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Case Study of a Six Year Insurtech Partnership

By Joe Kirgues, Co-Founder, gener8tor

Joe Kirgues, Co-Founder, gener8tor

Six years ago, Peter Gunder (Chief Business Development Officer) and Dan Reed (American Family Ventures Managing Director) from American Family Insurance came to the gener8tor offices as we were kicking off our new accelerator program to talk to our startup cohort about ecosystem building and their nascent venture investment efforts. Six years later, American Family Ventures is a $200 million fund with profitable exits in its portfolio such as Ring, which Amazon acquired earlier this year for $1 billion.

But at gener8tor the American Family team represents a lot more. Shortly after our first meeting, the American Family team stepped forward as gener8tor's premier program sponsor. The challenge they offered us was twofold: their ventures team wanted to operate within a robust startup ecosystem and they believed we could work together to help support new insurance technology startups.

"We are continually working with insurers across the country as we join together to build stronger ecosystems within and throughout each insurer’s community"

Six years later, we have worked together to help import tens of millions of new capital into the Madison ecosystem and have created thousands of new jobs. We also invested together in startups such as ReviewTrackers and ABODO. The gener8tor program is now nationally ranked and operates in nine cities across the country. But the parts of the partnership that have grown from our working relationship have never really been publicly discussed.

Most critically, the biggest investment American Family made into gener8tor was the time and attention of their team. They continually stepped forward to challenge us on building products that engaged not only American Family Ventures but the entire insurtech ecosystem and the broader venture ecosystem within our communities.

When American Family Ventures went public with their fund, the broader insurance and even corporate community took notice. It's hard to remember, but four years ago the insurtech ecosystem was just emerging as more and more insurers announced formal venture efforts. As American Family Ventures emerged, Dan Reed was continually meeting with peers around the industry and it was clear to him and us that the corporate venture teams throughout the industry wanted a forum to connect and learn.

Upon this realization, Dan Reed challenged us to create a forum for corporate venture capital and innovation executives. We got to work on what has become Project North. Project North is a peer-to-peer membership group for corporate venture capital, innovation, M&A and strategy executives. Project North programming features quarterly dinners where corporate innovation and venture executives from around the region confidentially share lessons learned and best practices. To help us kick it off, Dan Reed gave the first presentation.

We have since grown Project North to over 37 corporate members in six states with 11 insurance partners such as Allianz Life Insurance Company, Ameritas Life Insurance Corp, Assurant, Inc., Church Mutual Insurance Company, CUNA Mutual, Jewelers Mutual Insurance Group, Northwestern Mutual, Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, Thrivent Financial, and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company. In addition to quarterly dinners, we host bi-annual trips to markets such as Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco where we take members to meet with venture and startup leaders in each ecosystem. Additionally, each member is offered complimentary access and sponsorship at each of our OnRamp conferences, discussed below, which connect startups and corporations.

After the emergence of Project North, Dan Reed then challenged us to think of even more ways to connect corporations with startups. Working with Rick Zullo, then at Lightbank, and our gener8tor team, we launched the OnRamp Insurance Conference where we hoped to connect startups with corporations via one-day conferences at sports stadiums. To better facilitate the industry's emergence, we also planned a day of panels, speakers and keynotes.In our inaugural year, we hoped for 200 or 300 industry leaders to come. We got over 600.

Today, the OnRamp Insurance Conference draws well over 1,000 attendees, 34 insurance partners and hundreds of startups. Peter Gunder’s role has been equally important to the ecosystem. At one of our accelerator program kickoffs, Peter Gunder attended to see and meet the participating entrepreneurs and offer his support. During the event, he challenged us on what more we could do to translate efforts like ours to universities across the country and better connect partners like American Family Insurance to the entrepreneurship and technology efforts on campus.

With American Family’s support we launched gBETA, a free, seven-week accelerator designed to help build new companies on campus---often based around corporate challenges offered by Project North members---and merchandise these startups to the broader financing markets.

At the time we had no idea what would happen next. Today gBETA operates 11 programs in six states. We most recently announced partnerships with a corporate group of partners led by Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee, Capitol Music Group in Los Angeles, and Boston Scientific and Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Most recently, we worked with American Family to broaden the scope of our efforts with our new gBETA Social Impact program that works with startups and emerging nonprofits building K-12 related products, services or content.

In perhaps the biggest statement of all about American Family’s commitment to the community, American Family championed the new StartingBlock building in Madison that will serve as a lighthouse for entrepreneurship in the region. These efforts are matched by American Family’s impact on the insurtech ecosystem. Most recently Kyle Nakatsuji spun out of the American Family Ventures’ team with Clearcover, which is now one of the most exciting new startups in the insurtech space. And the American Family Ventures team has expanded with offices in New York and San Francisco.

Within gener8tor, we are now proud to say we could write similar case studies of our success with equally committed and accomplished insurtech partners such as Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee and Thrivent Financial in the Fox River Valley. And we are continually working with insurers across the country as we join together to build stronger ecosystems within and throughout each insurer’s community.

What is clear to us six years into our insurtech partnership with American Family is the difference an ecosystem-driven commitment from the top can make for a ventures team, the company, and the community.

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