Note from NVCA: As part of NVCA’s VentureForward initiative, this ‘Spotlight on Rising Stars in VC’ blog series showcases individuals in the venture industry from different backgrounds and across the workforce to share experiences, spotlight their journeys and successes, and educate the next generation of people considering a career in venture capital.
Spotlight on Rising Stars in VC: Bess Chapman
Name: Bess Chapman
Location: I grew up on a horse farm in Middleburg, Virginia – a small town about an hour outside of Washington, DC. I’ve been living in Brooklyn, New York for six years now, but I’ll always be a Virginian at heart. I’m an Operating Principal at JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV) – the venture capital arm of JetBlue Airways that invests in and partners with early stage startups innovating in the travel, transportation, and hospitality industries. The fund is based in Silicon Valley, but I work out of JetBlue Airways’ headquarters in New York. I typically spend one week each month in our San Carlos office.
Years of VC experience: I’ve been with JetBlue Technology Ventures a little over a year now.
Position description: JTV is a corporate venture capital group and as an Operating Principal, I manage the relationships between our investments and parent company JetBlue. I work with our portfolio companies to create compelling value propositions for JetBlue and our partners and facilitate proof-of-concepts and pilot programs at JetBlue. I also relay to JTV new JetBlue business unit priorities and needs to shape our sourcing strategy and help leverage enterprise knowledge of JetBlue when evaluating investments. A newer part of my role is building and supporting international partnerships for the fund – a recently launched program in which we’re building a global network of like-minded travel industry providers who value JTV’s emerging market insights and are prepared to operationally engage with portfolio companies.
Q. Who are a few of the individuals in the industry that have been the most critical to your professional journey?
I’m so grateful to have had such impactful mentors thus far in my career. The president of JTV, Bonny Simi, is who encouraged me to join the industry and team, and I’ve learned so much from her as a leader. Although incredibly busy, she cares deeply about each of her team member’s individual career development. Her own impressive career path and accomplishments are very inspiring and set the tone for our team. I’ve also been really motivated by my peer set within the New York investment community. When I transitioned into venture capital, I was astounded by how many women took the time to meet with me and make introductions for networking and deal flow. A special thanks to Miriam Roure at Urban-X, Lisa Cuesta at NextGen, Sallie Jian at SAP.io, and Deborah Conway at Samsung Next. I have to also give a shout out to Teddy Himler from Softbank for his generosity in making connections for me around the world as JTV builds our presence and partnerships globally.
There are also a few women outside the venture capital industry who I’ve met with regularly for a long time, before and after I joined the industry – Christy Tanner from CBS, Sydney Johnson from Galena and Dentons, and Jennifer Justice from Superfly. I think it’s really important to maintain mentors outside the industry, so you’re exposed to different perspectives and opportunities.
Q. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a horse jockey, but I was 5’9” by the time I was in 8th grade, so that dream died rather quickly! While maybe not as quite a physical rush, I really am enjoying venture capital and my role of managing the strategic value it brings to a corporation and a legacy industry.
Q. Which jobs, internships, or classes gave you the experience you needed for your current job in venture capital?
Prior to joining JetBlue Technology Ventures, I worked in product development at JetBlue Airways, where I led the content, partnerships, and entertainment technology team. In this role, I drove the product and monetization strategy for JetBlue’s high-speed Wi-Fi and seatback technologies onboard. The background with JetBlue has been a huge asset in my role at JTV. I have a deep understanding of user experience design and what does and doesn’t work for JetBlue’s customer base. This has provided me with a strong frame of reference to offer feedback and advice to our portfolio companies and better relate to their process of building products.
I think it’s critical to success that any corporation with a venture capital arm have a few team members from the parent company. In addition to the product and customer understanding, I brought with me important internal relationships to manage the integration of portfolio companies into JetBlue. I’ve fostered relationships with key innovators within JetBlue who I know are open to new ideas and startup partnerships. My connections throughout the airline also help me better understand needs within JetBlue that our portfolio companies could help solve and areas where we should start sourcing new technology.
Q. What’s on the top of your bucket list?
Part of the reason I love travel and hospitality technology, and what we do at JTV, is that I’m an avid traveler myself. (It’s also important I stay close to traveler pain points since our mission is to improve the end-to-end travel experience!) I just got back from a vacation to Sri Lanka and Malaysia surrounding a professional trip to Singapore for a conference – and I’m already dreaming about what’s next. Hiking in Bhutan or Nepal is definitely high on my bucket list.
Q. Which books, articles, podcasts, and/or reports would you recommend for someone interested in learning more about the work that you do?
When I first transitioned into this role, Heather Hartnett at Human Ventures kindly gave me the book Masters of Corporate Venture Capital, which I’d recommend to anyone starting out in CVC. I also really enjoy The Full Ratchet and The 20 Minute VC for venture capital focused podcasts.
To learn more about the vertical of travel investment specifically, Skift’s Travel Business is wonderful for travel tech headlines, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the weekly podcast I co-host with Voyager HQ’s Managing Director John Matson called Travel is your Business. Voyager HQ is a travel startup accelerator and the podcast focuses on B2B travel technology. Recent guests have included from Amadeaus and Expedia as well as the CEOs of JTV’s portfolio companies including Skyhour and Betterez. Aside from being a fun creative outlet for me, it provides helpful insight for founders and investors on our niche industry.
Another shameless plug – JetBlue Technology Ventures has our own blog where we share our thoughts on everything from best practices in corporate venture capital to the growth of AI in travel. Check it out here!
Q. What impact do you hope to make on the venture capital industry?
I want JetBlue Technology Ventures to be a long-term model of successful corporate venture capital and I think the impact of achieving that is two-fold – (1) growing and scaling smart, disruptive startups and (2) revolutionizing travel and hospitality industries, which is incredibly needed. JetBlue’s mission is to be the most caring travel provider in the world and the launch of JTV was an acknowledgment that new technologies can be a key way to stay focused on that mission. We have the opportunity to take innovation to the next level for JetBlue – but corporate venture capital has been quite a trend lately and it’s important that JTV remain a proven, practical, and impactful venture capital partner to startups and other investors.
An important part of this is the international partnership program we launched earlier this year. There’s a natural ceiling on JetBlue’s ability to operationally absorb proof of concepts each year. To address this challenge and provide further value to our portfolio companies, JTV is building a global network of travel industry providers – airlines, hotel groups, airports – who also seek new and additional opportunities of innovation. These partners will have space at our offices in Silicon Valley and engage in several pilots with our portfolio companies. I see this program as a way for more global corporations to dabble in venture capital operations and ultimately improve the travel industry across the world.