MetLife’s Ignition Event Cultivates Startups

The annual event, part of the company’s broader innovation program, unites MetLife’s leaders with startups and VC partners to explore how disruptive technologies can be applied at MetLife.

(Marty Lippert,executive VP and head of MetLife’s Global Technology & Operations, speaking at Ignition.)

The opportunities for insurance disruption are best accessed through both internal efforts and “bringing the best of what the world has to offer us,” commented Greg Baxter, Chief Digital Officer, MetLife, in a conversation with Insurance Innovation Reporter earlier this year. The external side of that dual approach was exercised on June 14, 2018 at MetLife’s annual Ignition event at its headquarters in New York City.

The insurer describes the meeting as a “digital speed dating” event, which unites global MetLife leaders—including Baxter and Marty Lippert, executive VP and head of MetLife’s Global Technology & Operations—with startups and several of MetLife’s 16 venture capital (VC) partners to explore how disruptive technologies can be applied at MetLife. If the question is, “How does a digital start-up get the attention of a Fortune 50 insurer with more than $60 billion in revenue?” the answer, according to a statement from the insurer is that, “At MetLife, they walk in the front door and make their pitch.”

Greg Baxter, Chief Digital Officer, MetLife, attending the Ignition event.

This year, the 16 participating start-up companies were focused on accelerating MetLife’s Digital ambitions by examining emerging capabilities in four key areas: data and analytics, customer experience, new adjacencies and operational simplicity.

“The pace of change is increasing across all industries. Innovation investments into InsurTech remain strong and industry dynamics are changing,” commented Lippert. “Ignition 2018 is part of our innovation ecosystem that is enabling us to identify and capitalize on emerging consumer and technology trends.”

MetLife reports that more than 50 start-up companies have participated in Ignition since its launch in 2014, with more than 200 MetLife global leaders in attendance each year. Those relationships have ignited 15 Proof of Concepts and contracts with five start-ups to date, according to the carrier.

“Ignition is an eye-opener as it allowed us to learn about real challenges MetLife teams encounter and to incorporate this feedback into our product,” commented Justin Wisz, co-founder & CEO, Vestorly, a New York-based digital marketing and customer engagement startup. “That kind of in-person information transfer is priceless for startups and large organizations designing innovative solutions together.”

“Amazing to see a company like MetLife pulling in such innovative companies, looking at how they can change MetLife’s business in ways that that would be beneficial to its customers,” commented David Thomas, Co-Founder & CEO of Evident, which provides identity and credential verification without handling sensitive information. “As a leader of a startup, it’s extremely valuable to be exposed to this broad array of leaders and gain their feedback at a single event.”

Members of InsurTech startup Evident David Thomas, Co-Founder & CEO; Nathan Rowe, Co-Found and Chief Product Officer; with John Geyer, SVP and head of Innovation, MetLife (left to right) Click to enlarge.

Ignition fits within MetLife’s broader externally focused innovation approach, which includes two InsurTech investment programs for start-up companies: MetLife Digital Ventures and the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars. In March, MetLife announced a multi-year collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) focused on accelerating innovative technologies that will transform the insurance industry.

The two new investment programs, which will be managed under the aegis of MetLife’s Chief Digital Office, will support a strategy based on the development of digital technology as a means of transformational change, according to Baxter. The strategy aims at three areas, building up a foundation of innovative technology, developing differentiating products, and disrupting the industry, he says.

MetLife Digital Ventures is backed by a $100 million co-investment fund, which expands on the insurer’s relationship with 16 leading venture capital funds.

The MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars is a first-of-its-kind program that identifies and mentors start-ups around the globe that are developing industry-disrupting technologies in the insurance space. Start-ups selected will be hosted at MetLife’s Global Technology Campus in Cary, North Carolina, for an intensive 13-week program focused on the development and acceleration of transformational ideas.

MetLife’s collaboration with the MIT Media Lab is focused on advanced research and exploration in the fields of sensors (Internet of Things), social data, digital records, machine learning, and data science. MetLife will look to leverage these technologies to create disruptive applications that enhance the customer experience with simplified underwriting, improved risk management and differentiated pricing.

The insurer also works with startups through LumenLab, MetLife Asia’s Singapore-based innovation center. Through its open innovation program, “collab”, LumenLab invites entrepreneurs and InsurTechs to scale their business with MetLife.

How MIT’s Media Lab Fits within MetLife’s Larger Innovation Ecosystem


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