The Green Mobility Magazine team at Ibex Publishing had the opportunity to sit down with Maurice Boon to learn more about his start-up, Skyfinity. Skyfinity is based in Paris’ leading start-up accelerator, Station F, and seeks to catalyse sustainable aviation revolution through an innovative fund with an impact objective.
Maurice, let’s start with you, how did you get to where you are now, as the founder of a young start-up, Skyfinity?
As an aerospace engineer and INSEAD MBA graduate, I was always enthusiastic about improving mobility systems and keeping the world connected. In a world where flying is increasingly coming under the spotlight and where the industry struggles to achieve its net-zero carbon emissions goals, I have a vision to disrupt aviation and tackle its funding barriers.
I studied ecosystem approaches during my MBA, which emphasized that successful projects involve multiple stakeholders and create value for all parties within the ecosystem. From this, I had the idea that aviation funding also needed an ecosystem approach, and so at INSEAD’s Venture Capital Competition, I pitched the concept for Skyfinity. When I graduated, I took a leap of faith in my idea and launched the non-profit foundation in April 2023 with my small but agile team of five.
I feel that despite the high demands and barriers of the aviation industry, sustainable aviation offers substantial opportunities. I want to harness the power of passengers and the industry to collaboratively accelerate progress.
In your eyes, what are the challenges facing the aviation industry?
Aviation remains a ‘hard-to-abate’ industry, making rapid sustainability transitions challenging. For the longest time, aviation has focussed on out-of-industry offsets such as reforestation projects. However, the growing criticism due to the lack of transparency and lack of common quality standard makes this solution less and less trusted by members of the flying public and other stakeholders.
Today, aviation is betting on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) (also known as biofuels), to immediately reduce the emissions of aircraft that are currently operating (80% reduction on paper compared to Kerosene). However, SAF presents several challenges, mainly it’s scarcity, which leads to highly inflated prices. For a passenger to offset their flight emissions with SAF, they could pay more than double for their flight.
While traditionally dominated by consolidated organizations, sustainable aviation initiatives are now emerging from start-ups and scale-ups. However, the aviation industry currently lacks a conducive environment to stimulate this form of innovation. Development cycles often are twice as long as typical investment fund cycles, and the high capital requirements and rigorous safety standards in aviation act as additional barriers for start-ups and scale-ups seeking long-term financing.
How does Skyfinity aid in overcoming those challenges?
The Skyfinity Foundation aims to catalyse the greening of the aviation sector by addressing some of the aforementioned barriers. Our foundation seeks to involve passengers who experience cognitive dissonance between their choice to fly and their awareness of the negative climate impact, as part of the technical solution. We encourage passengers to contribute directly to innovation by calculating their “share of responsibility” and donating to Skyfinity’s fund. These contributions are invested in start-ups and scale-ups working towards sustainable aviation, under the principle of ‘innovate to zero.’ The Skyfinity Foundation keeps passengers informed about the impact these start-ups are making, ensuring transparency.
As our end-goal, we want these contributions to be a natural part of flying and integrated into the check-out part of the ticket booking process. By accelerating solutions from within the sector that positively and rapidly impact aviation’s sustainability, we can reduce our dependence on kerosene-based aircraft more swiftly. With numerous small contributions, we can drive significant progress.
Tell us more about the fund with an impact objective.
Skyfinity’s fund with an impact objective is supported by a team of industry experts and advisors on an Investment Board, Future Technologies Board, and Sustainability Board that evaluate and invest in sustainable aviation start-ups. Returns are continuously re-invested from the fund into other start-ups. As the team has strong expertise in aerospace engineering, we plan to spearhead the investments with start-ups in our own network, but we are also looking to partner with existing sustainability funds to strengthen and diversify our fund’s investments.
The foundation is established and has obtained Public Benefit Organization (PBO) status. It is authorized to invest in start-ups and scale-ups developing or scaling net-zero technologies. The start-ups span the full scope of the aviation ecosystem, encompassing aircraft propulsion technology, technology related to sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), developments at the airport level, and donations to non-profits like student projects. We aim to facilitate projects with the directive to reduce carbon emissions through technological acceleration.
What do the next 12 to 24 months look like for Skyfinity?
The upcoming year will bring many exciting developments for all of us as we are exploring collaborations with airlines that have a strong focus on sustainability, to bring our solution to a wider audience. Additionally, we will continue to forge partnerships with industry institutions such as impact investors, academics, and sustainability groups to establish a board that makes sound investment decisions.
We already see other aviation giants making progress with their own technology funds, including Qantas and Emirates. We also saw United Airlines launch their Sustainable Flight Fund with many major partners. We think that is an exciting proof-of-concept for our idea and is a step in the right direction. The funding gap is huge so there is space for all of us; especially as a non-profit, Skyfinity is airline-independent, global, diverse, and transparent. We think we can occupy a unique space in which we bridge individuals and corporates that want to make an impact with the start-ups and scale-ups that are on the brink of disruption.
We are already partnering up with sustainable aviation start-ups, such as Vaeridion and AeroDelft, and we continue to explore collaborations with other promising start-ups in the field. This is a key piece for Skyfinity’s fund to start investing the gathered contributions and showcase some of the exciting aviation technology we can look forward to on our path to net-zero.
Overall, are you confident that the aviation industry can meet its current climate targets?
There have been numerous studies done on the industry reaching net-zero by 2050, which say that as the current pace, we will fall short especially given the projected growth of flying in developing countries. However, there is so much promising technology to look forward to – from further investment in SAF, beyond just biofuels, to hydrogen powered aircraft and infrastructure development. In the projected aggressive scenarios, we do see that it is possible for the industry to get there, but it will need a collective effort to hurdle the current barriers. And that’s why Skyfinity is working to harness the power of people and corporations to push the whole aviation ecosystem forward.