(Image credit: Shai Pal/Unsplash.)
To say that Israel makes a disproportionate contribution to InsurTech should be obvious. Emerging around 2015 out of Tel Aviv’s larger fintech culture—itself within a larger tech startup environment—Israeli InsurTech has spawned at least six companies that have achieved unicorn status: Lemonade, Hippo, Next Insurance, At Bay, Earnix and Vestoo. (At least one other insurance technology has the requisite valuation but is of older vintage—Sapiens.)
To understand Israeli InsurTech, one has to understand the kind of place Tel Aviv is, says Kobi Bendelak, CEO, InsurTech Israel, a company dedicated to promoting the Israeli InsurTech ecosystem. “Tel Aviv is a very open place, with a great variety of people living together,” he says. “You can see Orthodox next to gay communities, Arabs in Jaffa living with Jewish people and others. It’s a very warm community where different people can coexist. You can look at it as being like a Western community with Mediterranean style.”
A combination of that open sentiment with good weather, good food and a good vibe in general helps Tel Aviv to be a very creative place. Partly, that’s because such a place attracts talent, and there is an abundance of educated people to draw from in Israel. “We are a small country with a lot of great technology,” Bendelak says. “It’s an entrepreneurial country, with people not afraid to take chances. We have great universities, capital, a global development center and support from the government.”
Information technology became an important area of investment because of Israel’s unique security concerns, and the Israeli Defense Forces remain an important institution in driving technology education, Bendelak suggests. “The majority of technology of the AI and cyber solutions and around that that fit to the insurance industry started to be developed in the army,” h says. “Earlier there were fintech solutions for banks or other financial institutions and they converted to insurance industry. Now you can see the majority of startups creating solutions just for insurance.”
The combined advantages Bendelak describes create a surplus of people with skills and motivation because of the limited opportunities within a country of Israel’s size. “You can’t scale in Israel,” he notes.
That meant that Israeli startups looked to external markets, and foremost to the U.S.and other English-speaking markets. “That’s because the U.S. is the largest insurance market, because many Israelis speak English, and because the culture and business environments are similar and very welcoming to Israelis,” Bendelak explains. “From the U.S., Israeli entrepreneurs can make an easy transition to the U.K., South Africa, Australia. After those geographies, Israeli InsurTech looked to continental Europe and Asia.”
In talking about the impact Israeli tech culture generally has made globally, Bendelak recalls a taxi ride in New York city. The talkative, South Asian cabbie asked where he was from. After hearing, the driver said, “Ah, wars, camels and desert.” Bendelak explained through Israeli startups that the country was much more than that. “Listen, I booked my ride by Get Taxi [now Gett], you’re navigating with Waze and Mobileye,” he explained. The driver was suitably impressed, and Bendelak added, “We are a small country, with less population than the five boroughs and we develop good things—and I haven’t even mentioned agriculture, cyber and health.”