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What does airline KLM offer start-ups?

Offering a connected approach to matching start-ups with in-house departments

25 European Corporate Startup Stars reveals which large companies are doing the most to support new firms. These case studies highlight some specific examples of active and successful collaboration between corporates and start-ups.

A good example of…

Innovating big brands

European headquarters: Amstelveen, Netherlands

Geographical reach: Based in the Netherlands, but with a global network

Sector/s of interest: Technology, including Internet of Things solutions, machine learning, data analytics and virtual reality

Works with start-ups through:

  • Accelerators, incubators, and initiatives focusing on universities and developer communities (including COSTA, which brings corporates and start-ups together)
  • Pitch events, which are co-hosted with the Dutch Open Hackathon
  • The Innovation and Venturing team, which connects start-ups to in-house departments and business units

Why does KLM work with start-ups?

Dutch airline KLM actively works with start-ups to bring innovation and new technology into its business. KLM is keen to learn from start-ups’ working methods and speed of doing business. Start-ups also help KLM to stay connected the latest industry developments.

How does KLM work with start-ups?

KLM’s commitment to developing early-stage talent is matched by a solid approach to integrating early-stage companies into the business. The corporation brings start-ups into its organisation in a variety of ways: these include pitching events and the ‘X Gates’ project, which involves new ideas being tested at Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam, with the KLM team.

Introducing start-ups to in-house departments is one of the core tasks of KLM’s innovation and venturing team, and the corporation is an active partner in developing university incubators and accelerators. Events such as the Dutch Open Hackathon and a partnership with Startup Amsterdam also help KLM bring start-ups into the business.

What has KLM done to facilitate collaboration with start-ups?

KLM works with start-ups through events and challenges, but mainly through its external network. The Dutch Open Hackathon is an annual event that attracts over 250 participants and generates useful leads for start-ups. Regular pitching events also enable start-ups to be matched with relevant departments. ‘X Gates’ is a particularly strong example of an ongoing initiative at KLM: it enables start-ups to carry out proof-of-concepts to gain a better understanding of the product or service.

KLM ensures a strong match between the business and start-ups through ‘tailor-made’ involvement that responds to the needs of each relationship. This is largely done through KLM’s innovation and venturing team, who are responsible for connecting start-ups with the corporation’s departments and business units. The team also works to instigate culture change across the organisation and ensure that start-ups are taken seriously as potential providers of innovative business solutions.

Success story: MI Airline

One of KLM’s most successful collaborations is with MI Airline, creators of Airfi, which provides an on-board, low-cost portable WiFi solution. Airfi discloses content to the personal devices of passengers and enables better communication between cabin crews and their customers.

KLM invested in MI Airline in 2014, and MI Airline has since carried out pilots with KLM and KLM’s wholly owned subsidiary, Transavia.

Airfi is currently being tested in a live environment and will soon be deployed further. Both the funding and ‘soft’ support KLM provided have proved to be extremely valuable to both parties involved in the collaboration.


“The X Gates project is very interesting and helps start-ups to test ideas in the field. They can carry out proof-of-concepts with the KLM team at Schiphol Airport”

Corporate Startup Stars judge


What can other corporates learn from KLM about working with start-ups?

  • Initiatives and events (such as the Dutch Open Hackathon, Corporate Launchpad Meetup and ‘X Gates’ project) that fit specific business needs are an effective way of engaging with start-ups
  • A flexible approach, tailored to individual relationships with start-ups, is stronger than a one-size-fits-all way of working
  • Innovation and venturing teams are well placed to connect start-ups with in-house departments and business units, and help create a culture that takes start-ups seriously as potential business partners

What is KLM looking for from the start-ups it works with?

KLM seeks to work with start-ups that have products or services that are beyond the ideation phase; preferably have a clear use case; and offer obvious value for KLM or its customers.

From a technological perspective KLM looks for compatibility with its systems; from an investment perspective, it looks at traction, customers, IP and a relation to KLM’s core business.

How can start-ups get involved with KLM?

KLM is open to talking to all start-ups. This often starts with an email, a call and a ‘pitch deck’, after which a decision is made. To get in touch, please email KLM at

For information on the Dutch Open Hackathon, click here.

For the Corporate Launchpad Meetup, click here.

Start-ups wishing to be considered for investment can email KLM at the email address above or contact the Mainport Innovation Fund directly.

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Image courtesy of SVC2UK CEO Summit 2015.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 644104.


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