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Brian Hemesath Provides Global Insurance Accelerator Update at June Startup Stories

Greater Des Moines (DSM) and the Future of Accelerators

"I think what we're doing here is the future of accelerators," Brian Hemesath, Managing Director of the Global Insurance Accelerator, declared. "We're not the first, but the niche focus along with the corresponding focus of the mentors is the key to the program and to its success," he said at the June edition of Startup Stories, a production of Square One DSM.

Hemesath was providing the gathered members of the startup community and interested onlookers an unofficial post-mortem of the first edition of the accelerator program that had ended only a few weeks before with its participants making a pitch presentation at the Global Insurance Symposium presented by the Iowa Insurance Institute, Federation of Iowa Insurers, Iowa Economic Development Authority, Greater Des Moines Partnership, and Iowa Insurance Division.

"I married well," Hemesath quipped as explanation of his availability to lead this unique accelerator sponsored by seven insurance companies and facilitated in its birth by the Greater Des Moines Partnership. After a decade of serial entrepreneurship, launching multiple companies notably including Tickly and VolunteerLocal, Hemesath had taken a somewhat more traditional position with Doextra. He did B2B sales in order to stabilize his life and allow his wife, Nicole, to become a stay-at-home mom for their growing family when Colwell and Tej Dhawan approached him to lead the accelerator.

"It was my dream job, but I left the final decision to Nicole," he said. Once the green flag dropped, Hemesath was in an all-out race to prep the accelerator space and program, admit the first class, execute the program and deliver its graduates to the Symposium.

"I was new to having a board, a real board of corporate types, C-level people," he said of one of his early challenges. "I had to run a meeting once and it was a total disaster." While learning the fine art of concise communication with people who have very limited time, he was also recruiting one of the program's critical components — mentors. These mentors all came from an industry with which he was completely unfamiliar. This and taking a day off to attend the birth of his third child filled the approximately 40 days available from accepting the position to orientation of the inaugural class.

Despite the challenge it all came together and in February of this year six teams from literally around the globe took up residence in Des Moines, accepted $40k for six percent equity in their emerging business and began a program focused on what Hemesath characterized as "the 10 steps to invest-ability" and incorporated the Business Model Canvas tool.

"These were companies in the pre-product stage," Hemesath said. The investment dollars put up by the sponsors really allowed the companies to buy time, but far more important than the money was the time investment and guidance from the mentors. On the other side, the investors realized that any potential ROI was incidental. The insurance companies, all competitors in the marketplace, were looking to spur the development of solutions to common problems through third-party entrepreneurship. Towards that end, they generously offered their own employees as mentors and Hemesath observed that the mentors found great reward in the role.

With the first class graduated and developing a strategic plan for the next year, Hemesath has little time to catch his breath. Leaving the Startup Stories guest chair, he was off for a few precious hours with family before catching a plane to New York to attend the Accord Insurance Innovation Challenge, billed as the first and only insurance-specific technology and innovation competition. Initially attending as a guest, he was elevated to a judge and hopes to begin prospecting for the next slate of accelerator attendees.

More recruits, more mentors and more investors are his top priorities, but nothing is sacrosanct he and Colwell, who continues to serve as a non-voting member of the board, acknowledged. The investor dollars and the equity percentage for instance are subject to review and revision, particularly if a post-product development company was to come into the fold.

"I've got a whole folder with big things and small things we need to look at before the next class," he concedes, offering by way of an example his belief that they waited too late into the 100-day curriculum to begin pitch practice. Still there can be no question that in the eyes of the investors, mentors and participants this inaugural class has been a great success.

In response to what is becoming the obligatory question of these sessions; "What more can Des Moines do to support the startup community?" Hemesath, who had just visited the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, a partnership of local and state government support, private interests and the Nashville business community at-large, encouraged interested and supportive members of the community to travel more, to bring more ideas back into the community. "It's not to say that good ideas can't percolate within our community, but there is nothing bad about borrowing proven ideas either. It's no secret we are behind places like Nashville, but we can get there." And with that, he was off to New York.