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Episode 41: My Path to Becoming Managing Director for the Global Insurance Accelerator

Episode 41 with Nicole Gunderson

January 10, 2020


As Managing Director of the Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA), Nicole Gunderson oversees the annual 100-day program. She discusses her corporate and startup experiences with Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives of the Greater Des Moines Partnership Mike Colwell.

Early Experience

Moving from a small northwestern Iowa town to Chicago, San Francisco and New York City, Nicole was able to create her own community within the larger city. While in Chicago working for the Chicago Climate Exchange, she became acquainted with financial innovator and founder, Dr. Richard Sandor.

While Nicole grew up with entrepreneurial experience, she wanted to gain knowledge by going the traditional large company route out of college. Eventually, she worked her way back to Iowa and worked at local tech company, Dwolla.

Upon becoming reacquainted with Iowa, Nicole realized that Greater Des Moines (DSM) offered the perks of a big city, without the challenges of one. She explains how she had grown weary of experiencing homelessness on her daily commute in San Francisco, while seeing the mental health issues and the high cost of living were draining.

Nicole says there’s something special about what’s going on in DSM and that realization was integral to her seeing all of the opportunity in the area.

Growth at Dwolla

After joining as an MBA intern, Nicole found she loved her time at Dwolla so much that she continued working there, staying full-time in business development before moving into sales and finally, a leadership role. Nicole explains that finding the right product-market fit was something that wasn’t easy in her job at Dwolla. As she worked to find her leadership style and voice, she had to determine how much transparency she needed to have with her team.

Speeko + Techstars

Following her time at Dwolla, Nicole became involved with a tech company that offered something new and different. Through Speeko, a public speaking app that offers verbal communication coaching, Nicole took part in the Techstars accelerator. This would be her first foray outside financial services and fintech. Her mission at the accelerator was to figure out the product-market fit.

The framework of Techstars focuses on mentorship and growth, which allowed Speeko to apply what you learned and prepare for life after Techstars. Nicole had no intention of leaving Speeko, but after finishing Techstars, within three months, as the company shifted their focus from finding that product-market fit, she began working for the GIA.


When Nicole learned about the GIA managing director position, she wasn’t sure she’d be a good fit. While she lacked knowledge about the insurance industry, the other skills she had built over the years were a perfect fit for the position. Mike and others assured her she would have support when it came to understanding the industry. What the GIA needed were the financial and startup skills Nicole had gained over the years.

Last year, the GIA hosted 10 companies. In the future, Nicole sees the number of companies taking part in the GIA scaling back — not due to a lack of quality companies, but in order to provide the best experience for the companies involved. Mike explains that a lot of people don’t realize how big the insurance industry is and how much opportunity there is within it to create new processes and find ways to streamline it.

The GIA selection process is a personal one. Nicole doesn’t take it lightly, and she expects most companies applying for an accelerator do not either. At the end of the day, the GIA is about advancing innovation for the industry, so ultimately, she must determine which companies can offer the right solutions on a global scale.

Listen to the entire podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/162832/2143982-nicole-gunderson-global-insurance-accelerator

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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.