What an African Folklore Hero Has to Do with the Insurance of Swiss SME

July 30, 2018

A dynamic insurance model for small and medium sized businesses that grows with its customers: this is the vision of Anansi, one of the Startups participating in the third batch of the F10 Incubation Program. Anansi cofounder and CEO Megan Bingham-Walker tells us how it all started, where their Startup’s name comes from, what their most important learnings within the last months were and how she and her business partner Ana de Carvalho have faced challenges.

Hundreds of companies are being registered every day in Switzerland. They have a six-week window before needing to have bought initial insurance coverage. But a business will not face the same risks in the future as when it has just started. Yet keeping insurance updated is probably just one of a long list of things on entrepreneur’s to-do list. Anansi builds dynamic insurance products for new businesses that provide flexible protection as the company’s needs change over time. “Anansi is a popular African folklore hero and the spirit of knowledge. The word ‘Ananse’ is Akan and means spider. Spider’s webs form part of their external cognitive system and reflect the dynamic knowledge graph of company data which underpins our services”, explains Megan.

Just over a year ago, Megan – who has a background in data science and tech – had been invited to a workshop where the world’s second-largest reinsurer Swiss Re was seeking ideas from Startup entrepreneurs and data scientists on how to bring new data analysis methods into the insurance industry. This sparked her research into the problems facing small business seeking insurance and how insurance companies can use new sources of publicly available data together with new data science techniques to more efficiently and accurately serve the needs of small businesses as they change over time. She met Ana who was at the time working in BNP Paribas’s Risk Systems Department in London and they joined forces to create an insurance model that grows with the companies relying on it.

Why the Anansi cofounders decided to apply for the F10 Incubation Program

Their long-term vision was validated by senior insurance leaders in the London market, which was what encouraged Megan and Ana to form the company and apply to the F10 “Prototype to Product” program. “We decided to participate in the F10 Accelerator Program because it has been designed to help Startups on the journey from prototype to first product – which was exactly the stage of development where we were at the start of the program”, says Megan.

“The learnings from the F10 Masterclasses and the structured way to approach our journey from prototype to first product has been extremely helpful to our young business”, states Megan. “Having the opportunity to work full-time from the F10 co-working space in the heart of Zurich has given us significant access to the mentors and corporate partners, bringing a wealth of experience and contacts into our Startup at an early stage”. According to the Anansi CEO, being able to pitch for paid projects and proof of concept trials from the beginning of company formation has been invaluable in getting started on their Startup journey.

There is enough time to build the first product and secure the first customers

One of the main benefits of the program for Megan and Ana is the close relationship with the corporate partners, access to senior business leaders and the opportunity to secure paid field trials and proof of concept projects to help to launch the business. Another advantage of the F10 Accelerator Program is its duration: “Since it is a six-month program, there is enough time to build the first product and secure the first customers rather than pitch polishing, which is something many boot camps and accelerators are criticised for”, says the Anansi CEO. “Moreover, it is an equity-free program, with expenses of CHF 15’000 paid to Startups that participate. By living frugally, we are effectively working to bootstrap our company to securing its first customers without giving away between five and ten percent of equity”, adds Megan.

Being flexible and responsive to the customers’ needs is essential

“The most valuable take-away of the F10 program has been to recognize the importance of listening to our customers and being flexible and responsive to their needs, rather than being too fixed on a particular way of doing things, all the while remaining true to our long-term vision”, resumes Megan.What has been Anansi’s biggest challenge so far? “That was to adapt our business idea to suit the particular needs of the Swiss insurance market. There are aspects of the market that are unique to Switzerland, that we had not encountered in our home markets of the UK and Portugal.” A special characteristic of the Swiss enterprise landscape is that more than 99 percent of businesses here are small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). Megan and Ana therefore needed to take time to speak to many different people and conduct customer interviews to understand the problems specific to Switzerland and how Anansi could best contribute to improving access to the right insurance for small-to-medium sized businesses over here.

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