Boeing Co announced Wednesday it launched a new venture capital group and had invested in a pair of tech startups, a new sign of how important it is for large companies to keep up with the quickly evolving world of technology for the design and manufacture of products.
The new division at Boeing is HorizonX and it invested in Upskill a software company based in Washington, D.C. that uses eye wear similar to Google Glass to help workers on assembly lines with complex tasks like the creation of wiring bundles needed for Boeing aircraft.
HorizonX also invested Zunum Aero based near Seattle that works with electric-hybrid aircraft that is aimed at bringing down costs of flying into regional airports.
Zunum received funding as well from a unit of JetBlue Airways known as JetBlue Technology Ventures.
JetBlue and Boeing are not the only ones buying stakes in startup tech companies. GE’s venture arm has invested already in Upskill during a previous funding round, and European based Airbus has its own venture fund dating back to 2014.
Upskill announced that its software platform is able to bring data that is usually stored in books into the different tools of workers.
The system is able to be used in field service, manufacturing and warehouse and shipping logistics, and the revenue growth of the company is currently at an annual rate in the triple digits, said CEO Brian Ballard.
Ballard added that imagine working on a vehicle and there is no need to flip through manuals. Typical systems are able to pay for themselves in just months.
Upskill is not new to Boeing. It has worked the past two years with Boeing and moved beyond pilot tests to production.
Boeing did not release what its specific numbers were for investment amounts in each tech company. However, the initiative is a commitment for a number of years by Boeing to spend millions of dollars per year to push the advancement of innovation and supplement research and development efforts at Upskill, said a company spokesperson.
Heading up HorizonX for Boeing will be Steve Nordlund who is a former President of Strategy for its space, defense and security business. Nordlund took part in the launching of Insitu Inc. a drone maker, which was acquired by Boeing in 2008. He has also worked at IBM in sales and was CIO at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.