The Lion and the Mouse: Start-ups Pitch to Top Insurer
8 December 2014
One of the common behaviors of successful innovative companies is establishing creative partnership arrangements. These relationships are not traditional supplier/buyer arrangements (zero sum games) but are mutual agreements that combine deep subject matter expertise and new technical capabilities to produce unique and valuable solutions. I witnessed an event this past week that demonstrated partnership-building in full force. Eight start-up companies pitched their solutions to one of the largest insurers in the world. It was inspiring to see the interplay between the very different perspectives, and encouraging to watch the participants struggle, and most times overcome, hugely different communication styles. It reminded me of the Aesop fable about the lion and the mouse, the moral of which is that size is not an indication of value. Each presentation followed the same general structure. The founder / CEO / CTO of the start up reviewed the key functions and value propositions of their solutions. In most cases, about half way through, the audience members from the insurer would begin to ask what I call use case questions. “Does this mean we could use your solution to do ABC?” and “We have a problem with doing XYZ. How would your system approach this?” I was struck by how natural it was for the subject matter experts to quickly apply the technical information to their current challenges and how easily they could imagine future capabilities. I think that there were several reasons for the success of the session. First, this insurer’s innovation team has been in place for multiple years. Over this time, I know they have worked hard to engage with the “innovation evangelists” in the organization. This meeting included the right “curious minds” and was a manifestation of their advance work. Another reason is that the facilitating company which selected the start-ups chose carefully and coached the participants regarding presentation messaging and delivery. There was just enough tech talk and a good amount of insurance-specific application examples. Finally, I think the immediate translation into use cases signalled pent-up demand from the insurer. Their attendees obviously have already been thinking in specific terms about how technology can help them better run their businesses. This forum provided them an outlet for expression of those thoughts. The session was a well-planned and well-executed example of innovation execution – the type of activity that Celent calls Deliberate Innovation. Kudos to all involved for demonstrating how to operate in a market of exciting possibilities!