Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures (UAV), is one of the 100 leading corporate venturing professionals in our 2024 Powerlist.

Andrew Chang is the managing director of United Airlines Ventures (UAV), the corporate venturing unit of United Airlines. Launched in 2021, the unit is relatively new and focuses on aerospace technology, customer-facing innovation and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Despite its short track record, UAV has already had considerable impact in the industry, with its Sustainable Flight Fund (SFF) boasting more than $200m in committed capital from 22 corporate backers, including United Airlines.

 According to Chang, the SFF’s corporate backers all recognised the urgent need to “get serious about sustainable aviation, which is expected to have one of the most difficult pathways to decarbonisation”.

Drawing them into the fund was no easy task, though. “While the message and the objective were enticing, the hard part was getting on board international companies with different corporate cultures, objectives, priorities and often multiple stakeholders. Corporate hierarchies and complexities were a challenge at times,” says Chang.

The SFF has invested in startups such as Dimensional Energy, which plans to turn CO2 emissions into liquid fuels and other value-added products, using emissions from Lafarge’s Richmond Cement Plant in British Columbia, in partnership with carbon capture tech company Svante, also an SFF portfolio company. UAV backed Dimensional Energy’s $20m series A round, alongside oil and gas company Delek and Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund.

“UAV was created to be different – nimble and with the autonomy necessary to take calculated risks on ideas and technology that could move our industry forward and enhance the customer experience. Chang and his team have taken that concept and have grown it impressively.”

UAV also backed Archer Aviation, a company developing a fully electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Archer has gone public, but still raises capital from investors, as it is in the process of running flight tests and obtaining certifications from regulatory authorities.

 Aside from capital, UAV also provides other types of support to its portfolio companies. “In the case of SAF investments, we are not a fuel producer, but we are one of the largest fuel consumers, so we can definitely give them insights on regulatory approvals and certifications, as well logistics and distribution. When it comes to aerospace technology, we have even more to offer – anything from test pilots with extensive experience to external and internal partnerships to leverage,” says Chang.

As UAV invests in technologies with significant capital requirements, its main challenge lies in convincing startups to prove the viability of their technology, according to Chang. “Our focus is around tech, pathways and scaling. Many feel the need to scale up, but the reality is not everyone needs to scale up so fast and build a plant. Part of our job is to try to get people to make sure first that the technology actually works, as capital is scarce.”

Chang currently leads a team of 11 people, seven of whom have been hired over the past year. He has sourced talent with a traditional finance background – investment banking, private equity firms and hedge funds – as he believes it brings “a good combination of financial discipline and commercial insight”. The team expansion took place as Michael Leskinen, who was previously head of United Airlines Ventures and corporate development at the company, was promoted to CFO.

Leskinen says UAV has grown fast under Chang’s leadership: “From its inception, UAV was created to be different – nimble and with the autonomy necessary to take calculated risks on ideas and technology that could move our industry forward and enhance the customer experience,” he says. “Chang and his team have taken that concept and have grown it impressively, including developing aviation’s first and only fund dedicated to growing the supply of sustainable aviation fuel.”

Chang started his career as an analyst at Credit Suisse and subsequently spent 15 years, between 2004 and 2019, working at financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard, rising through the ranks from senior analyst to vice president and director. Prior to joining United Airlines, he served as senior vice president at Intrepid Financial Partners, focusing on energy transition and sustainability.

Chang has a bachelor of arts degree in economics and managerial studies from Rice University.

Powerlist cover

The Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist represents the 100
individuals spearheading the future of the corporate venturing industry.

These individuals excel in terms of their venturing approach and structure, number and quality of portfolio companies and in their contributions to the corporate venturing profession.

See the full 2024 Powerlist here.