Skip to main content

Innovation and Insurance

By Jill Feilmeier on May 23, 2014 in Company News

Jeff Russell, CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa
Jeff Russell, CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa

Innovation and insurance are two words you may not hear together often. As Iowa's leadership within the insurance industry connects with Des Moines' burgeoning startup community, it may become more common.

Recently we announced Delta Dental of Iowa's participation in the Global Insurance Accelerator, a program to bring six startup companies to Des Moines that focus on innovation and solutions for the insurance industry. This accelerator will be based on the Techstars model (, which has been successfully implemented throughout the country. The goal of the Accelerator is to nurture companies that will solve key issues for the industry in non-competitive areas such as fraud management, performance and analysis, security, risk, reporting, regulation and other areas that are a concern to all insurance companies, regardless of vertical (life, property casualty, health, etc.).

I don't have a long history in the insurance business. When I started at Delta Dental, my peers in the payments and banking industry asked me, “Where is the innovation in insurance?” Now I clearly see that innovation happens in the insurance business – ask any of the attendees at this week's Global Insurance Symposium and they can point to product modernization, business model transformation and other areas where the insurance industry is innovating on a regular basis.

Innovation from the Outside In … and the Inside Out
But the innovation we are talking about with the Accelerator is different. We are taking thoughts and ideas from outside of the insurance industry and applying them to our future. The world is changing and the opportunity to link established companies to entrepreneurs and startups will benefit both groups. I am personally excited about how we can continue to drive innovation at Delta Dental through our involvement.

In my previous experience, I helped lead the first round of investment into Dwolla, a new type of payments company ( The amazing thing about the company is that they didn't know that what they were proposing couldn't be done – they just did it. What my company, The Members Group, and our partner, Veridian Credit Union, provided to Dwolla was an understanding of the back office “plumbing” of financial services, as well as an understanding of the regulatory environment. Combining established companies with a dedicated team at Dwolla helped lead to the success they are experiencing today. I believe this Accelerator, focused on the insurance industry, can do the same thing for other startup companies.

To be clear, I do not view our involvement and investment in the Accelerator as “philanthropy.” While it is good for the industry, Des Moines and the state of Iowa, our involvement is also good for Delta Dental and our customers. It's an understatement to say the health insurance market is changing rapidly. To find all of the good ideas that will move us forward, we need to look both inside – and outside – our four walls. I know that we can and will leverage the ideas from the Accelerator to grow our business and serve our members. Moreover, I am excited to mix our talented management group with driven and innovative entrepreneurs and see what happens.

Walking the Talk, Embracing Change
One of our corporate values at Delta Dental is Embrace Change. This Accelerator is clearly a new way for us to look at product development, identify new opportunities for operational efficiencies and bring new ideas to the market. I am excited about the possibilities for our company and the other insurance companies that have committed to this point – including The Principal Financial Group and American Equity. I know there will be other forward-thinking companies that step up.

I look forward to next year's Global Insurance Symposium as the first round of companies in the Accelerator demonstrate their ideas for the insurance world. And it's great to be able to do this in a city like Des Moines and a state like Iowa.

Global Insurance Accelerator