Hartford InsurTech Hub Managing Director Dawn LeBlanc spoke to MetroHartford Alliance Content Manger Nan Price about how the accelerator attracts innovative global InsurTech startups to The Insurance Capital of the World.
NAN PRICE: According to your website, the Hartford InsurTech Hub doesn’t “just talk about the need for innovation in the insurance industry. We enable you to become innovative.” How so?
DAWN LEBLANC: Insurers have a long history of conducting business in a traditional way, and often businesses need an outside perspective or to experience a solution that hasn’t been done before to kickstart creative thinking. Hartford InsurTech Hub scouts startups who have developed innovative solutions to traditional problems, with the goal of continuing to evolve the insurance landscape.
NAN: How has your background prepared you for this role and enabled you to help insurance companies collaborate with startups?
DAWN: With more than 30 years of experience in the insurance industry, I’ve held a variety of roles and experienced disruption and transformation. Transformation is accelerating at a faster pace than ever before. This can make it difficult for large organizations to sort through all the changes regarding what’s relevant to insurance, what’s relevant to their business, and how they can potentially integrate and quickly monetize these changes. That’s what we do here at the accelerator.
Having experienced both a startup (as a small business owner at a young age) and the traditional insurance side, I sometimes call myself the “translator” who can see both positions and help make connections. It could be talking to an insurer about a technology in a way that relates to an insurance business case or talking to a startup about how to best navigate a large insurer. That’s where the sweet spot is. Our expertise lies within finding the right type of startups that can quickly monetize and industrialize solutions for insurers’ most urgent business challenges.
NAN: How is the Hartford InsurTech Hub bringing innovation to Hartford—and ensuring the talent is staying here?
DAWN: On average, about seven out of the 10 companies we bring to Hartford are from outside the United States. Each startup typically brings one or two founders. Sometimes they bring significant others, friends, or colleagues who come to learn and experience the Greater Hartford area. We introduce them to insurance influencers, corporate partners, and government leaders. We expose them to our capital city showcasing our culture, museums, restaurants, and events.
Our mission is to have them fall in love with Hartford and experience the benefits of being between Boston and New York. We believe helping founders who participate in our accelerator fall in love with Hartford will help the startups want to establish a presence here and hire from our local ecosystem. Each startup that stays in Hartford attracts new tech talent and helps create new and exciting careers.
NAN: What’s the incentive for global companies to come to Hartford for this accelerator?
DAWN: It’s because of the strong insurance presence both from our partners in our program—Aetna, Capgemini, Cigna, CTNext, The Hartford, LKP Global Law, Locke Lord and Conning, Travelers, USAA, and White Mountains Advisors, as well as our variety of mentors. Our accelerator participants meet key individuals within these companies during a three-month on site program. This accelerated timeline would normally take a startup years to form these types of connections and we’re happy to assist in their development.
You can’t get the quality of top insurance companies coming together in any other accelerator program in the world.
NAN: And how is the Hub forming those partnerships and creating those pipelines?
DAWN: It’s the commitment from our partners who want Hartford to be an Insurance and InsurTech Hub. They’re committing their time, resources, and staff to mentorship, funding, and making connections for these startups. Our partners are committed to building emerging companies and growing businesses, which ultimately leads to more jobs and prosperity for our capital city, state, and region.
NAN: What makes the Hartford InsurTech Hub accelerator different than other programs?
DAWN: Our global network, industry expertise, and connections are not only in insurance but are also across every major global industry. This network expands our reach within insurance and well beyond. Our face-to-face scouting and screening process for startups and caliber of business partners play significant roles in our success.
We create connections with solutions based on what the insurer needs. For example, we analyze each partner’s top business challenges and then we find startups that can create real solutions.
We’re not scouting startups we think are unique, interesting, and have the best new technology. We’re looking for startups that can solve our partner’s challenges. If the local insurers are hiring these companies to use their products and services, the startup will remain in Hartford. Our ultimate goal is to keep as many startups in Hartford as possible.
NAN: How are you finding companies to participate in the accelerator?
DAWN: Startupbootcamp and Rainmaking InsurTech have broad international connections that enable us to create relationships with startups where we may not have normally created a connection. Along with the time and dedication our scouts put into creating an advanced InsurTech database, we are able to discover quality startups.
We react quickly to the changes in the startup community and devote resources to ensure our startups data is in real time. We personally meet with over 500 startups. You can look at PowerPoints and websites, but unless you speak with a founder and understand their passion, commitment to their business, and what their tool does, it is hard to understand the depth of the solution.
We then engage our partners in the final selection process of the final 10 quality companies by connecting them with the 20 semi-finalists in Hartford. The partner insurers decide if each startup can help solve the problems they are facing in their business. The best way to do that is face-to-face.
NAN: How are the startups working with the partner insurance companies?
DAWN: The end goal is to develop long-term working relationships between startups and insurers. Each insurer is on a different maturity cycle regarding how they view innovation and how they plan to work with startups. Some are more advanced than others. Our job is to ask the right questions to help them determine their desired path and create the right solution and offer them the quality startups. On average, each startup leaves our program with at least 203 engagements.
Some insurers haven’t yet dipped their toes into working with startups. We are initiating a new program this fall focused on Life, Retirement, Annuity, Long Term Care, and Employee Benefits to begin efforts with these insurers.