Accelerating Insurance Innovation: More Than an Accelerator
Two Iowa-based insurtech conveners create a network of entrepreneurial support
Iowa’s insurance industry is synonymous with innovation and collaboration – guiding principles shared by two global insurance accelerators operating in the state.
Started in 2014 as the first-of-its-kind in the world, the Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) has provided insurtech startups with the initial investments, mentorship and deep industry insight necessary to reach their full potential. Its counterpart, BrokerTech Ventures (BTV), which was founded in 2019, matches broker-centric insurtech startups with brokers, wholesalers and carriers and provides seed funding to cohort members.
Entrepreneurs have flocked to Iowa from all over the world to immerse themselves in everything both accelerators (and the state) have to offer. Participating startups secure much-needed resources and capital infusions, as well as unique, direct access to Iowa’s leading minds in insurance who help the companies refine their offerings and go-to-market strategies.
These accelerators have been instrumental in cementing Iowa as a place where insurance innovation flourishes, and expanding the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
A Collaborative Connection
At the helm of these industry-transforming organizations are Dan Keough, Chairman & CEO of Holmes Murphy and BTV co-CEO and co-founder, and Dan Israel, GIA managing director. While both accelerators have found individual success, the state’s spirit of collaboration has inspired the occasional partnership to tap into each other’s strengths for the benefit of accelerator participants.
“The Global Insurance Accelerator started as a group effort among leaders from the Greater Des Moines Partnership, innovation leaders, and local insurance carriers,” Israel said. “Our network of industry experts understands the challenges that these companies face and helps them proactively articulate solutions in real time. We also have strong relationships with other accelerators and share applicants that might be too early-stage for them or too late-stage for us. It’s a joint effort in driving amazing change.”
Keough started BTV as a collaboration between Holmes Murphy and M3 Insurance to build the first broker-led accelerator and convening network in the industry.
“There are many insurance companies in Iowa, but among the accelerators in the state, BTV and the GIA have a symbiotic relationship that exists through our connection to Iowa and the insights we share,” Keough said. “I’m a big believer in ‘co-opetition’ – if companies work together for the greater good of the industry, we can all achieve our goals.”
A Hotspot for Startups
Although both organizations exchange knowledge to support industry growth, their methods of solving industry challenges and selecting startups differ.
“The GIA looks for early-stage companies. Some come to us only with a great concept, while others have already developed a tangible product,” Israel said. “We get a lot of companies wanting to join the program because of the network they are exposed to. It may be hard for startups operating in other states to get their proverbial foot in the door, but here, I can connect our cohorts with the right people at incumbent insurance companies operating here in Iowa and in our broader network.”
By its fourth year, BTV had invested in nearly 50 companies. When selecting startups, the company’s approach isn’t to find a problem to solve – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“We don’t come at it with trying to solve a problem, we have an open mind because we accept that we don’t know what we don’t know,” Keough said. “We encourage companies to tell us what they see as an opportunity in insurtech, and then we work together to see how our clients can benefit.”
While these startups support industry innovation and create growth-oriented ideas, relationships and opportunities, there is an evident value for them simply being in Iowa.
“More than 7,000 finance and insurance companies operate here, so the industry knowledge and access to industry leaders we have within reach is incomparable but also extends past business relationships,” Israel said. “For instance, our partners at ManchesterStory Group have hosted several dinners for companies in the program. To them, it’s not just about investing in these organizations, it’s about making them feel welcome and a part of the local scene. That support is hard to come by in other places, but it’s common for mentors and CEOs in Iowa to go beyond just the business relationship.”
A State of Success
Startups that have graduated from both accelerator programs have found their experience to be rewarding – financially and otherwise.
“It's gratifying to see the success of companies coming out of the program,” Israel said. “One example is Cowbell, a cyberinsurance company based in California. They came to Iowa to participate in the GIA and raised $100 million in their most recent round of funding at a $1 billion valuation. The CEO of that company was successful in leveraging his network and found initial partners in Holmes Murphy and investors in ManchesterStory. This partnership and success is what we hope many of our startups find through connections in Iowa.”
Beyond the funding, expertise and mentorship that participating startups access through these programs, it also gives entrepreneurs a sense of what life will be when they hopefully decide to make Iowa their home.
“Many of the startups and partners who engage with BTV have never been to Iowa and they are always blown away by how nice downtown Des Moines is, and how nice Iowans are,” Keough said. “From mentorship opportunities to the growing number of businesses, early on it becomes evident to cohort members why [Iowa is] the leader in insurance and financial services. Innovation lives here and it’s fostered here.”
“Startups go from saying ‘I don’t know about Iowa,’ to, ‘I’m moving here’ or ‘I want to open an office here’ because of the experience they get in Iowa,” Israel said. “This ecosystem and community create family.”