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INNOVATION| 30.09.2021

New (and bright) blood for the insurtech ecosystem: these are the entrepreneurs of the future

Marta Villalba

Neus Martínez

Universities and companies are united by a common purpose: working on ideas, finding ways to respond to the market’s needs, and winning over a space. The university world brings freshness and talent without the vices of the sector; big corporations provide profound knowledge on this. Victory lies in uniting both aspects. In designing programs such as the Insurtech Lab of IE Business School or the Challenge FIAP of Brazil, which combine the best of both worlds. It is a bold commitment that is certain to stir up the insurance sector.

In 2020, despite the pandemic, the Spanish entrepreneurial ecosystem came close to reaching the results of the previous year’s investments. This fact confirms that the general entrepreneurship trend is advancing, and in recent years, the connection between the academic world, entrepreneurs and large corporations has also advanced.

MAPFRE participates directly in several programs that aim, according to Joan Cusco, Global Director of Transformation, “to break through the valley of death between the academic world and the world of entrepreneurship.” This goal is achieved by collaborating with universities to bring resources closer to entrepreneurial talent and take their ideas towards a real scenario. The synergy has more purposes, such as bringing the activity of insurtech social entrepreneurship in Spain and LATAM closer to world-leading countries like the USA, UK or Israel.

Working in this line of partnerships allows MAPFRE to contribute to responding to the changing demands and new needs of users. And it does so through the solutions proposed by entrepreneurs in their programs which, on many occasions, are aligned with the challenges of a volatile social context. For example, the generational change that includes very different interests among millennials in relation to the generation Z, or to those that are to come; new family, labor, or economic formulas. Also, in a shift about how to look at health, which currently involves not only not being sick, but being in good physical shape, basing mental health on self-realization, etc.

In short, promoting insurtech entrepreneurship is to work to meet needs at the pace of people and society and to keep the insurance sector from focusing on the ones that no longer exist.

MAPFRE seeks to be the bridge between students’ research ideas and the market. Along this path, it collaborates with different universities through innovative programs. Places that already have the talent of the future insurtech ecosystem, and experiences where students will find the resources to make their projects come true.


IE Business School, disrupting the content and the container

IE Business School has been developing its Venture Lab for some time. This is a program to accelerate startups created by students and alumni of the institution. In 2021, for the first time, and with the support of MAPFRE, the Insurtech Lab program has been developed in parallel, focusing on innovation within the insurance sector to offer participants this competitive edge. Five teams were selected from among some 200 candidates (students and alumni), ten weeks of work, and a challenge that did not specifically focus on insurtech, but on lifestyle solutions in products or services. It is a way to anticipate the needs associated with life changes with one goal: to create solutions the market actually wants.  

Allison Rohe, managing director of the Insurtech Lab, stresses that “MAPFRE’s support in the program means accessing an opportunity that would be impossible otherwise. It gives students and alumni the opportunity to explore and contribute to disruption in the insurance world. It is a highly prepared sector and also very much in need of disruption.” 

IE Business School is considered the best European business school for entrepreneurs. From this long experience in entrepreneurship, the team that runs the program knows well that one of the recurring failures in the early years of a startup is building teams. The collaboration with MAPFRE has facilitated innovating and focusing the selection on two non-traditional aspects: looking for individuals, moving away from profile-based team building; and without profiles with experience in the insurance world, to have ‘fresh eyes’ able to contribute their vision of the market. 

According to Allison Rohe, “this type of corporate-university partnership provides realistic learning for students. In addition, working side-by-side with a leading company with professionals aligned with the day-to-day life of the sector is a valuable contribution. Most importantly, Insurtech Lab teams discover a problem that exists for a large enough market large from the point of view of the business and work on a solution.” 

The program focuses on finding talent, inspiring them to work on their industry vision, and helping them bring projects to the insurtech ecosystem. But, in addition, that search for talent goes both ways. For the future of entrepreneurship itself and for the university, which detects what organizations are looking for in terms of talent. 

During the ten weeks of work, the teams rely on three types of mentoring: academic with the IE team, strategic design with Fjord and insurance business with MAPFRE.

Program dynamics

IE has an alumni network of more than 50,000 people. The Insurtech Lab is open to all of them and with the invitation to participate, the recruitment funnel is activated. Recruiting teams goes through several stages that start with an initial elimination filter due to no availability of dates or because they do not meet the basic requirements. 

The first real filter is a questionnaire and the creation of a profile that seeks a balance in skills (technology, marketing, operations, or type CEO) and that reduced the approximately 200 candidates to 60. The second step consists of group dynamics performed synchronously, dividing the group into teams of 20 people. About 30 candidates arrive at the third phase and participate in an escape room to observe how they react when moving between teams. 

