Greater Hartford entrepreneur Stacey Brown launched InsurTech Hartford, a platform to help promote startup businesses in the insurtech community, in 2016. Stacey told Innovation Destination Hartford about the emergence in insurtech and why Hartford is the perfect place for insurtech startups to thrive.
NAN PRICE: What is insurtech?
STACEY BROWN: Insurtech is a term that’s being used to describe the convergence of technology and the insurance industry. It’s using new technology such as artificial intelligence and big data, to create a fully digitized and automated experience that ultimately benefits the consumer.
We’ve seen digitization come to a lot of industries—for instance, with music, you can now buy all of your music electronically on your favorite device and take it with you. People very rarely go to music stores to buy CDs anymore.
Digitization is starting to come to the insurance industry. People have mobile devices and all different types of ways they want to purchase insurance and interact with insurance companies. That whole boom is what insurtech is all about.
NP: How are startups playing a role in the insurtech ecosystem?
SB: Startups are really powering the insurtech environment. Many large insurance companies are recognizing they have problems. There’s a talent crunch in the industry with so many people due to retire and not enough talent to backfill.
The insurance industry has been slow to adopt technology. And now startups are popping up and they’re able to accomplish a lot without all of the bureaucracy and overhead of larger companies.
So insurance companies are realizing they need to turn to the startup community to help accomplish things they struggle with because startups can do things a lot leaner and a lot faster.
For example, if a large insurance company needs to make a strategic decision, it could take weeks, or months. But when you’re a startup company and you need to make a strategic decision, you get everyone in the room, have a discussion, make the decision, and you go!
NP: Startups do have the benefit of being a lot more nimble.
SB: Right, and startups have a lot of advantage there. With the new technologies coming to the industry—block-chain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things—the need for insurers to innovate, digitize, and take care of some of these industry-level problems is driving the insurtech agenda.
NP: Why is Hartford a prime location for insurtech activity?
SB: Last year, global venture capital activity in insurtech was about $1.7 billion. This year, in the first quarter alone, it was already more than $200 million. The insurtech trend has been on a growth pattern for the last few years.
I looked at the map and wondered where all of this money was going. The answer is, it’s going to San Francisco, London, and Singapore. There are also some communities and startup investments beginning to take off around the New York and Boston areas.
The thing is, Hartford is the insurance capital of the world. Why is all the money going to all of these different places when we’ve got all the access here?
When you’re in startup mode, you have no money to begin with. Why would you want to launch a startup in New York City when you can come to Hartford for less than half of the price and have five times the access to the insurance community?
I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more happening in Hartford. To me it was a no-brainer. I decided: I don’t know exactly how, but I’m going to make something happen. And that’s how I started InsurTech Hartford.
NP: Let’s talk about the InsurTech Hartford Meetup. What is goal?
SB: The group helps Hartford-area entrepreneurs and innovators come together with insurance professionals and resources to help advance insurtech.
It’s still very early stage. There are about 70 members, so it’s still pretty small. To me, the meetup is just one of the forums I’m using to try and engage the community. I’ve been partnering with Upward Hartford, which has been very helpful at providing space and mentorship to help make this happen.
There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 75,000 to 100,000 insurance jobs in the Hartford area. So there is a huge potential. The fact that I’ve got about 70 people in that meetup group and average about 20 people at InsurTech Harford events means I’m not even scratching the surface.
I need more people to help spread the word. I want to start drawing out more startups. I want to give insurance companies a reason to want to work with local companies and give insurtech startups a reason to run their operations here in Hartford as opposed to other places.
NP: What do you enjoy most about working with insurtech startups, entrepreneurs, and innovators?
SB: The atmosphere and the culture. I’ve been in insurance information technology for 15 years. I like what I do, but there’s something about the energy that comes out when people are really excited about what they’re doing. Because when you start something, it takes a certain level of energy to get the inertia moving. That energy is something that permeates everything that’s around you once you start it.
When you start to work with entrepreneurs, and you’re working with a bunch of people who have that kind of energy, you can’t help but get energized by that.
NP: Absolutely! That’s exactly what I’ve experienced with the startups and entrepreneurs I’ve met. It’s why I love what I do.
SB: It’s the best! So, by having the InsurTech Hartford Meetup events and pointing people to our website and other tools and events, we’ll start building a community, which is going to draw more people out and create more excitement.
NP: The Hartford area is ripe with possibilities.
SB: I agree. And I think of opportunity as the intersection of luck and capability. You can have all the capability in the world, but if you’re never lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, you’ll never really have the opportunity to make the most for yourself.
At the same time, if you happen to be at the right place at the right time, but you don’t really have the skills and capabilities to deliver, than that’s not a great opportunity for you either.
I think right now Hartford has real opportunity. We are at the right place, at the right time, with the right skills. This is the insurance capital of the world. Like I said, there are 75,000 to 100,000 jobs, so there is tons of capability and talent in the Hartford area. Now is the time. This is our opportunity.