BrokerTech Ventures announces third cohort, reflects on first two years

The idea for BrokerTech Ventures developed in 2019 when Holmes Murphy set out for a new team to garner a better understanding of insurtech innovation, but they soon found that the task needed more power and capacity behind it.

“What we realized was we were only as broad and as deep as those several individuals at Holmes Murphy had time to do in their non-day jobs,” Susan Hatten, chief operating officer of BTV, said.

Holmes Murphy’s leadership position and relationships in the insurance industry helped bring BTV to fruition initially with M3 Insurance, Wisconsin’s largest insurance brokerage, and four other brokers as the first partner investors to join BTV.

Hatten said an insurtech accelerator was one way BTV was looking to fill the “void” in technology and innovation that focuses on the insurance broker and has become a centerpiece of BTV over the last three years. The other four Towers of Operations fill out the business model: early-stage investment, innovation, capital and media.

BTV co-CEO Dan Keough said the combination of the Five Towers of Operation and industry partnerships have built BTV up over the last three years later.

“We believe the true value in our BTV accelerator and business model is in the engagement with our trifecta ecosystem of BTV agencies, insurance companies and capital resources,” Keough said. “Many of the startups who go through the accelerator have an engagement with our partners that lasts well beyond the accelerator as we work to deploy their technologies to collectively help our clients and the insurance industry identify risks sooner to drive down costs faster.”

BTV currently has 15 independently owned insurance brokerage partners and 14 insurance company partners and will soon have 36 insurtech startups that participated in its accelerator, with the announcement on Tuesday of 12 new companies that are joining the third cohort. The new cohort members are:

Below, Hatten, Keough and BTV board member Ellen Willadsen share their thoughts on the progress of BTV over the last three years. Keough submitted responses via email.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity

What was the need Holmes Murphy was seeing for broker-centric solutions? Why did the industry need a model like BTV?

Hatten: We’ve noticed as we’ve been building BrokerTech Ventures, is the year that we deployed BTV. And that was in 2019. We attended the largest insurtech conference in the world, called Insurtech Connect, in Las Vegas. And when we attended the conference, we noticed that there were over 8,000 people in attendance and none of them were effectively doing what we do as insurance brokers. They were technologists who had ideas, they were venture capitalists who had dollars, they were insurance companies that may have distribution, but very little in the way of broker. We’ve been able to capture the first market advantage by creating BrokerTech Ventures that has allowed us access into the unknowns to find these capabilities. And where we sit and uniquely position ourselves is the broker is in between the end client and the insurance company, so we can find solutions that bridge that value chain, ultimately benefiting the client to help identify their risks sooner or drive down their costs faster BTV is uniquely positioned to do that.

Willadsen: In addition to driving down costs faster and identifying risks sooner, we also wanted to be able to make our clients’ experience more pleasant in the insurance buying arena and to make sure that we had the best solutions in front of them.

Keough: BTV is the world’s first broker-led innovation platform. There is nothing like BTV in the insurance industry. Because brokers are the primary distribution channel for insurance with a direct lens into the client experience, we believe we are best positioned to find, vet, and bring to market products and solutions specific to clients’ needs. Through BTV, we’re looking for technologies, solutions and capabilities we can deploy to help our clients not only identify risk sooner, but also drive down costs faster. I have never met a client who wants to pay more in insurance premiums, and we are there to help with this.

How has being the first to focus exclusively on brokers contributed to the growth of BTV?

Hatten: I would say it’s been in concert with what our employees do and manage in their roles at Holmes Murphy. Ellen has worked with a team to create labs by Holmes Murphy community, that other partners of BTV have their own labs communities within their brokerages and our labs by Holmes Murphy team members, our employees who are helping us to really activate these technologies and solutions within our walls. But for them, these innovations would go nowhere, right? So a technology and a solution is only as good as the person that is going to actually help to propel it forward. So that activated and really brought together what we’re doing at BTV. And through Ellen’s work in our innovation space at Holmes Murphy, we’ve let it out now through this labs by Holmes Murphy community.

