VERGE Executive Series: Q&A with Boeing's Tim Noonan

Editor's note: GreenBiz continues our series of interviews with business leaders that were conducted as the basis for the report, "Converging worlds," produced in conjunction with PwC.

In the fifth installation of our series, PwC's Don Reed spoke with Tim Noonan, Vice President, Phantom Works Ventures and Boeing Energy at Boeing. Here, Noonan shares his insights about how Boeing Energy is working to drive innovation by leveraging its own internal resources and tapping into key partnerships.

Don Reed: How did Boeing Energy come about?

Tim Noonan: Boeing Energy is a startup inside of an aerospace company. It sprang up out of an advanced programs division. We're not energy experts, but what we saw was that energy was a big pain point that was affecting not only our core defense customer, but also national security. So we crafted a strategy to address this; one that really focused on leveraging things that we already do or own — existing technologies and capabilities. We wrote a series of proposals seeking funding from the federal stimulus grants for demonstration products. We won everything that we went after. That confirmed our market understanding and confirmed that we had a concept that mattered. So we took a step back and we said, "We think this market will be big. It is growing. It has room for another competitor."

DR: What are your challenges in pursuing this opportunity?

TN: The fact of the matter is that we're an aerospace company. We make airplanes for a living. So part of what we need to do with our energy division is to think big, but start small. Our biggest challenges are continuing to validate, externally, our value propositions to show success against some pretty important strategic milestones, and then continue to weigh out our strategies so we're making the highest and best use of finite investment dollars inside the company.

DR: So, how are you approaching opportunities to provide energy-related services?

TN: We've explored a number of areas that we think have a lot of potential: generation, transmission, distribution, storage and carbon capture. Not all of them are going to pay off, but I think we've placed some good bets.

So far, we haven't seen much in terms of the complexity of the technical problems that stresses our ability to provide a solution. What we're doing here is really more business model innovation than technology innovation.

Airplane photo by March Cattle via Shutterstock