AirAsia eyes start-up community with new VC fund

RedBeat Ventures, AirAsia's digital venture arm, is establishing a global venture capital fund to support post-seed stage start-ups. Known as RedBeat Capital, the venture capital fund will invest in scalable start-ups seeking to enter or expand their presence in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on travel and lifestyle, logistics and financial technology.

Led by RedBeat Ventures CEO and AirAsia group deputy CEO (technology and digital) Aireen Omar, the venture capital fund will complement and enhance AirAsia’s transformation into a travel technology company. The venture capital fund will also invest in digital enablers to support these verticals such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and cybersecurity.

RedBeat Capital will be rolled out alongside a strategic partnership with 500 Startups, a start-up accelerator and venture capital firm based in San Francisco. The venture capital fund will have a base in San Francisco, gaining access to 500 Startups' deal flow and accelerator programme graduates and ideas.

500 Startups’ current portfolio comprises of 2,210 companies and over 5,000 founders in 74 countries - including 10 unicorns such as Twilio, SendGrid, Credit Karma, Canva and Grab, as well as 66 other companies valued at over US$100 million. RedBeat Capital will also seek to co-invest in select 500 Startups portfolio companies.

In the meantime, RedBeat Ventures operates a number of digital-related businesses, including BIGLIFE (AirAsia BIG Loyalty, and Vidi), ROKKI, BigPay and RedCargo Logistics, and, through RedBeat Capital, will continue to look for investment opportunities in the high-tech digital space across Asia Pacific, Europe and the Americas.

Aireen said collaborating with digital, tech-enabled start-ups will help it to innovate and advance its position as a market-leading travel technology company. "We look forward to exploring the integration of new, disruptive ideas into our growing portfolio of digital businesses," she said.

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes added that AirAsia and RedBeat Capital are on the lookout for the world’s best and brightest to help them develop a travel technology ecosystem.

“We intend to operationalise this year, working with CEO of 500 Startups Christine Tsai and her team to identify and invest in startups that are willing to grow and expand, particularly into Southeast Asia where we have the network, data and regional expertise to help accelerate their business," he added.

Meanwhile, Tsai said talent is both universal and abundant in all corners of the world, especially in Southeast Asia. “Moreover, this region has more internet users than the US, which presents a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. To have an industry titan like AirAsia building a bridge with Silicon Valley through its partnership with 500 is exciting for our startups, many of which have ambitions for global scale," she added.

Recently, the airline announced that it is pulling flight sales from Jakarta-based online travel agency Traveloka, following the unexplained disappearance of its flights from Traveloka for the second time in the past two weeks.

AirAsia flights first disappeared from Traveloka from 14 to 17 February 2019, coinciding with AirAsia’s network-wide system upgrade on 16 February 2019. Traveloka had cited the 13-hour system downtime as the reason for AirAsia flights disappearing from their website in response to queries from customers. However, the airline's flights disappeared from Traveloka again on 2 March without clarification, well after the successful system upgrade by AirAsia.

AirAsia Indonesia president director Dendy Kurniawan the omission of flights has “hurt” cooperation between AirAsia and Traveloka, adding that the exclusion of several AirAsia Indonesia flights by Traveloka "is a clear display of preferential treatment and an act of favouritism".