WASHINGTON — Boeing executives are meeting with startups at the Satellite 2022 conference with an eye toward investment and collaboration.
“We’re looking for those technologies that would make our platforms and programs better,” Teresa Segura, Boeing’s Applied Innovation leader, told SpaceNews.
Since spinning off its venture capital arm, HorizonX Ventures, last year to establish AEI HorizonX, a strategic partnership with private equity investor AE Industrial Partners, Boeing has focused on identifying promising technology, while AE Industrial Partners manages the investment portfolio and performs financial due diligence.
With $62.3 billion in 2021 revenue, Chicago-based Boeing, is one of the world’s largest aerospace companies. In addition to playing a leading role in supporting the international space station and serving as prime contractor for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, Boeing produces commercial and military aircraft, satellites, communication systems and provides a variety of logistics and training services. Still, the 106-year-old company is eager to identify “innovative solutions that are going to move us forward for the next century,” Segura said.
AEI HorizonX is raising money for two venture capital funds based in part on the expertise Boeing provides and Boeing’s promise as a potential customer for the startups.
Specifically, Segura and her colleagues are focused on technologies with potential applications throughout Boeing’s business — like edge computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, antennas, propulsion, model-based engineering and predictive maintenance.
“Our focus is on how startups can help us solve technology needs and fill gaps,” Segura said. “There are needs and gaps around the sustainability of future mobility and supplier management transformation. Those touch on space but some of the technologies are still relevant for other domains.”
Startups also could help Boeing create more vertically integrated products and services “because they’re a lot more agile,” Segura said.
After investing in startups, Boeing tests promising applications of the startup’s technology. “We make the investment and then we put in some money to test that use case and see if the investment thesis proves out,” Segura said.
In addition to supporting existing programs, Boeing is eager to identify technology that could lead to new lines of business. The company’s 2019 HorizonX investment in Immfly of Spain, for example, led to Boeing Direct Digital, a wireless inflight entertainment platform and a new line of business for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
While meeting with startup founders, Boeing executives are discussing a wide range of resources the aerospace giant can offer aside from investment.
“We can partner with these startups and do things like proofs of concept and test use cases even before investment,” Segura said.
For example, Boeing can allocate funds to verifying that a startup’s technology is compatible with a Boeing product. Boeing also can work with startups on research and development contracts or sign on as a subcontractor for a startup’s Small Business Innovation Research program.
“We’re open to other ways of working with startups that don’t necessarily involve investment,” Segura said.
AEI HorizonX does not publicly disclose the amount of money raised for each fund. AEI HorizonX portfolio companies include Accion Systems, BridgeComm, EP Systems, Immfly, Isotropic and Skylo Technologies.
While Boeing’s investment in British antenna manufacturer Isotropic Systems, a company developing multi-band electronically steerable antennas, is designed to benefit both companies, it also is intended to support an ecosystem that is important to Boeing’s government customers. All of the aerospace prime contractors invest in technology that benefits the whole ecosystem based on the premise that a rising tide raises all boats, Segura said.