At first glance, start-up companies with names like FindBob, InsuranceMenu, ViewSpection and LifeDB would seem to have a closer connection with Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley than with Des Moines, Iowa. But that would be wrong.
Each start-up owes a debt of gratitude to the Global Insurance Accelerator, or GIA, a program offering seed capital, mentorship, access and exposure. GIA is funded by some of the best-known insurers located in the Des Moines area.
The start-ups, headquartered in the U.S. and abroad, find solutions to challenges facing the insurance industry, one renowned for it's go-slow approach to technology.
Challenges include helping agents sell their book of business, streamlining claims processes, improving the customer experience and speeding up collaboration among agents and policyholders.
Take FindBob, a start-up based in Toronto that was among the six start-up companies in the 2016-17 round backed by the GIA.
FindBob’s platform makes it easy to “find Bob,” in other words for insurance and financial advisors to ferret out opportunities to buy, sell, merge with or find successors external or internal to a company’s distribution network.
Presentations at Annual Symposium
In April, at the annual meeting of the Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines, FindBob CEO Roland Chan said the company was on track to generate annual recurring revenue of $600,000 in the ensuing months.
Another start-up from 2016-17, InsuranceMenu, based in Dedham, Mass., works with insurers to streamline benefits distribution. This helps agents serve small business accounts more efficiently using a software-as-a-service model.
GIA gave InsuranceMenu the chance to meet with hundreds of insurance executives, decision makers and insurers who sell into the small business market, said co-founder and CEO Nabil Aidoud, during his April presentation.
This summer, InsuranceMenu will expand beyond New England and into Des Moines, he said.
Other companies from GIA’s class of 2016-17 include MotionsCloud from Munich, Germany; RE-Sure from Detroit; Sentrys from Belgrade, Serbia; and ViewSpection from Tucson, Ariz.
Six companies made up the 2105-16 “cohort” of GIA start-ups and six companies were selected for the 2014-2015 round. The six are distilled from dozens of insurance technology start-ups reviewed by large insurers.
GIA, which was launched with support from the economic and community development group Greater Des Moines Partnership in 2014, as well as with seven original insurer-investors, will begin accepting applications for the 2017-18 round in September.
Picking and Choosing
GIA investors include American Equity Insurance Life Holding, Delta Dental of Iowa, EMC Insurance, Farm Bureau Financial Services, Farmers Mutual Hail, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance, IMT Insurance, Mutual of Omaha, Markel Corp. and Principal Financial.
The GIA facilitates Des Moines insurance executives and mentors to be “totally engaged” in picking and choosing which companies to support, said James P. Brannen, CEO of FBL Financial, a major Des Moines-area insurer.
While FBL Financial, whose major subsidiary is Farm Bureau Life, hasn’t made any new investments in GIA start-ups, “that’s an opportunity to us,” he said.
Formulating an insurance technology strategy is to commit to what’s next “and part of what’s next is insurtech,” he said at the Des Moines Insurance Conference in mid-June.
GIA mentors include insurance company executives like Beth Herman, assistant director of IT for Principal Financial, and senior managers like Mark Breading, a partner with the insurance consultancy firm Strategy Meets Action.
Other mentors come from venture capital firms and academia.
The GIA’s 100-day program promises $40,000 in seed investments, one-on-one meetings with more than 60 insurance-centric mentors, direct access to more than 25 insurance companies and indirect access to many other insurers, according to the organization’s website.
Over the past two or three years, the insurance technology market counts more than 1,000 insurtech start-ups, Breading said.
“I’ve met with at least 200 of these firms over the last two or three years,” said Breading, who has had ongoing conversations with start-up View Spection.
About 60 percent of these young companies operate in the U.S., the world’s largest insurance market, and about 25 percent of the insuretech start-ups are in distribution, he estimated.
Mentors spend a few minutes to several hours with young insurtech entrepreneurs, giving them advice about the viability of their ideas, business models and go-to-market plans, Breading said.
While much of the insurtech talent comes out of the technology industry, the space is maturing with more insurance folks – both young and seasoned – populating the ranks of the insurance technology start-ups.
With the insurance technology space having exploded over the past several years, GIA isn’t the only program fostering the insurance technology movement.
InsureTech Connect drew more than 3,000 people to Las Vegas last October, while organizations like Startupbootcamp and gener8tor boost high-growth start-up companies across different industry sectors.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected]