JumpStart Challenge is back.
For the fifth time in recent years, a major Lincoln corporation will reverse-pitch a business problem to entrepreneurs. The challenge starts with a kickoff event on March 2nd. On March 14, teams will pitch their solutions to a group of judges.
“The JumpStart Challenge is about innovation and creating opportunities for startups to work with a corporation to solve a problem,” said Christina Oldfather, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development (LPED). “Our hope is that they can create something scalable that can spin out of it.”
Prior challenges have identified problems from industry sectors including health care, fintech and real estate. This year, Assurity will present a challenge in the insurtech space.
Jared Carlson, Director of Assurity Ventures, is looking for more than just a company-specific solution.
“We’re not going to have some widget to do something for Assurity that no one else can use,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is create a challenge that would be applicable to creating a full-fledged business with multiple customers.”
Carlson looks at hundreds of startups in the insurtech space, looking for investment opportunities for Assurity Ventures. And he sees a lot of capital moving in this direction.
‘My whole job is finding companies and looking for partnerships,” he said. “I looked at over 800 companies in the insurtech space in the past year. In 2018, there were about $4 billion invested in insurtech companies in the U.S.”
But nearly all of those companies were outside Nebraska.
“I only talked to one insurtech company from Nebraska with any traction,” Carlson said. “People just aren’t paying attention to insurance, but there are insane things going on in the industry. There’s a lot of money focused on challenging the traditional models of insurance and I think we are going to see some very successful companies emerge.”
Teams will pitch to a group from Assurity Ventures, who will judge the ideas but also be looking for a reason to invest beyond the $2,000 cash prize that goes to the winner.
“We tried to make it enticing for people to actually create a business around it,” Carlson said. “If it’s something that is really interesting, ultimately we are looking for companies to invest in. The opportunity is bigger than just the $2,000 cash prize.”
There is also a community service aspect to Assurity’s involvement with JumpStart Challenge.
“As a B Corporation, we realize it’s our responsibility to take care of our community, people and planet. Supporting our entrepreneurial ecosystem allows us to get involved while living our values,” Carlson said. “One of our core values is ingenuity, placing a big focus on the power of creative imagination where the best ideas win out.”
There are other incentives besides the cash prize and the opportunity to pitch to Assurity Ventures.
“Whoever wins the challenge will have an opportunity to earn a $25,000 LaunchLNK grant from LPED,” Oldfather said. “If they make some progress, there’s an opportunity to win a really big prize. They will also get support from Assurity, like access through an API to certain aspects of Assurity’s business.”
A Wild Card Challenge will also be offered.
“Any idea in any vertical can be pitched for a $1,000 cash prize and free coworking at FUSE,” Oldfather said. “It’s a chance to get in front of an audience, talk to the judges and get the idea out there.”
Are other communities doing something like the JumpStart Challenge?
“There are other reverse pitches happening in other places,” Oldfather said. “The structure differs from place to place as far as how the problem is presented and how much support is there. That’s something we’ve done very well. Corporations that participate are 100% bought into the process and do everything they can on their end to help the startup be successful.”
Carlson likewise has expectations of success.
“I think we’re going to see great ideas from this challenge,” he said. “It’s our dream to help another Silicon Prairie company go big. If it’s a worthy idea and team, we have plans to fully support them.”
For more information or to register a team, visit http://www.jumpstartchallenge.com/lincoln.
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.