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UHart, UConn set to launch insurtech curriculum

8/20/2018
Timothy Folta Professor, UConn Business School
Q&A talks with UConn Business School professor Timothy Folta and University of Hartford Barney School of Business clinical instructor Ken Goldstein about the schools' joint insurtech program.

Q. UConn and the University of Hartford's Barney School of Business recently teamed up to develop undergraduate and graduate curricula geared toward the insurance technology or insurtech sector. What prompted the program?

A. The primary inspiration was the opportunity to leverage the momentum with the Hartford Innovation Places insurtech initiative, which is trying to make Hartford a center for insurtech startups. The legwork for that effort revealed a real market need for a new type of human capital for this emerging sector. We are aiming to build that next-generation talent pool, both for the insurance companies in our region that need help integrating new technology into their core business processes, and also for the startups that are moving to Hartford to do business with them.

UConn actually started the program in January of this year by partnering students with the 10 startups chosen by Startupbootcamp to participate in an accelerator program. Those internship opportunities set the stage for a much broader initiative that kicks off in earnest in the fall 2018 semester.

Q. What does the program entail?

A. Well, the program has three components. The first is a course. The second is experiential learning opportunities in Startupbootcamp ventures or established insurance companies. The third is a mentoring program, where each student is provided three mentors.

Q. What courses will be offered?

A. We plan to pilot a graduate-level insurtech venturing class this fall. Building on this experience, we will then develop an undergraduate-level insurtech concepts-and-applications class during spring-summer 2019, with delivery in the fall 2019.

The graduate-level course will build skills to be innovators and entrepreneurs in the insurtech space. Main topics covered include an analysis of traditional insurance and insurtech models; an evaluation of how insurtech companies are being supported and financed (venturing); an assessment of required skills to be innovators and entrepreneurs in the insurtech space; consideration of cybersecurity exposures posed by insurtech startups and new technology; and an overview of diverse case studies.

Q. What skillsets do insurtechs looking for?

A. Insurance companies are looking for diverse skillsets to help their organizations better understand, mitigate and manage risk through strategic business decisions and data, advanced analytics and other technological innovations. Adjacent skillsets such as project management, artificial intelligence and machine learning, systems integration and architecture, and cyber-security are also in demand in much greater quantities than can be filled locally at the moment.

Insurtech startups are also looking for a diverse set of skills. They need help in refining their business models to meet customer demands, building and testing the algorithms that power their technologies, and in developing methods of analyzing data and reporting it in clear and usable ways to help improve decision-making for their customers.

Q. The Greater Hartford region seems to be focused on becoming a hub for insurtech. Several insurance technology organizations, including an accelerator, have launched in Hartford. Did the launch of this program dovetail with the increased focus on insurtech in the region?

A. The launch of the program absolutely dovetails nicely with the increased focus on insurtech in the region. Insurtechs are altering the terrain on which companies compete, and incumbents are investing in emerging companies as well as in their own internal technological capabilities.

Some of the more recent investments include Allianz's $96 million investment in micro-insurer BIMA; Hartford Steam Boiler's (Munich Re) $45 million investment in on-demand insurer Trov; and property and casualty software provider Guidewire's $275 million acquisition of cyber-risk startup Cyence.

Q. How rare is it for two universities to launch a joint program?

A. While it is rare to collaborate on launching a single program, we were very pleased to receive a joint curriculum innovation grant from the Spencer Educational Foundation to support our combined efforts. And, the opportunity to work together was further encouraged and championed by CTNext, a subsidiary of Connecticut Innovations.

We hope to include additional universities in our insurtech program. Also, we are working with Wesleyan University and corporate partners to launch a program designed to train researchers in universities and corporations to encourage engagement in the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.