The insurance industry is getting into the resilience business. QBE Insurance and Ashoka – which promotes social entrepreneurship— are in the middle of what may be the first-ever resilience-focused entrepreneurial challenge for the urban environment.
“The fact is the climate change is affecting our clients – over time it’s going to be a pressing issue,” says Ted Stuckey, managing director of QBE Ventures. “We see it as an essential priority for QBE,” because climate change is “going to impact our bottom line and it is impacting our customers in many ways.”
The challenge sought innovations for the built environment; sustainable economies; food/water/waste; and public health and safety.
After receiving 99 applications from startups, QBE whittled down the list to a final 10 competitors. Those 10 will present their ideas on Oct. 16 and the winner will receive $75,000, while second place will receive $25,000.
“We fully expect this to be the first of many competitions for us globally,” Stuckey says.
Some of the finalists include SensCity, a company whose software will help gauge how urban environments are reacting to climate change; Exergy, a company that can purify and recycle water at the point of use for manufacturing and other industries; and Citysense, which uses a massive open network of sensors and communication hubs that will allow people and communities to share solutions to urban problems.
The contest, says Josie Barnett, QBE Foundation Manager, isn’t just about providing small companies seed money. “We have a great desire to develop these long-term relationships,” with the companies. “We want to create long-term value in resilience issues.”
Stuckey, who sees no end to the mentorship of these companies, says while the prize money isn’t huge, “There is a ripple effect. There’s no way we can have the size of impact that we want to have with a single check, but we can sow the seeds of entrepreneurship and open up the eyes of other investors.”
Evan Reis, executive director of the U.S. Resiliency Council, said while it’s not uncommon for groups like Ashoka to help start-ups, and it’s not uncommon for cities to have resiliency competitions, the QBE/Ashoka challenge is the first that is focused on resilience startups.
“It’s kind of exciting, this is sort of the first one of these,” he said. The insurance companies the council has worked with are philosophically interested in improving resilience, but they are more focused on improving their models right now,” he says. “The more insurance industries are willing to invest in any kind of resilience, hopefully the more value they will see in resilience.”