GIA Board LeadershipThe GIA's Board is made up of an incredible group of accomplished men and women who represent each of the GIA's insurance-company investors, as well as some equally accomplished individuals who are not from the insurance industry. As busy as these individuals are, they make time to meet every month and actively participate, not only through attendance, but by providing guidance and expertise which helps the GIA continue to grow.
Please note:the text below is a blog post from the GIA's Board Chair, Jeff Russell, written in March 2017. Some of the stats are outdated.
The Right Pace for a Long Race
By Jeff Russell, CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa and GIA Board Chair
As we were announcing the 2017 Global Insurance Accelerator class, someone asked if I think the GIA has made the progress investors and board members hoped it would by its third 100-day cohort. The question caused me to consider what has been accomplished in the first three years:
- Engaged ten insurance company investors
- Hired Brian Hemesath as our Managing Director, who has put form and substance to a set of ideas
- Hosted 18 startups in Des Moines over three cohorts, including this year's class of six
- Watched and supported GIA "alumni" who are continuing to grow their startups
- Recruited a committed group of more than 100 mentors
While we are still in the early miles of a long race, I think the original investors and board would agree that we've taken great strides and, in 2017, we are where we should be. It's worth recapping - and celebrating - the GIA's initial growth and evolution.
Growing our Investor Group
In 2016, the GIA investor group grew from seven to ten insurance companies. Most recently, EMC Insurance Companies and Markel Corporation joined for 2017. In addition to gaining a six percent stake in our portfolio companies and having access to possible future investment in startups, much of the value to investors is being involved in the culture of innovation. The GIA provides investors' employees the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs and expand their thinking. Our insurtech startups are taking a fresh look at industry problems - in many ways, they don't realize they are doing now what experts said couldn't be done. At Delta Dental of Iowa, we recognize that all of the best ideas are not going to be created inside our four walls; exposure to the startup mentality is a way to bring in useful, outside influences. The startups' race against insolvency means they approach things quite differently than in a traditional corporate environment. These interactions help foster an innovation culture in our own organizations. In return, the breadth of experience our employees share with the startups helps reduce the cohort teams' learning curve, allowing them to get up to speed more quickly. I believe the GIA accelerates the growth of everyone involved.
Having multiple organizations fund and run an accelerator is unusual; having potential competitors invest in one together is practically unheard of. However, the GIA has found success with this structure. I believe it's because each investor is committed to the common goal of bringing innovation to insurance. Over time, as decisions have been made, the discussion always circles back to ensuring that our choices are for the good of the accelerator and not for the benefit of an individual investor. It's this spirit of collaboration that is helping us move the industry forward.
We've learned a few things over the past couple of years, including the value of fully immersing the teams into the accelerator experience. To provide additional opportunities for the startups to interact among themselves, the GIA now subsidizes their housing while they're participating in the program. Living at the same extended-stay complex provides more chances to learn from each other.
GIA Cohort Alumni Success
Many accelerators judge a team's success on how much money they can raise. The GIA's goal is a bit different: to help them find customers and grow revenue as quickly as possible. The majority of our alumni teams are continuing to move forward. Some are seeking the opportunity to run pilots, to help prove the value of their product. And, yes, some are seeking additional funding in order to bring their product to market. In 2016, two of the 12 alumni companies - Drive Spotter (from 2015) and InsuranceSocial.Media (from 2016) - announced additional funding rounds. The further investments in both companies were led by Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, one of the original investors in the GIA. Another original investor, IMT Insurance Company, also participated in the additional funding round for InsuranceSocial.Media. Involvement with the startups at these early stages, allows the carriers to have input on how the products are designed and developed. Being able to foster long-term relationships with the startups is an added benefit of being a GIA investor. We expect to continue to see success from both the GIA alumni and the teams in the current cohort.
Strong Pool of Mentors
The Accelerator would not be where it is today without its strong network of mentors - it is truly our secret sauce. Although the GIA seed investment and housing subsidy are tangible financial benefits for the class members, the real draw is access to the GIA mentor group. More than 100 professionals interested in innovation have found a natural home at the GIA as mentors. What I hear from mentors is that they came into the relationship hoping they could provide some wisdom, but they walk away from working with the teams feeling like they learned as much as they taught. Each of us has many demands on our time, but year after year these busy professionals choose to stay engaged with the GIA. This mixture of local and global mentors from the insurance industry, the startup community, and a variety of other specialties return to be part of these unique interactions and to help build these new products and services.
Many Miles Ahead
It has been amazing to watch the insurtech ecosystem grow and evolve to meet critical needs. With Des Moines' high concentration of insurance companies and insurance talent, it's only natural that it's the destination for insurtech companies that want to accelerate their business growth. It's why the GIA is headquartered here. And, it's why the 2016 ACORD Insurance Innovation Challenge, with the GIA as a partner, was in London, New York... and Des Moines.
When the GIA launched in 2014, the objective was clear: create a world-class accelerator to help grow insurance-based startups. Each year we're attracting more advanced startups to the GIA. Many of our 2017 class members are now post-product, and some are generating revenue. In this year's class, you'll see mobile and artificial intelligence solutions for claims and customer service; blockchain-enabled, app-driven solutions for the on-demand market; and security and data-protection solutions. All of these solutions can solve problems facing the insurance industry.
To meet the needs of these startups, the Global Insurance Accelerator must also continue to grow, evolve, and innovate so it continues to be seen as a critical point in the success of insurance innovation.
With the success we've seen so far, it's easy to forget the GIA is a startup, too. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And, we like our pace.
Jeff Russell is the president and CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa - one of ten insurance company investors in the Global Insurance Accelerator. Jeff also serves as the board chair of the GIA.