Recognizing exponential innovators

Here are seven companies we believe are Exponentials. These are the companies most likely to produce growth measured not in percentages but in multiples.


Revisiting research we published on the 54 companies we cited as Innovators to Watch during 2017, we've identified seven we believe are Exponentials. These are the companies most likely to produce growth measured not in percentages but in multiples. 

Guy Fraker, our chief innovation officer, and Paul Winston, our chief commercial officer, file this report on the Exponentials drawn from our Innovator's Edge platform, which tracks 40,000 companies with some direct link to risk or risk management:

Each of the seven, selected from those that have completed profiles on IE and were recognized in 2017, best meet these criteria:

  • It produces an original solution by leveraging a "domain technology," one that can result in a redefinition of the nature of risk.
  • It states a bold, inspirational mission describing a transformation for an industry or even for humanity.
  • It achieved an exponential outcome in 2017.

The 2017 Exponentials are, in alphabetical order:

AppBus, founded in 2014, integrates in a single environment all the enterprise applications that an insurer might use. The approach makes it easier for employees to securely access the information tools they need while avoiding duplicate data entry. AppBus can combine standard business applications like CRM software with tools being created by insurtech innovators. AppBus augments those services with a library of key content and information to make users more productive. Users can create role-based interfaces to provide the specific tools that individuals need, especially when in the field. 

The firm has a mission that is relatively easy to summarize but that embodies stunning ambitions: increasing security while simultaneously enhancing productivity, ease of access and transparency across business units. That may seem like the natural state, but the world has actually been evolving in the other direction. Insurers have added layers upon layers of new capabilities, but they have largely reinforced existing structures. Insurers may have increased the availability of information, but that has generally not led to greater shared understanding.  AppBus, by enhancing access and security simultaneously, is a quantum leap forward. 

In 2017, the insurance industry became one of the fastest-growing verticals for AppBus. 2017 also saw AppBus achieve a 4X increase in funding and continue their string of technology awards, including a "Best in Show" at PACT Phorum 2017.

Aquaai has a mission to "save the seas by providing intelligence under the surface." It has never been short on inspiration. The robotics firm, founded by Liane Thompson and Simeon Pieterkosky in 2014, never figured risk management would be their first adopter, but in 2017 they agreed to provide robotic fish to a farm that is the lead source of salmon for Whole Foods. The farm uses the robotic fish to assess the integrity of their containment facilities, as well as the health of the salmon, without causing stress for the fish. 

Firms often invent the equivalent of a hammer and then view everything in the world as some sort of nail, but Aquaai adapts its technology to whatever is out there. It creates robots modeled on biology that can be customized to the requirements of the customer. Aquaai's designs can, for instance, perform loss-mitigation tasks routinely associated with flying drones, in conditions far more hazardous. So, risk-management opportunities should abound, from the very small and specific to the very broad and aspirational. 

ClearCut Medical minimizes cancer patients' pain by mitigating repetitive procedures while improving diagnosis, sharply reducing critical treatment timeframes and improving patient survival. Initially focusing on breast-conserving cancer surgery (BCS, or lumpectomy), the team at ClearCut aims to reduce the number of repeat surgeries by at least 75%. The company, founded in 2010 in Rehovot, Israel, has developed a mobile MRI that a surgeon uses in real time to establish that all cancerous tissue has been removed, rather than having to rely on pathological confirmation weeks after surgery.

In 2017, Clearcut made the jump from theoretical to the first stages of commercialization, after clinical trials in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in multiple, well-received publications in medical journals. ClearCut, which has raised roughly $6 million, estimates the total available market to be $1.2 billion for their initial target market of breast cancer patients. One can readily identify additional treatment protocols and opportunities that could benefit from ClearCut's technology, with implications for both health insurers and life insurers.

elevateBenefits tackles a major problem: that navigating healthcare and other employee benefit choices has become, let’s say, confusing over the past few years. Founded in Alpharetta, GA in 2016, elevateBenefits was born from the belief that employee benefits are of profound importance to employers and employees—but that employers often know little about what value their company and employees receive from their benefits.

