26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Bonny Simi, president, and Raj Singh, head of investing, JetBlue Technology Ventures

JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV), the corporate venture capital (CVC) and innovation arm of US-based airline operator JetBlue Airways, is led by president Bonny Simi and head of investing Raj Singh.

JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes said in his nomination of the JTV leadership team: “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.

“JTV 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.”

Singh underscored two wins in the past year, saying: “A top highlight from the past year was our first exit when Shape Security was acquired by F5 Networks. I am proud of our team’s growing recognition in the travel investing and corporate venture capital ecosystems.

“We have also been able to leverage our connections and experience to provide many startup solutions to JetBlue Airways as well as our corporate partners Air New Zealand and Vantage Airport Group – in 2019, we began our 19th proof of concept to date with startups.”

Simi added: “In the past year, two of our portfolio companies hit unicorn status – Joby Aviation and Shape Security – the latter of which was also an exit that provided a nice return. Our impact on and relevance to our parent company JetBlue Airways and its second subsidiary JetBlue Travel Products only continues to grow as well.

“Different JetBlue teams come to us first for new ideas and innovative solutions – we have run five innovation sprints in the last year alone. We have huge support from JetBlue during this difficult time where our industry has been dramatically impacted. It is a testament to our value to them as a CVC.”

They are confident but remain prudent about the plans for the rest of the year. Singh said: “Year after year, our one consistent goal is to find great startups to get involved with because we believe that they have an innovative product that JetBlue and its partners can benefit from.

“Over the next few months, we are committed to helping our portfolio companies survive the current environment and get back on the right footing. We will need to spend a lot of time thinking strategically about what the new future of travel looks like – this year’s events will have a long-term impact on the industry, and we need to take that into consideration when making investments.

“We have also layered in sustainable technologies to our investment focus to support JetBlue Airways’ overarching sustainability goals.”

Simi also said: “The year ahead is a bit different considering the global circumstances right now. In the short-term, we are looking at safety and sanitation startups that can help revamp JetBlue Airways and the airline industry. We are also committed to supporting our portfolio companies proactively by providing resources and guidance to demonstrate our value as an investor.”

From the numerous milestone JTV has achieved since it was founded in early 2016, Singh highlighted: “It is an accomplishment to see two of our portfolio companies, Gladly and ClimaCell, sign contracts to work with JetBlue. More broadly, a big milestone for us has been building out our team, our brand, and our processes to run efficiently and effectively. Others in the CVC community approach us to learn more about our operation as a successful benchmark, so that is quite gratifying.

Simi, on the other hand, added: “We have really expanded our ecosystem since beginning the JetBlue Ventures’ journey four years ago. We have three industry partners we are very proud to work with and source for: Air New Zealand, Vantage Airport Group and CAE.

“I am also very proud that every year since our founding, we have had one team member on the Global Corporate Venturing Rising Stars list. As a leader, my biggest focus is my team and it is exciting to see them be recognized for their hard work.”

During their time managing the unit, the duo have encountered different challenges and opportunities. Singh said: “One pain point is how to remain relevant as a CVC when our focus is on the future, potentially five to 10 years out, while our parent company is more focused on the near-term. Another is actually ‘walking the talk’ with our startups. When we tell them we are going to invest and hopefully use them as a supplier one day, we want to actually do that.

“The opportunity with all this however is to continue to prove that the CVC model is successful. There are a handful of successful venture arms derived from large corporations, so we need to continue to adapt. We need to consider how we source the innovation that we need without playing by traditional venture capital rules.

Meanwhile, Simi noted: “A pain point as a CVC firm is that since we invest off the balance sheet, proving our value to our parent company is really important in both good times and bad. It might take a little extra legwork to proactively engage with JetBlue. When we are on the other side of this, we have a huge opportunity to continue to build our credibility with smart investments and follow-ons.

For CVCs to become a stronger industry, Singh advised: “Be consistent. Have regular metrics that you want to hit, be transparent with your stakeholders, and be available. Do not fall behind on these when the going gets tough. CVCs have a unique advantage to leverage our parent companies and partners as distribution channels for our startups and we should play to that strength.”

Collaboration among CVCs is key, according to Simi, who suggested: “We need to continue to work together. I am very excited about a recent deal of ours because it introduced us to two other CVCs that had also invested. Working with other CVCs makes us all stronger as we’re able to learn from each other and provide strategic results.”

Before joining JTV, Singh had worked at IBM for a decade, following which he led several funds as both a principal and partner before starting his own consulting firm in Geneva. Most recently, he served as CEO of a startup, Sooqini.

In Simi’s early career, she was a three-time Olympian and former broadcast journalist. She became a commercial airline pilot with United Airlines in 1990 before joining JetBlue Airways as a pilot in 2003, when it was still considered a startup company. She held several leadership roles at JetBlue before relocating to Silicon Valley in 2016 to launch JTV.

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.