Michael Juhler-Nøttrup (right) & Frieder Kühne (left)

Michael Juhler-Nøttrup (right) & Frieder Kühne (left)

  • Michael Juhler-Nøttrup is the Head of Inno­va­tion at the Scan­di­na­vian insurance company Tryg. Frieder Kühne works as Busi­ness Deve­lop­ment Manager at the Berlin-based startup Miami Hearing Tech­no­lo­gies.

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300 years of tradi­tion: that’s what Tryg looks back on as the successor of Scandinavia’s oldest insurance company. But the second largest insurer in the Nordics is not as slow-moving as its age might suggest. Just like other big compa­nies, the Copen­hagen-based corpo­ra­tion must adapt in a rapidly chan­ging digital age. That is why Tryg, which is trusted by over three million insurance custo­mers in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, is a pioneer in colla­bo­ra­ting with young startups.

“Three years ago, we noticed that some­thing was happe­ning in the insu­retech startup world and we wanted to benefit from it,” says Michael Juhler-Nøttrup, Head of Inno­va­tion at Tryg. But at first, that was easier said than done. Tryg encoun­tered problems in colla­bo­ra­ting with entre­pre­neu­rial-minded startups. “Our first expe­ri­ence with startups was that they had a totally diffe­rent mindset and way of deve­lo­ping,” Juhler-Nøttrup remem­bers. “We saw that we didn’t have the right setup to engage with them. At that time, we did not have any special orga­ni­sa­tion for inno­va­tion, just deve­lo­ping units within our core busi­ness.”

Lengthy deci­sion-making processes conflicted with a fast-pace startup menta­lity. “I told our execu­tive board, if we really want to do this, we have to create a unit that has the mandate and the resources to actually work with startups and on inno­va­tion projects in general.” The execu­tives did not need much convin­cing. In an ever-chan­ging world, the concept of one-year insurance premiums is likely to be outdated, according to Juhler-Nøttrup. “It’ll be more along the lines of insurance solu­tions for half an hour, such as for car sharing. The risk land­s­cape is chan­ging and our core busi­ness as we know it has to adapt to tech­nical deve­lop­ments.”

To find the right setup to engage with the startup scene, Tryg created “The Camp” in 2016 — a cowor­king campus in the heart of their Copen­hagen head­quar­ters. About 35 tech startups have found a home here, and at least five of them now work directly with the insurance company. For example, Tryg and the smar­t­home startup Anywhe­re­So­lu­tions are deve­lo­ping and selling insurance-related services to homeow­ners. Another example is Auto­Wise, with whom Tryg is working on new insurance models for car leasing. Trial and error is the motto for those rela­ti­onships. “We partner with startups because they can deliver the solu­tion to a well-defined problem,” says Juhler-Nøttrup. “In the dialogue, it often comes out that it’s maybe not the fix for one problem but for a diffe­rent one. And also the startups find new ways to imple­ment their product that they had never thought of.”

Years ago, corpo­rates and startups only inter­acted when a corpo­ra­tion was inte­re­sted in acqui­ring an already successful startup. Nowa­days, corpo­ra­tions pay closer atten­tion to early-stage startups, and usually, by the time they invest in or even acquire a startup, they have likely already been working toge­ther. According to a recent study, 82 percent of corpo­ra­tions see colla­bo­ra­tion with startups as “some­what important”. For 23 percent, these part­nerships are even cons­i­dered mission critical”. In working with startups, corpo­rates expect new ideas, approa­ches, products, tech­no­lo­gies or busi­ness models — such colla­bo­ra­tions can yield compe­ti­tive advan­tages in a hard-fought market.

And what’s in it for the startup? One moti­va­tion could be to get finan­cing in the first place. But startups may also benefit from corpo­rates’ market and indu­stry know­ledge, as well as from access to new custo­mers and networks. And working toge­ther with enthu­si­astic startup foun­ders can, in turn, have a posi­tive impact on the mind­sets of corpo­rate employees, an expe­ri­ence Juhler-Nøttrup knows well. “Some of my colleagues have been very inte­re­sted in startup culture from the begin­ning. Others just thought about their three-month targets but not about things like block­chain at all.”

