Spotlight on women’s innovation
Go inside the pitch event for the inaugural Female Founders in Insurtech accelerator program, which followed a weeks-long mentoring and refinement process that broadened participants' reach and networks.
Innovation consultancy Quesnay ran a competition for women insurtech founders this year. It was an offshoot of a more horizontal event for fintech companies of all times that the company ran in 2017. Co-founder and CEO Jenn Byrne says that with nearly 100 entrants to that contest, “we decided to do separate insurtech and fintech events this year so we could support more women.” More than 100 insurtechs started the application process for this year's event. “A lot of applicants, in particular women feel as though they aren't ready” for a competition, no matter what the level of their company, Byrne adds. “But we wanted to communicate that you have nothing to lose by just completing the submission process.” In total, five companies were selected to go through the innovation program, which included a month of mentoring and guidance to refine their product. At the InsureTech Connect conference in early October, a final pitch event for six judges yielded a top three. Following are short profiles of each of these companies, as well as their tips for other women founders who are interested in entering the insurtech fray.
Vivametrica (1st place, $35,000 prize)
Founder: Dr. Christy Lane How it works: Uses data from mobile and wearable devices to predict and prevent mortality and disease, in particular the number of steps taken each day. “Other than age, physical activity is the most accurate predictor of mortality,” Lane explains. What do life insurance companies think about your development? “On the whole they're excited, but probably a little nervous. However, they're recognizing that the data is there – it's been verified by Munich Re and SCOR. The biggest challenge is working to implement it. It's not the actuarial part, that's already figured out.” What advice would you give other female insurtech founders? “What I learned through this process was to really seek out and leverage other women in the industry. I met women here and there but never in a mentorship position. I meant three amazing mentors here and built a great network.”
Floodmapp (2nd place, $25,000 prize)
Founder: Juliette Murphy How it works: Provides real-time data on potential floods and floods in process to help insurance companies anticipate potential claims and alert policyholders to move to higher ground. What advice would you give other women looking to get into insurtech? “Talk to as many people as you can. My background is in flood engineering and not insurance so this industry was totally new to me. The thing that was most helpful was people helping us understand the trends, the terminology and challenges, what are they looking to do.”
What were some of the most important lessons you learned as you went through the process? “I was able to understand that customer engagement and the customer experience was actually huge value to them, maybe even more than the claims reduction itself.”
Dreyev (3rd place, $15,000 prize)
Founder: Dr. Maggie Stys How it works: Combines inward- and outward-facing cameras and sensors to monitor driver behavior relative to road conditions. “One eye looks at the driver, another looks at the road,” Stys explains. What advice would you give other women insurtech founders? “Be persistent. When you get into the startup world whether coming straight from school or a big company, it's a very different environment and you have to adapt very quickly and not get discouraged. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and the idea and can make things happen.” You've gone through a couple insurtech competitions. What stood out about this one? ”This one was the only one where I could monopolize the mic. Usually we [Stys and co-founder Dr. Roberto Sicconi] fight for it (Laughs). Having the focus on female founders and support and seeing other strong women compete was extremely encouraging to me.”
Founder: Shruthi Rao How it works: A risk intelligence platform for commercial insurers that aggregates a wide swath of public data to unearth potential risks that don't come in the traditional underwriting process. “We found out that a plant [that exploded during Hurricane Harvey] had paid a fine for a compliance violation as recently as May of that year – which would've been of use to their insurer,” she notes. What advice would you give women insurtech founders? “What I would tell a woman – or man, really — looking to build a business is to never lose focus on what matters. There's a lot of levels to pull, it can be very easy to go off on one track without thinking through the foundation for your company.” How important are events like this that are focused on women founders? “Women are not always as confident in going forward compared to men. When they come across a potential bias it can discourage them. So it's important to have that network of women helping other women, and these events have a huge impact on that.”
Founder: Janthana Kaenprakhamroy How it works: Partners with gig economy websites to provide short-term commercial insurance cover for freelancers. What advice would you give other women looking to get into insurtech? “Some women undervalue themselves and don't want to ask for too much money or a higher valuation when they clearly deserve it. They should do due diligence on their peers and ask for exactly what they're worth.” What are some of the differences between U.S. and UK insurtech investors? “I love the U.S. investor's ways of seeing risk. Investors here invest in the future. They put in a lot of money and the business grows into it. In the UK, they want companies that they have already reached a certain level. But companies have to raise money to get that level of traction.”
Rehan Ashroff of the Farmers Innovation Lab spoke about his company's sponsorship of the FFIT competition at its pitch event.