The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Leonardo Launches Technology Start-up Accelerator Program

Leonardo is establishing a start-up accelerator program called the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) that could lead to direct investment and opportunities to develop products in partnership with various divisions of the Italian aerospace, defense, and security group. The company today launched a “call for ideas” with a view to choosing 30 start-ups over the next three years, with a focus in 2022 on "servitization" and autonomous systems.

The BIF has been established in partnership with publicly listed venture capital group LVenture. Leonardo, which is best known for helicopter manufacturing, aerostructures, and military systems, said that its overall aim is to expand the group’s portfolio of digital services.

The initial call for applications is aimed at Italian and international start-ups based in universities. In its January 25 announcement, Leonardo defined "servitization" as including solutions and platforms for data collection and data exploitation “to create and deliver innovative services in ‘anything-as-a-service’ mode.” Autonomous technology proposals would cover solutions for mobility, navigation, planning, and interaction of new and existing autonomous systems. Leonardo added that it is eager to advance the exploitation of technologies associated with cloud-based data storage, 5G communications networks, and artificial intelligence.

Chosen start-ups will be invited to participate in a five-month acceleration program in BIF’s facilities within the LVentures Group hub in Rome. The enterprise deemed to have the most potential for success will then be offered the chance to develop a proof-of-concept version of its products and test these with appropriate Leonardo subsidiaries.

Publicly at least, Leonardo has not demonstrated much appetite for investing in eVTOL aircraft or other advanced air mobility technology, apart from its declared plans for a Next-Generation Civil Tiltrotor as part of the European Union's CleanSky 2 initiative. In April 2021, it confirmed plans to develop a hybrid-electric light helicopter through its Switzerland-based subsidiary Kopter. It is expected to use its AW09 rotorcraft as a technology demonstrator for this program.

This year’s “call for ideas” is open for online applications through March 14. Start-ups must have developed software solutions with a defined "minimum viable product" or hardware with “consolidated traction in the two verticals of interest”—i.e., servitization and autonomous systems.