Nassau Chief Marketing Officer Paul Tyler and Innovation Program Manager Laura Dinan Haber spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the company’s commitment to supporting InsurTech startups in Hartford through the Nassau Re/Imagine incubator.
NAN PRICE: Let’s start by talking about what’s next for post-pandemic innovation here in Hartford.
PAUL TYLER: Post-pandemic success for innovation in Hartford is contingent on a couple of things. One is making the solutions exceptionally relevant for the needs of people and consumers going forward. A lot of the startups we’ve seen coming through not only our program, but other programs like Upward Labs PropTech and AgeTech Accelerator only become more important post-pandemic. It’s interesting to look to the ones that were presenting solutions to digital health problems. The startups in our program are realizing that, what was a nice feature to have in a product is something a lot of customers are going to demand a need a year from now.
Second is being able to connect a lot of different parts of the ecosystem in a digital way. Hartford’s natural strength is its density of the number of insurance carriers, educational institutions, and innovation centers in the area. We’re exceptionally blessed because the work we’ve all done over the last few years is only going to be more impactful in the future. But to really make that impact, we’ve got to learn how to replicate that community in a digital sense.
LAURA DINAN HABER: I think we’re going to see an increase in collaboration as we move forward coming from the amount of content people are putting out. Things are becoming a little more transparent across the lines, which has been really interesting. So, success is going to be sharing toward a future that’s successful for everyone. That’s going to be a little different than it has been in the past, because of the way people are coming together. The fact that we’ve been humanized by not being able to be around humans is going to impact how we choose to move forward as a society. Some of that is yet to be determined, but I think the human element is going to be a powerful one.
NAN: As businesses are reopening, do you think some of our current practices, like virtual meetings, will be integrated going forward?
LAURA: Absolutely. It’s opened us up. Not to say we hadn’t done some things in a virtual way before the pandemic, but moving forward, we’ll intentionally offer more virtually to reach an even broader demographic.
PAUL: I agree. We used to be more focused on time, space, and who can drive where. We’re learning how to capitalize on the virtual approach. The livestreams we’ve hosted have significantly increased our reach. We’ve had a number of posts trending on some of topics that are incredibly important for Hartford to own: InsurTech, life insurance, etc., all as a result of understanding technology being innovative and pulling our network of people as close as we possibly can. We’re going to run hard at this over the next year.
NAN: If most things are virtual, what is the benefit of being a part of Hartford’s startup ecosystem?
LAURA: What’s unique in Hartford is the connections and the collaboration. You can look out the window and see so many insurance carriers—but people aren’t looking out those windows anymore. Instead they’re looking through a screen, but it’s the representation of all the partnerships of all the human beings who came around this ecosystem. It’s the power between the relationships that Hartford as a community has and our willingness and our desire to share those with other folks.
PAUL: We’re helping startups cut through the clutter and get the connections they need for proof of concepts here in Hartford. We help people get to the next level.
Also, Laura has been working with the University of Connecticut and the University of Hartford to create a good pipeline of interns to help these companies. It’s a great way to transfer the knowledge back and keep it here in Hartford.
NAN: In terms of funding, you’ve developed some creative ways to help startups?
LAURA: On February 28, we had an investor roundtable where we had 36 investors, close to 50 startups, and more than $3 billion worth of capital in the room. The event drew in an audience of investors including Hartford City Treasurer Adam Cloud and many ecosystem representatives. We pulled together a panel of venture capitalists and the participants all spoke to one another.
So, instead of having a pitch event where the startups are usually the ones doing the talking and the VCs are in the audience, we flipped it. It provided interesting information in a new way. From what we’ve been told and from the research we’ve done, it was the first time something like that has happened in Hartford. The event gained a lot of momentum leading up to it and afterward.
We’ve become aware of activity in the works with a few of the startups that will receive funding from some of those VCs. So, we know the event was very powerful and productive for them. We want to harness that activity and excitement and bring it to the next level.
PAUL: This is working. One of our startups from Australia recently closed $800,000 in a financing round. Guess what? Their U.S. place of residence is One American Row in Hartford. We’ve retained them. They came, they got funded, and they’ve chosen to stay here in Hartford. We’re just going to build on those stories. If we can help you build your team, get a few clients, and get investment, why wouldn’t you want to be here in Hartford?