Corpo­rate-startup coope­ra­tion can take many forms. Corpo­rates and startups can get to know each other at pitch events, hacka­thons, inno­va­tion camps or work­shops, often orga­nised by corpo­ra­tions. An initial way to support startups is simply by sharing resources. Some compa­nies take a more involved approach by having syste­matic programmes, like incu­ba­tors or acce­le­ra­tors, that provide startups with coaching, mento­ring, and tech­nical exper­tise. According to a study of the German compa­nies in the Dax-30 by the busi­ness consul­ting firm mm1, 67 programs are in place to support startup foun­ders. The soft­ware company SAP alone has seven programs and Telekom follows with six. Coope­ra­tion could also extend to joint ventures, co-marke­ting or licen­sing deals. The Berlin-based start-up Mimi Hearing Tech­no­lo­gies provides an example of the licen­sing model. Mimi was founded in 2014 and deve­loped a digital hearing test, as well as an inno­va­tive way to expe­ri­ence music with perso­na­lised sound. “Our goal is to be what Dolby is for surround sound, but for perso­na­lised sound at home, in cars, trains, on planes, ever­y­where someday. The way there for us is soft­ware licen­sing and that doesn’t work without corpo­rates. We are very proud that the corpo­rates like our tech­no­logy and inte­grate it,” says Frieder Kühne, Mimi’s Busi­ness Deve­lop­ment Manager.

Mimi has produced two medi­cally-certi­fied apps, won awards and easily attracted inve­stors, but corpo­rates had to be persuaded to consider imple­men­ting their tech­no­logy. “We were at events like IFA or startups events and came up with PR stunts on World Hearing Day. All that contri­buted to our expo­sure,” says Kühne. They are now working with one of Germany’s biggest health insurance provi­ders, BARMER, to raise public awareness for hearing loss preven­tion. And they have just inte­grated their tech­no­logy into head­phones made by beyer­dy­namic, a project they completed in only six months for the nearly 100-year-old company. Natu­rally, the corpo­rate and startup worlds clashed here too. “Our stra­tegy was initi­ally ‘Move fast, break things’ and their approach was rather ‘Please don’t break things, we make the best head­phones, the best studio equip­ment’. In the end, it worked amazingly well, and it really got us excited, because it’s an indi­ca­tion of great synergy when a young startup handles such product inte­gra­tions so quickly.”

This is more than a licen­sing deal for Mimi, it is a learning expe­ri­ence. “We can learn from them how our tech­no­logy affects audio­philes. And we can expe­ri­ence what it means to build a solid family tradi­tion of high-quality head­phone products.” Kühne is enthu­si­astic about how the busi­ness has been deve­lo­ping — the number of employees has doubled to over 40 in the past year — and he has advice for corpo­rates looking to do busi­ness with startups. “Be open-minded,” is Kühne’s plea. “Let yourself be surprised by the agile and crea­tive envi­ron­ments most startups operate in. They might not have the long-stan­ding expe­ri­ence, but we surely know how to solve problems.”

The insurer Tryg remains committed to working with startups. They even went as far as crea­ting the spin-off Undo, a digital insurance startup targe­ting young adults aged 18-28. Foun­ding it inde­pendently of Tryg had bureau­cratic advan­tages. Michael Juhler-Nøttrup is well aware that Undo could soon be a direct compe­titor for Tryg’s core busi­ness. “We know that they are going to compete with us down the line, but if we don’t do it ourselves, some­body else will.” With disrup­tive ideas like this, he’s sure to be on the right path to inno­va­tion. “Working with startups has given us a lot of insight into what’s going on in the world.”

Michael Juhler-Nøttrup (right) & Frieder Kühne (left)

Michael Juhler-Nøttrup (right) & Frieder Kühne (left)

  • Michael Juhler-Nøttrup is the Head of Inno­va­tion at the Scan­di­na­vian insurance company Tryg. Frieder Kühne works as Busi­ness Deve­lop­ment Manager at the Berlin-based startup Miami Hearing Tech­no­lo­gies.

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