On Monday, global startup network Techstars announced a new accelerator program to be located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle park (RTP), specifically in Cary. The MetLife Digital Accelerator, Techstars’ second program in the Southeast following industry-agnostic Techstars Atlanta, will focus on insurance technologies.
Insurance technology — insurtech — is big business amongst the trillion-dollar insurance industry with trends like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and IoT poised to disrupt the current market. Leading insurtech startups like Oscar and Zenefits have pulled in hundreds of millions in venture funding.
Many of the big players are working with startups to gain access to the latest technologies, which is where MetLife comes in. The financial services giant has invested in multiple venture funds and also announced Monday the launch of its own $100 million co-investment fund, MetLife Digital Ventures, for additional access to startups.
MetLife’s presence in Cary — on a 1,500-employee-and-growing Global Technology Campus — was certainly a major factor for the new accelerator’s location. However, its new Managing Director Mee-Jung Jang believes North Carolina’s Triangle region has much to offer on its own merits.
“Raleigh-Durham is the fourth fastest growing region in America according to Forbes… Raleigh-Durham is also a top five region in terms of generating the best VC returns, ahead of cities like NYC and Boston,” she explained in a blog post.
Jang was formerly the founder and CEO of a technology startup and has been investing in early-stage companies throughout her career. She’s also an attorney and author.
Applications for the MetLife Digital Accelerator are open now through April 8; the program kicks off in mid-July. The 10 accepted startups will receive $120,000 in funding and engagement with the Techstars mentor network and MetLife executives. The accelerator is specifically looking for startups innovating in the fields of health and wellness, the gig/sharing economy, benefits marketplaces, and the insurance underwriting process.
Jang shares more on her investment philosophy, what the Triangle offers startups, and what Techstars and MetLife are looking for.
You’ve been investing in startups throughout your career. What have you learned to look for at the early stage that will indicate success later on?
My philosophy on investing in startups is very aligned with Techstars’ view — it all comes down to the team. At Techstars, we like to say that there are six main criteria we look at when investing in startups, and the first three of those are Team, Team, and Team. And this certainly holds true as I look back at the startups I’ve invested in over the years.
Aside from my investing experience, as a computer science major and entrepreneur myself, I’ve had the privilege of gathering many data points on knowing what to look for in successful entrepreneurs. My previous roles have definitely helped me figure out what to look for as an investor.
This is Techstars second accelerator program in the south and its first in North Carolina. What are the strengths of the region?
Raleigh-Durham is the fourth fastest growing region in America, according to Forbes. There are about 64 new people moving to the greater Raleigh area every single day and there is no shortage of top rankings that this area has received, including being ranked a top 10 best city to live in. Raleigh-Durham is also a top five region in terms of generating the best VC returns, ahead of cities like NYC and Boston. And it’s no surprise that Forbes ranks Raleigh as the #2 most educated city in the country; it’s home to Research Triangle Park composed of tier-one research universities Duke University, NC State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Raleigh was also recently named the fourth best city for fostering entrepreneurial growth. Our accelerator program will be located in MetLife’s Global Technology Campus in Cary — right in the center of all this action.
[The above has been reprinted with permission from Jang’s blog post]
What do you think the Techstars network will bring to help develop the region’s startup ecosystem further?
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars programs span 168 countries and cover 85 percent of the globe! We have 10,000+ mentors, investors, and community leaders in its network. That said, I want to emphasize that we focus on quality over quantity. What that means is that we are a lot more concerned about bringing in quality mentors who really demonstrate our #givefirst values. Everything we do is in service of our founders and helping them succeed.
I also look forward to expanding this network even further through the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars. My vision for this program is to engage both the local entrepreneurial community and also the broader global insurtech community. There is so much interesting insurtech innovation happening all around the world, including Europe and Asia. I will be engaging mentors and investors from around the world to create a global program right here in Cary, North Carolina.
How do you see insurance tech as a specific field growing? What disruptive technologies will be at play in this sector?
The insurance industry is huge — global insurance premiums in 2015 were $4.5 trillion. This massive industry is currently dominated by legacy processes which are ripe for disruption. I believe the insurtech revolution has only begun.
What makes insurtech so exciting is the wide reach and breadth of what it encompasses. We are interested in any business that touches the world of insurance. Some of our specific interests include health and wellness (as it pertains to financial and lifestyle), the gig and sharing economy, benefits marketplaces, and rethinking underwriting. We’re positive that we will meet great entrepreneurs who are working on themes not listed here, and we welcome those conversations.
What should a founder applying to the MetLife accelerator keep in mind?
We are stage agnostic and very focused on team when it comes to selection. Startups accepted into our program have ranged from pre-product to millions of dollars in revenue. Techstars can help founders accelerate and succeed regardless of their stage.
Inline image via MetLife