Northwestern Mutual doubles down on local startups

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Northwestern Mutual has announced two initiatives designed to both develop local Milwaukee startups and establish the city as a U.S. tech hub.

In partnership with corporations based in Southeastern Wisconsin, the carrier recently launched gBETA Milwaukee, a seven-week “pre-accelerator” program intended to aid entrepreneurs in taking business ideas and bringing them to market. Up to five early stage startups will be considered for the accelerator each go-round.

“The gBETA incubator is for companies not yet ready for a national accelerator,” said Craig Schedler, venture partner at Northwestern Mutual, adding the ideas brought to the insurer can be inapplicable to financial services, as the company aims to “move the Milwaukee tech ecosystem forward.”

Northwestern Mutual is open to working with startups interested in entering the insurance industry, Schedler says. The gBETA program will be hosted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Business School. Local startup accelerator Gener8tor will lead the day-to-day operations while Northwestern Mutual and other sponsors mentor participants. Once members complete gBETA, they will be more equipped to apply to prominent national accelerators.

Insurers, municipalities and venture firms are teaming up to identify winning startup technology companies and develop effective solutions for the industry.
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“The overall growth in interest in technology-based businesses and what would be called '21st century jobs' in Milwaukee led us to create gBETA,” Schedler says.

Along with the roll out of its new accelerator, Northwestern Mutual also announced a $5 million venture capital fund, Cream City VC, focusing on Milwaukee-based startups. Similar to gBETA, the fund is not geared towards helping expedite Northwestern Mutual’s digital strategy, but to build up the city’s startup community. The Midwestern insurer publicly announced a separate $50 million insurtech fund and investement arm to support its ongoing tech transformation in January.

Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures focuses on three verticals: fintech, digital health and data analytics, according to Schedler. The VC arm has made seven investments so far, including Chime, a digital banking experience vendor, and Amino, a startup helping patients make better decisions about how to spend health care dollars.

“We want deep partnerships with passionate teams and are looking for client-centric approaches,” said Schedler. “We are excited about bringing that [startup] energy into our business.”

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