JetBlue Ventures looks to invest in Asian startups

A growing number of venture capitalists are turning towards Asia to seek out travel technology startups to put their investment dollars in, drawn by the region’s thriving startup scene and emerging markets.

Among them is JetBlue Technology Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of domestic US carrier JetBlue Airways, which marked its debut at the recent Future Travel Experience (FTE) Asia Expo with a competition that identified startups with viable solutions for investment.

Bess Chapman, operating principal of JetBlue Technology Ventures, remarked that Asia is a hotbed of startup innovations, especially ones that may have potential applications in the airline industry, such as customer service, loyalty programmes, Internet of Things and big-data platforms.

Chapman: “antiquated airline industry” offers technology update opportunities

She added: “Biometrics (development) has been massive. Several airports in Asia, like Dubai and Changi, have already rolled out pilot (programmes) for biometrics, and I think that’s something exciting that the Asian market has to offer.”

Travel technology startups will be relieved to hear that there are “a lot of opportunities to update the antiquated airline industry”, in which airlines “haven’t been pushed” to improve their maintenance and operation processes, she said.

“We’re looking to grow our presence (in Asia). We want to be there for our startups, and the challenge in Asia is that we don’t have an office here,” she said.

Chapman shared that the FTE competition opened up potential to “expand (its) international partnership programme with new travel and hospitality brands”.

Internationally, JetBlue Technology Ventures has invested in 21 startups, and recently launched an international partnership programme to help other travel stakeholders implement selected startup technologies. Its first partner is Air New Zealand, and more will be announced in the following months.

She said 40 per cent of its investments can be applied back to JetBlue Airways’ airline operations, and that JetBlueTechnology Ventures operates separately from the main company.

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