By integrating Plug and Play’s startup scouting technology into its processes, the Foyer insurance group goes beyond open sourcing and enters the insurtech sector through the front door. Silicon Luxembourg organized a cross interview between Marc Hotton, Innovation Coordination Officer at Foyer and Gabrielle Inzirillo, Fintech Director at Plug & Play Ventures, in order to explain the terms of this new partnership.
Silicon Luxembourg: Who was there to meet the other one, at the beginning?
Marc Hotton: During the Foyer Innovation Tour 2018, we had the opportunity to visit various innovation hotspots in Boston and San Francisco. One of them was the Plug and Play headquarters in Silicon Valley. Having discovered that the hub of the Plug and Play insurance “vertical” was in Munich, we quickly met the Plug and Play team in Munich. From the very first exchanges, they realized that Foyer was already well advanced in its innovation approach, both in terms of governance and processes. The momentum was great and we realized that we probably had a lot to learn from each other. From there, we naturally embarked on a discussion about what we could create together in a partnership, beyond pure customer/provider service. Then we were invited to their events such as the batches: about thirty Insurtech startups selected by corporates for a three-month program. The startups are accelerated and invited to pitches at the end of this program.
To start such a partnership, the packaged offer proposed by the Munich office seemed very ambitious to us, and we hesitated a lot. When we met Gabrielle, she was hosting a conference for the Paris Plug and Play hub at the LHoFT on the theme “Fintech is dead. Long live fintech.”. And it was the CEO of the LHoFT, Nasir Zubairi, who put us in touch. She heard us well and understood that we were looking for something more personalized. We found a unique agreement that allows us to be a partner in Paris and Munich at the same time.
Gabrielle Inzirillo: I’ve been with Plug and Play Ventures for four years. I have experience in the European development of this project. We have already deployed it in Germany, Italy and France. When I met Marc, I realized that the Munich offer alone would not be suitable. We entered into a tripartite partnership where Foyer has access to the events in Munich (very Insurtech-oriented), and to the back office in Paris and Munich to provide our services to the group.
What do you offer at Plug and Play?
GI: We are both an innovation platform and an investment fund. We sometimes invest in startups that are part of our programs and sometimes not. Our investment ratio is 70% in the US versus 30% in Europe. Google, Paypal, etc. were our first investments.
We put startups in touch with large groups, not only for matchmaking. We are present on 32 sites around the world to find the right startups. We then help them set up pilots, tests, internal acceleration plans, procurement workshops, and legal contracts, etc. For Foyer, which is already well advanced in terms of innovation and structuring, we are scouting startups and helping them detect relevant innovations for the group.
“What’s new with this dealflow is that it has brought new collaborators into the adventure of open innovation.”
Innovation at Foyer was already underway before this partnership.
MH: At the end of 2016, Foyer created its Innovation Hub based on a collaborative model. Our governance has implemented open innovation in the same way, in order to bring out ideas that would come from an external ecosystem to solve internal shortcomings. We quickly got closer to the LHoFT in Luxembourg and since 2017 we have screened 300 startups and carried out around 20 POCs. 18 innovative ideas have gone into production thanks to our support. I think that today in Luxembourg, when people think innovation in insurance, they think Foyer. But if the ecosystem here is rich, it is not immense, and in insurance, we often end up finding the same startups. The wealth of Plug and Play’s portfolio of startups, particularly in insurtechs, was therefore relevant for us.
What are Foyer’s expectations in this collaboration with Plug and Play?
MH: We liked the international aspect of Plug and Play, which complements our current partnerships with LHoFT and LOIC favourably. Plug and Play is an ideal partner, particularly in connecting us to the Fintechs in Paris and Munich. We also like the fact that we have access to their network of experts and the feedback from Munich events. The idea for us is to complement the open innovation offer already in place at Foyer by making it a method and initiative tool, like all those we already use internally, for all our employees. This means, for example, organizing dealflows, or startup pitches: the first dealflow organized in November brought together 23 pre-selected startups on the theme of claims. We then met 6 of them, who pitched their solution during a virtual event. We are now analyzing the proposed solutions and possibly going one step further.
What’s new with this dealflow is that it has brought new collaborators into the adventure of open innovation. Our colleagues in the claims back office have been concretely involved in the process, and such success will not fail to attract others in departments that are sometimes far removed from our innovation initiatives. And if the event itself is targeted around employees chosen for their business skills, it is then important for us to pass on this work to the whole company, in the hope that it inspires others to call for the innovations of tomorrow.
“Unlike other European markets where it is common to change insurance or to be satisfied with digital contacts, in Luxembourg the market is unique and loyal.”
How is Plug and Play Ventures organized to meet the demands of a partner like Foyer?
GI: We have about 150 people in the group dedicated to the ventures business. Their role is mainly the sourcing of startups, based on our CRM and Playbook. The startups are listed and noted on their level of maturity, the number of interested companies, etc. Based on this selection, an employee from Munich makes a tailor-made proposal. Then an exchange takes place, and the partner gives us his opinion. The selected startups are then notified and allowed to pitch.
At the beginning of Plug and Play, our way of communicating with the partners was one to all than one to one. We organized conferences for the whole company, we organized business delegations for the Heads of Units. Since 2017, we have created the principle of “champions”, i.e. we address ourselves directly to the innovation managers in the companies… who have them!
What did you know about the Tech ecosystem in Luxembourg before this partnership?
GI: Before 2018, I was living in the USA and I discovered the Luxembourg ecosystem recently. Here there is a real interconnected ecosystem, unlike other cities which have a more compartmentalized system between companies, project leaders, incubators, innovation groups, events… I also see a good level of exchanges between companies with different specialties. This allows startups to develop with a different maturity.
What are the expectations of individual and corporate customers in terms of insurance?
MH: Unlike other European markets where it is common to change insurance or to be satisfied with digital contacts, in Luxembourg the market is unique and loyal. Indeed, alongside online services, Luxembourgers appreciate the proximity with their agent, and this is really a specific feature of the market. This is particularly noticeable for life events with a strong emotional impact. If a mobile application is a must for administrative acts or small everyday damages, nothing can replace the voice of a caring agent when you are at the side of the road after an accident or when it comes to ensuring the safety of your children. The human response is a positive complement to digital innovations.