Alaska Airlines is to partner with UP.Labs, a venture lab that invests and accelerates tech startups, to form Airline Venture Lab. Together, the two firms aim to create a program that will launch and nurture at least six startups over the course of the next three years.
Airline Venture Lab will focus primarily on startups developing applications and solutions that are of interest to Alaska Airlines’ operations, but with potential additional uses across the rest of the aviation industry.
As such, Alaska Airlines steps up its activities in the fields of startup venture and tech innovation. In 2022, for example, the carrier launched a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley.
Alaska Airlines is also a partner in sustainable aviation research and development projects, such as those conducted in the field of hydrogen propulsion by ZeroAvia and the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD) program, through which Boeing and NASA aim to develop the X-66A research aircraft.
There’s a long list of airlines that have moved into the venture acceleration and finance world by taking a direct interest in the development of new technology solutions for the airline industry. Some of those airlines, such as JetBlue and United Airlines, have even spun-off fully-fledged VC subsidiaries.
Although the first year of this partnership will be devoted mostly to identifying the most promising opportunities in what the two partners call “areas of high value and high friction”, the first startup is already expected to come out of the ‘Airline Venture Lab’ in 2024.
Speaking to AeroTime, UP.Labs president, Katelyn Foley explained how her firm partners with companies in the mobility and transportation space (UP.Labs has similar partnerships with German automaker Porsche and another undisclosed firm) in order to identify problems for which no satisfactory solution has yet been found in the market. UP.Labs then assembles and funds a team that is given the task of developing an ad-hoc solution.
The partner – Alaska Airlines in this case – acts also as a first customer and, in addition to equity in the new ventures, gets also first right of refusal in case the startup receives acquisition offers. Up.Labs and the startup team also receive equity in the newly founded ventures.