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Episode 32: What Makes Successful Startups in the Insurance Industry?

Episode 32

August 30, 2019

Insurtech expert Brian Hemesath sat down with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Mike Colwell, Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives, to discuss the Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) and the insurtech industry.

Startup Path

When Brian started his first business, he did it for survival. He’d worked for another company that went under and after that swore he wouldn’t work for anyone else again. He and his brother then started a boutique web development company and worked there for 10 years, facing many ups and downs.

He also started a volunteer scheduling platform, VolunteerLocal, where Brian now spends his time as a developer and advisor to the company’s President/CEO Kaylee Williams. With Kaylee’s leadership on a new sales process, VolunteerLocal has seen key growth.

Insurance Industry Updates

After working for himself for 10 years, Brian began his work for the GIA, where he built up the organization over several years. While in the position, Brian mentored 40 insurtech companies and helped hundreds of others. After Nicole Cook joined the organization, Brian helped transition the company before stepping aside for Nicole to take the lead.  

ACORD Connect Challenge

In the podcast, Brian and Mike discuss the ACORD Connect Challenge, which takes place October 29-30 in Boston, Mass. ACORD, an organization that helps set standards for the insurance industry, was the first to suggest an insurance insurtech challenge, which is a different type of event than the GIA. In 2019, MakuSafe is a Midwest finalist.

Successful vs. Failed Startups


According to Brian, it is the founder’s passion, coachability and persistence that is key to successful startups. Entrepreneurs that can look across the table and listen will be lightyears ahead, while entrepreneurs that are linear thinkers sometimes focus too much on the timeline of their next challenge instead of the possibility of other opportunities. Brian suggest being open to these other opportunities so you can be ready for the next steps.

The Market

Brian knows the insurance industry may not be glitz and glam but it’s a multi-trillion-dollar industry. This is important to keep in mind when considering types of startups and small businesses. You may start your business as one thing but have the opportunity to evolve into another. For example, Rocket Referrals recently announced they made the Inc. 5,000 list. While Rocket Referrals started out as referral company, they are now an insurance communications platform, showing you can grow faster when you embrace those opportunities that pop up over the course of your startup journey.

Inspired by this Startup Story? Subscribe to the Startup Stories DSM podcast and check out upcoming events, videos and other free resources dedicated to helping startups and small businesses accelerate success in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.