But even identifying keen frustration doesn't necessarily mean there is a market. elevateBenefits initially found acceptance in the market to be frustratingly slow. It made a major pivot, developing SHRM Broker Finder, which provides simple tools that employers can use to find a broker that is right for them. Brokers signed up because the tool gives them visibility with potential clients. elevateBenefits had found the Holy Grail: a so-called two-sided market. A series of significant alliances and partnerships ensued, with Northern California Human Resources Association, then Citrix, followed by Great Place to Work, culminating with adoption by Society for Human Resource Management. In less than six months, elevateBenefits went from a few new users a month, to around 40 a month, to more than 400 every 60 hours.

GeneYouIn, founded in 2012 out of Toronto, identified a job to be done with such profound implications that quantifying them would be an AI exercise of significant proportions. GeneYouIn has developed a genome analytics and reporting platform called PillCheck. It interprets a patient’s genetic variants to help clinicians better understand how that patient may tolerate a medication in advance of making the prescription decision. In addition to improving the effectiveness of healthcare, including among mental health patients, this technological platform holds promise for aligning pain management treatments with propensities toward addiction. If successful at scale—admittedly a big if for an effort this ambitious—GeneYouIn holds promise for reducing healthcare-related class action lawsuits, for sharply reducing prescription costs and for speeding the development cycle for new pharmacological treatments. Because the firm uses a direct-to-consumer model, patients have the results for their use as they see fit for their healthcare decisions.

Jamii could easily top this list if it weren't in alphabetical order. It aspires to provide a mobile platform for micro-health insurance to African families earning less than $70 a month. Providing such coverage by networking more than 400 hospitals, while partnering with telecom providers for delivery, at a premium of $1 per month stretches the imagination. Jamii was founded in 2015 by Lilian Makoi, out of Tanzania, after a close friend lost her husband, who could not afford medical care following an accident. Tanzania alone has a population of 47 million earning less than $70 per month, and statistics published by Jamii state that approximately 4.2% of the population has health insurance. 

Makoi began with a long series of one-on-one conversations that gave her a deep dive into the problems and insights into possible solutions. She then formed partnerships with established insurer Jubilee and telecom provider Vodafone, and built a cashless and paperless healthcare management platform enabling enormous reductions in cost. 2017 was a breakout year. Jamii won entry to accelerators including Barclay’s Techstars and Disrupt Africa, won the Efma-Accenture Insurance Innovator of the Year award and captured support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In mid-2017, Jamii secured their first round of funding, of $750,000, after growing adoption to more than 20,000 users. By the end of January 2018, Jamii had an estimated user base approaching 700,000. 

RiskGenius takes a sort of meta approach to innovation in insurance: Its innovations help the innovators innovate. When the insurance industry embraces a breakthrough technology, it accelerates improvement at a societal scale, but, for all of the insurtech activity, actual product innovation is dfficult, given the matrix of regulatory models, mix of tort law models and complexity of policy language. Creating new products, services and markets and enabling new industries would be significantly easier if tested policy language could be categorized, made searchable and made accessible. Such a capability would enable an exponentially faster policy development cycle.

Enter Chris Cheatham, Doug Reiser and the team at RiskGenius of Overland Park, KS. Chris and Doug launched in 2011 with a better claims management system. In 2014, user feedback during a specific claim raised the idea of a policy forms library. 2015 was the year of exploration, development and leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide policy analysis. In 2016, RiskGenius launched, then quickly followed with a seed round of funding. By 2017, growth was on an exponential growth curve; highlights included presentations at the World Economic Forum.

A closing observation: After we selected these "2017 Exponentials," we took one last look to better understand what they have in common. It wasn't location: The seven firms are located in the U.S., Israel, Tanzania and Canada. It wasn't technology: The seven span artificial intelligence, machine vision, networking and distribution and human genome sequencing. We found one, only one, aspect in common: Seven of the seven firms have women on their senior-most leadership teams or were founded/co-founded by women, even though only 7% of venture capital in 2017 went to firms launching with gender diversity and even though roughly 17% of all tech startups include women on management teams. 

Hold that thought. ITL is finalizing a free addition to the Innovator's Edge platform: the ability of individuals to join groups for discussion, feedback and collaboration. "Women in Leadership" will be among the first groups to launch. Given the importance of the team when vetting opportunities with early-stage firms, we at ITL want to support the role of women. We'll provide more details shortly.

Have a great week.

Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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