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Sugar and soda banned at this health-tech startup

Jennifer Van Grove, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

"(Shah) proved through data that people living a healthy lifestyle live longer," said Charles Moldow, general partner at Foundation Capital and a Health IQ board member.

That gives the company an edge, he explained, because the data is proprietary and is being used to create a new underwriting formula.

Of course, there's also Shah's entrepreneurial pedigree. The UCSD computer science graduate has sold two companies to two different tech titans: Like.com to Google (for a speculated $100 million) and Andale to Alibaba.

Then, there's the fact that Health IQ is part of an insurance tech boom.

"It's definitely been a hot area for financial technology over the past couple of years," said Matt Wong, a senior analyst with finance-tracking firm CB Insights. "By and large, we're seeing a lot of startups try to create new digital brands centered around user experience."

Insurance tech startups pulled in $985 million in financing during the second quarter of this year, and experts anticipate continued investment, and perhaps overcrowding, as tech companies race to make over the front-end of the highly regulated industry. Even more traditional carriers are anxious to participate in the trend, establishing their own corporate venture arms or digital brands, Wong said.

 

Of course, Health IQ is narrowly focused on the already health conscious -- runners, cyclists, swimmers, vegans or even people successfully managing a chronic disease. Still, the startup estimates that more than 50 million people in the U.S. fit into this category. Board-member Moldow believes that it's a niche worth tens of billions of dollars.

Since making its first life insurance plans available 22 months ago, the company has sold more than $5.3 billion in coverage to customers, banking a commission on each policy. But that's just scratching the surface. Most athletes probably aren't aware that they can save money on a life insurance policy, Shah said, and Health IQ has ambitions that extend to long-term care and disability insurance. Hence the $35 million cash infusion, which Shah and his investors hope can help fuel growth at an even faster pace.

"Today, nobody searches for 'life insurance for runners.' Awareness needs to be created for this category," Shah said. "People should know that when you finish a marathon you should refinance your life insurance."

Customer acquisition is, indeed, the biggest hurdle. Not only is Health IQ trying to turn around the trend of fewer consumers purchasing life insurance than in years past, but it's also competing with carriers with massive advertising budgets, Wong said.

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