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June 9, 2015

Venture Capital and Tech Start-ups

Summary:

As "unicorns" (private companies with a billion-dollar market cap) proliferate, insurers are seeing the value of venture capital and start-ups.

Photo Courtesy of Jill Browne

Unicorns – to some they are just mythical creatures of lore. To today’s tech world, a unicorn is a pre-IPO tech start-up with a billion-dollar market value. These are the companies driving innovation, technology and disruption in every corner of every business, and their impact is truly being felt across the insurance industry.

The number of unicorns is as elusive as the creatures themselves, as the herd is growing rapidly.

“Fortune counts more than 80 unicorns today, but more appear with each passing week. Some even received their horns, so to speak, as the magazine went to press. And they’re getting bigger — there are now at least eight ‘decacorns,’ unicorns valued at $10 billion or more. So much for being mythical.” — Fortune

Recognizing the powerful sway that unicorns have over new technologies, business models and more, insurers are now getting into the unicorn game themselves. They are identifying technology start-ups that can transform insurance and are becoming venture capitalists to tap into this great potential for creating the next generation of insurance.

Different models and approaches are being used to identify, assess and influence these companies’ offerings. By understanding the benefits of outside-in thinking, insurers are finding ways to leverage these innovations. Some insurers are partnering with leading technology firms. Some of the large insurers are setting up their own venture capital firms. Still others are creating consortia to fund new start-ups to help accelerate innovation.

Insurers and Unicorns

The following are a few examples of new partnerships in 2015; the trend is continuing;

AXA– In February 2015, AXA announced the launch of AXA Strategic Ventures, a €200M fund to boost technology start-ups focused on customer acquisition, climate change, travel insurance and more. The goal is to advance AXA’s digital and customer strategy by connecting with new technologies, new solutions,and new ways of thinking. The company anticipates the fund will complement AXA’s major operating investments, across all entities, into research and digital developments that will help transform how customers experience AXA.

XL Insurance – On April 1, 2015, XL Insurance announced the formation of a venture capital fund, XL Innovate, to support insurance technology start-ups, with a focus on developing new capabilities in the insurance sector. XL indicated that this effort would extend its capabilities in existing markets and give it new opportunities to address some of the most pressing and complex risk problems in the global economy. In addition, XL sees it as a critical element to driving focus on innovation forward while securing relevance in the future.

Global Insurance Accelerator – In February 2015, a group of seven Iowa-based insurers announced the formation and launch of the Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA), an insurance accelerator for start-ups. The start-ups receive $40,000 in seed money from the pool to create a minimum viable product to present to the Global Insurance Symposium. The insurers involved believe that the accelerator program will bring potential innovation and technology insights to the insurance industry.

The Future

Innovation, technology and the need to be future-ready are fueling today’s unicorns and their capital supporters rapidly expanding the herd. In turn, these new business models and market leaders are spawning challenges and opportunities for all companies.

Today’s forward-thinking insurance companies are running their businesses while simultaneously creating their futures as Next-Gen insurers. It’s critical to recognize the power and benefits of innovation and the role that unicorns play in planning for tomorrow.

This is a decisive time as Next-Gen insurers emerge along with their unicorns to disrupt and redefine insurance and competitive advantage. What is your company’s approach to leverage and experiment with emerging technologies, start-ups and unicorns to fuel the potential and enable future market leadership?

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About the Author

Deb Smallwood, the founder of Strategy Meets Action, is highly respected throughout the insurance industry for strategic thinking, thought-provoking research and advisory skills. Insurers and solution providers turn to Smallwood for insight and guidance on business and IT linkage, IT strategy, IT architecture and e-business.

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