Q&A with Suzanna Chiu, head, Amadeus Ventures

Wolfgang Krips, senior vice-president of corporate strategy for Spain-based travel software and technology services provider Amadeus, said of the corporate’s investment unit, Amadeus Ventures, and its head, Suzanna Chiu, last year: “Amadeus Ventures has interacted with thousands of entrepreneurs in the travel technology space and invested in more than 10 high-potential startups highly relevant for our customers.

“The team constantly shares observations and brings startup collaboration ideas to the rest of the organisation. All our business units (BUs) now have incorporated startup as part of their activities, as solution partners, and as an emerging customer segment. Amadeus Ventures has become known as one of the top strategic investors in the space of travel and transportation technology.”

1. Any highlights from the past year?

  • Sharpened our investment focus into end-to-end traveller journey and how we can address that transversal theme from different BU perspectives;
  • On the investment side, we made four investments in 2019 that addresses various parts of end traveller journey – based in Israel, the US and France, working on topics like data monetisation, airline yield management, corporate travel and VAT refund;
  • We have made an exit on our very first investment with positive results;
  • Strong BU collaboration achieved – dedicated resources from BUs to foster post-investment collaboration and successful customer referral showcases;
  • Two-tiered governance structure and process improvement agreed with senior sponsors to increase deal execution agility.

2. What are the plans for the year ahead?

All plans for 2020 is being rewritten right now due to the exceptional situation we are in. We have closed two investments at the beginning of the year, on identity management and travel experience platform – which will remain to be important topics for the years to come.

Moving forward, to bridge through the current uncertain time we are working on a customer referral platform that we call the Startup Universe. It is a database of curated startups in the travel industry which we would recommend to our customers. This would increase the number of startups we work with, collect more feedback from customers in terms of what concept or technology they will prioritise, foster more contacts and collaboration between startups and corporations and make more of these concepts into reality.

3. Could you mention some milestones achieved at your unit so far?

  • Industry recognition as a leading corporate venture capital (CVC) in the travel industry;
  • Continuous senior management buy-in where the ventures model make sense and add value to the company’s growth, partnership and innovation activities;
  • Dedicated resources in BUs to be the strong advocate of portfolio companies to find collaboration opportunities and increase the visibility of portfolio companies;
  • Expansion to Asia-Pacific (APAC) – formally looking for investment opportunities with resources based in the region.

4. Please mention some pain points and opportunities you have encountered in corporate venturing.

  • Continue to be able to generate and quantify our strategic value to senior sponsors;
  • Speed of execution between startups and BUs;
  • Coordinating all stakeholders around startups in the company.

5. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry? 

One of the – if not the most – significant challenges of CVC is to demonstrate quantifiable benefits to the mother corporation, on top of the financial returns we generate. We have been sharing best practices over the years through organisations like GCV, which is extremely helpful. We can all benefit from more success cases and positive proof points on how minority investments can achieve strategic goals that move the needle for the headquarter.

6. For colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time? 

I was an investment banker before joining Amadeus, a keyboard player in the band when doing my MBA in London, and did some voice over for a radio station when in uni. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking Asian food (which is not easy in Madrid due to lack of right ingredients), reading and photography.

7. Strategic and Leadership measures:

– Examples of corporate acquisitions of portfolio or venture-backed companies:

In 2019, we revised our investment rationale and criteria with the executive committee of Amadeus which is our governing body. We agreed to create a new investment category dedicated to high-growth startups in the travel industry that we may want to acquire in the future if everything works out as planned. Even though we have not got the first portfolio acquisition yet, this is a positive step forward towards that direction.

– BU partnerships and development with portfolio companies:

Another new development in 2019 is the tighter relationship we have built with our BUs. At Amadeus, we have a commercial unit called Strategic Growth Business (SGB) which looks after a portfolio of growth businesses for Amadeus.

AmadeusVentures works very closely with SGB in developing our investment thesis together – to identify growth opportunities as explained in the question above. On investments made where SGB is our sponsor, there are dedicated resources within the BUs to focus on the internal marketing, fostering discussions and program managing executions of pilot opportunities. These portfolio business development reps not only work within SGB but also try to promote the startups into other BUs and functions.

At the same time, we have run very successful commercial relationships with some of our portfolio startups. The best example would be Volantio, a startup in the airline space. Not only did they enjoy insider access to our airline customers (already two successful joint sales), they also benefited from closer technology collaboration with Amadeus solutions and guidance from an industry expert who acts has their board observer.

– Product or strategy roadmaps and public leadership position in conferences and associations:

Recognised as a leading investor in the travel tech space. Frequently interviewed by the most important industry media including Phocuswright and Skift.

– Team member in GCV Rising Stars, Emerging Leaders and other awards:

Marta Pinho as a Rising Star in 2020.

– Team expansion and recent promotions:

Our team remains small with four people in the headquarters. We are getting additional support in APAC dedicated to ventures and portfolio management support resources within BUs. Overall, we have three [full-time employees] more dedicated to the activity of Amadeus Ventures.