Boeing's HorizonX establishes portfolio development team to create 'bridge'

By Marjorie Censer / July 10, 2019

As its innovation cell, dubbed HorizonX, enters its third year, Boeing has created a new team focused specifically on connecting its portfolio companies with the larger corporation.

Logan Jones, who heads HorizonX, told Inside Defense this week the organization now has made more than 20 investments, including ones it hasn't publicly announced, and has about 60 employees. The innovation unit, founded in April 2017, has offices in Menlo Park, CA; Bellevue, WA; St. Louis; Austin, TX; Washington; Tel Aviv and London.

"While we continue to do investments . . . the big change has been a lot more focus on follow-on investing," he said. "The reason why startups want to work with Boeing -- it's not as much about our capital as it is about our expertise or market access or customer understanding we might bring to the table."

Within its ventures team, HorizonX has established a portfolio development team "to bridge between the Boeing Co. and our portfolio companies," Jones added.

He said the new portfolio development group, formalized about a month ago, is looking at multiple ways to bolster those connections, such as finding the right contracting mechanism between the two.

At the same time, HorizonX has narrowed an initial 12 "scope areas" into four thematic areas: disruptive mobility; space and connectivity; disruptive computing and big data; and industry 4.0, a nod to the fourth industrial revolution.

Jones said HorizonX is seeking to measure its success both by the activity the company does with its portfolio companies, such as total purchase orders or contracting vehicles put in place, as well as its success in building out a new ecosystem of companies.

"The marker of success on that truly is the health and success of our startups," he said. "Even though we’re a couple years old, we haven’t had failures and we haven’t had hits at this point."

But Jones said he anticipates some failures. He said the company's top executives have made clear that if all of HorizonX's bets are successful, the unit is not taking enough risk.

Within the last year, HorizonX has announced investments in Robotic Skies, which connects commercial unmanned aircraft systems with certified repair stations; Isotropic Systems, which seeks to provide better capabilities at lower costs for satellite service providers; and Accion Systems, which is focused on scalable electric propulsion technology for satellites.

But the ventures team is only one of three elements of HorizonX. The company also has a group focused on finding disruption in Boeing’s markets, effectively acting as a red team.

That group, Jones said, is tasked with identifying coming disruptions and then turning "that threat of disruption into an opportunity."

HorizonX also has a group focused on partnerships, which Jones led before taking over the broader organization.

That unit's "mission is unchanged," Jones said. "It's kind of that front door to the Boeing Co. for nontraditional partnerships."

"That group really aims to define the value chain, but then proactively go out and build the right relationships," he added, noting the team spends much of its time working with companies and organizations relevant to BoeingNeXt, the unit at Boeing focused on the future of mobility.