Keough: Brokers are the primary distribution channel for insurance with a direct lens into the client experience. Our startups are able to use this expertise to modify and transform their ideas, programs and solutions to be more valuable to the people and businesses who will be using them.

What do you think BTV has been able to prove in the last three years through its achievements?

Willadsen: I think that Holmes Murphy has always been known as a leader in broker technologies. I think what is different is the fact that we were able to bring together so many brokers and carriers within the industry. That will just help propel everything forward faster.

Hatten: I agree and I also believe that because of what we’ve done in BrokerTech Ventures, we’ve gained interest and attention from the investment community. They see how we’ve been able to bring in technologies, move them into a pilot or proof of concept, and then ultimately deploy them in the marketplace. They are attractive to investors and those that have an interest in investing in insurtech.

Let’s talk about BTV’s international partnerships with the Israel Insurtech Accelerator and the LatAm Accelerator. Why did BTV partner with these two in particular?

Hatten: We’ve been fortunate to find a great business partner in Kobi Bendelak, who leads out the Israeli Insurtech Accelerator. We’ve had a year and a half of working with him in that accelerator process. Actually two of the 12 insurtech companies in our 2022 cohort have come out of the Israeli Insurtech Accelerator, so we are seeing that in a proven out model. The idea was that we would work through Kobe and Insurtech Israel, and if there were Insurtech solutions that we felt had an application to the U.S. markets that they could apply for BTV USA and we would let our partners make that decision if they found validity. So the model is working and Tel Aviv is known and Israel is known as a startup nation and a startup country. … We are in the early stages of building out that model with the LatAm Accelerator where it would look similar to what the Israeli insurtech accelerator is doing very early in the stages, but we are working with several business relationships that we’ve made over deploying to BrokerTech Ventures and they have a foundation built already.

John Jackovin recently wrote a piece for BTV about how insurtech solutions have moved from more general tools and ideas to help the individual broker or agent in 2019 to more industry specific products and tools. Is there anything you feel that has driven those changes specifically or allowed those new focuses to emerge?

Hatten: The difference between year one and where we are now is we do have a proven track record of how BrokerTech Ventures brings value to the startup and the technology companies where we didn’t have that in year one, so we’re attracting technology and solutions and products that benefit the end client and the broker that now a proven set of years and partnerships that the applicants that are finding us understand more of how we can add value.

Willadsen: We’re also seeing more applicants, and I think the more specific the solution can be, the more focused the solution, the higher the likelihood of success.

Keough: John is absolutely correct. Through our accelerator pipeline and rolling from 2019 to 2022, we’ve seen expanded diversity — in terms of founder and team makeup, line of business, geography, and product journey. If startups can continue to produce solutions that allow brokers and carriers to focus their time on client retention, growth and removing repetitive, manual tasks through automation or AI, they will be ahead of the game.

What goals is BTV looking ahead to at the moment?

Hatten: One, again, would be continued diversity of the insurtech companies that we’re exploring and also potentially with a more focused approach on what are those solutions we’re seeking. We also see a great opportunity to continue to elevate our relationships with the insurance companies, so we’re creating and deriving and delivering value to our insurance companies. And then I also believe we see a great opportunity in learning more and activating the college and university space to uncover younger potential candidates that have an interest in our industry. So whether that’s on the technology side where they’re wanting to build or create solutions, or on the insurance and brokerage side and learning about our industry where perhaps they wouldn’t have even been considering the insurance industry to begin with.

Keough: We believe BTV is bending the innovation curve through strategic partnerships with some of the greatest insurtech forces in the industry. Through engagements with our BTV insurance company relationships, conferences, innovation platforms, and through the startup community, we believe we’ll be bringing innovation to the surface for our stakeholders and industry counterparts for years to come.