JTV is looking for a wide range of innovations to enhance all aspects of JetBlue’s business.

It is a first in a long tradition for the company. Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways said: “JetBlue has always been a forward-thinking airline and we want to stay ahead of new technologies to continue improving the entire travel experience for our customers. JetBlue Technology Ventures allows us to invest in and shape the future of our industry through the strategic partnerships the team is building with startups innovating in travel and hospitality – from solutions alleviating the pain of flight delays to affordable electric aircraft.”

Since its inception, JTV has identified and reviewed more than 2,500 startups and participated in 23 deals. JTV introduced 14 startups, half of which are JTV’s portfolio companies, to its parent as suppliers or partners in some capacity. Its portfolio includes startups that will reduce cost, increase revenue, improve customer service and optimise operations.

JTV seeks to demonstrate significant strategic impact within two years and modest financial returns within seven. With respect to the strategic impact, several proof of concepts and portfolio company integrations have already demonstrated results for JetBlue and were featured during JetBlue’s 2018 Investor Day presentation. For example:

  • Gladly is a startup introduced to JetBlue via JetBlue Technology Ventures, and is an omni-channel customer service tool that treats customers not as individual passenger name records or reservation numbers but as a holistic person, aggregating all the contacts that the airline has had with a customer in one view. JetBlue has implemented Gladly across three communication channels and it is being used by all our 2,000 customer support crewmembers. 10 months since its launch, JetBlue is seeing reduced costs in the contact centre and increased customer service.
  • ClimaCell is another example of a startup found by JTV that is having a positive impact at JetBlue. It was founded by a group of entrepreneurs from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard and discovered that cell signals attenuate differently depending on the type and intensity of precipitation. This allows them to sense weather in a much more precisely than traditional weather radar. JetBlue trialled the aviation solution for six months at Boston’s Logan Airport, to assist the ramp operations team with predicting lightening, fog and snow – all which impact ramp operations. Eventually, the data from ClimaCell could help reduce costs associated with unnecessary cancellations and delays, and increase safety on the ramp.

In addition to bringing JetBlue startup, JTV also designed and runs a signature collaborative innovation sprint program with different JetBlue business units to help them maintain a fresh outlook on the future. These programs are 12-week JTV-driven engagements where JTV helps the business unit understand what the future of their sector looks like. JTV casts a wide net to find a large group of startups that fit within the engagement’s theme and then thoughtfully reviews and whittles down the list to a handful of startups that pitch to JetBlue leaders for potential partnerships and pilots. JTV has conducted eight innovation sprints so far with various business units, including customer support, benefits, and technical operations, that have led to several successful startup proofs of concepts and pilot programs.

JTV is also a strategic adviser and partner to JetBlue’s new subsidiary, JetBlue Travel Products (JTP), which consists of the JetBlue Vacations brand and other non-air travel products including travel insurance, cruises and car rentals. The objective is to provide travel services to customers in a fully integrated and seamless way that hasn’t been done before. JTV introduces startups to JTP as potential suppliers and advises JTP on its strategic product roadmap based on our unique technology-based travel insights and awareness.

The JTV team spends a considerable amount of time speaking at events to share its travel vision and insights, contributing to the broader innovation ecosystem and furthering the innovative external brand of JetBlue. In 2018, the team spoke at 67 events in total – Bonny spoke at 19.

JTV has had three investment principals featured as GCV Rising Stars in the past three years – Christina Heggie this year, Ajay Sharma last year and Anna Schiller in 2017.

In the past year, JTV has had five new members join the team – Amy Burr named managing director in May, Gidi Fisher appointed operating principal in August, Ashley Lowes hired as communications manager in July, Matt Miller as investment analyst in July and Zach Winn investment analyst in early 2019. Alex Kaufman was also promoted from investment associate to investment principal.

JetBlue plans to expand beyond the US and into other brand extensions beyond air travel. The funding comes off the JetBlue balance sheet and the team is based in San Carlos, California, appropriately at an airport.

Simi has been with JetBlue for 15 years in a variety of leadership and operational positions, and is still an active captain at the airline. She is a graduate of Stanford Business School and Stanford Engineering School, and is a three-time Olympic athlete in the sport of luge, a form of sled racing.