Between 18 and 20 finalists bring together a balance of profiles, selected by an open jury made up of people from IE, MAPFRE and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. According to Allison Rohe, “it’s a puzzle of possibilities. We inform them that they are finalists, ask them to reflect and engage, put them in contact, and organize a synchronous workshop to form the teams themselves.”


A winning team, ten weeks of work, and then?

A new challenge begins for the winning project that accesses Insur_Space, the startup acceleration program from MAPFRE Open Innovation (MOi) where it obtains, in addition to the monetary prize of €30,000, the necessary tools to evolve and go to the market. A consultancy based on helping the team and providing robustness to the project: 

  • Secure the technical part of the project.
  • Create an exceptional customer experience.
  • Produce all the necessary materials to go to the market to seek financing.
  • Connect it with a network of investors. 

It’s about giving them the keys to getting the idea from a PowerPoint presentation to the market.


What is the profile of participants?

A common characteristic among the group of young entrepreneurs is that in their university years, they have already set up their first startup, as a self-employment project, but that forces them to go to the market to seek financing and puts them in contact with the business world. Those who decide to take the next step and create another one already have seven or eight years of experience. 

Many of the entrepreneurs who participate in Venture Lab arrive with a brilliant résumé, despite their youth. They have created (and sometimes sold) startups previously and have raised funds; or they come from positions in large corporations looking for a new challenge, which multiplies their experience exponentially and certifies that they have real capabilities and possibilities to start a business.


Giraez, the winning project of the Insurtech Lab 2021

A platform for migrants residing in Spain to hire and pay for the services their families need back home, from here. 

For migrants, sending money to relatives in their country of origin is often expensive and unsafe. In addition to taking on high commissions and costs, it is also difficult for them to know from a distance whether the need to be covered by that remittance has gone where it should. In addition, it is also difficult for them to travel from rural areas to collection offices, exposing them to possible robberies.

Gabriela Casos de los Cobos Tapia and Alfonso Javier Valín García, members of the winning team in the 2021 edition of the Insurtech Lab, brought together these factors to look for a simple and fast implementation solution. That was the seed for Giraez, a platform that goes beyond easily sending money.



This solution will enable Colombian migrants residing in Spain to hire and pay for the common needs of their relatives in Colombia from here: food, education, medicine, etc. In addition to including easy access to services, the platform will enable them to control the monthly costs of this assistance and to hire additional protection-related services. “We realized that families in the countries of origin are sometimes very unprotected and have the mindset that, if something happens, they will be sent money to solve the problem. For example, for the migrant living in Spain, it may be feasible to take care of their family member with a micro health insurance plan for 20 euros a year, but the same amount can be difficult to earn in the country of origin,” the team says. 

Easy access to taking advantage of the service is also a key factor. “Everyone uses WhatsApp, so the solution goes directly to them, as they receive the voucher directly on the Smartphone.” The project is in the prototyping stage and is now being developed with a web platform. Its evolution involves collecting all the tools that the Insur_Space program offers them to bring Giraez to the market. 

“Participating in the Insurtech Lab means so much to us. Experience, learning right from the start, participating in a creative process that has led us to focus on the right ideas to get it right. And as winners we have the support of mentors, access to key contacts and partners to work on the prototype and validate it as soon as possible with users.”


FIAP Brasil, win-win between university and company

The Brazilian university FIAP, noted for concentrating the largest number of experts in technology and business, has also been committed, since 2019, to offering its students the program “Challenge FIAP” to encourage entrepreneurship. It is a dual initiative, aimed at master’s and undergraduate students, where they are challenged to experience the reality of the insurance world by working on product, services and customer experience improvement projects. 

According to MAPFRE’s Innovation team in Brazil, “having the support of large corporations such as MAPFRE is a win-win situation. It offers young people the opportunity to get closer to the company and, at the same time, it is an exchange of fresh ideas with the vision of students who do not know the details of the insurance sector and put new proposals on the table.”



Two programs, one goal

FIAP offers two types of programs. The first is aimed at MBA students and, to date, there have been three editions. The challenge for the students is broad and the work begins with a presentation by MAPFRE on this challenge for about 70 or 80 students who are divided into teams of 4 members.

Ideas responding to the challenge are presented two weeks later. The program’s executive team evaluates and discusses with the students so that they can refine them and submit them again a 15 days later. The next month, they design the project prototype, which leads to the final stage: presenting it with a 5-minute pitch. The 3 finalist teams are rewarded.

The second program focuses on undergraduate students and, although the dynamics of project selection are the same, it works with less mature ideas, focused on improving general insurance products.

For participants in the two initiatives, the experience is more than enriching. They have been able to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and also in MAPFRE’s shoes, to rethink and improve the insurance user experience and work on solving problems.

These two experiences confirm that disruption in the insurance world is achieved through making the search for innovative formulas more sophisticated. Design new alliances that break the molds. Anchor collaborations between university and company, to approach new talent who are destined to transform the sector.