Business Monday

Miami startup reinvents shopping for emergency insurance

Wes Thompson, far left, founder and CEO of Emerge.me, a tech startup simplifying shopping and buying insurance for medical emergencies. He has assembled a management team, from left, consisting of Whitney Romanchuk, head of user experience; Mike Rolfe, head of product; and Marc Howard, head of growth marketing and analytics. They are seen in their Wynwood office, inside of Rokk3r Labs, on March 8.
Wes Thompson, far left, founder and CEO of Emerge.me, a tech startup simplifying shopping and buying insurance for medical emergencies. He has assembled a management team, from left, consisting of Whitney Romanchuk, head of user experience; Mike Rolfe, head of product; and Marc Howard, head of growth marketing and analytics. They are seen in their Wynwood office, inside of Rokk3r Labs, on March 8. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Startup Spotlight: Emerge.me, a Miami startup, has reinvented the customer experience of shopping for and purchasing an emergency insurance policy. Traditionally, buying a gap policy would require you to spend days corresponding back and forth with an agent or broker about your coverage needs, the available policies and the application process. That’s all changing.

Company name: Emerge.me

Headquarters: Rokk3r Labs in Miami

Concept: Emerge.me makes insurance for medical emergencies accessible, simple and easy to purchase.

Story: Wes Thompson was inspired to create Emerge after hearing the story of a former employee who was struggling to pay medical bills for his wife’s illness. Even though they had health insurance, they could not afford the out-of-pocket costs of deductibles, special treatments, travel costs for care and lost wages. The burden of paying these costs ended up putting the family into serious medical debt.

“This isn’t just an isolated story — in fact millions of Americans are not equipped to deal with the financial reality of these emergencies even if they have health insurance,” Thompson said.

Thompson should know: He has 30 years experience in the insurance industry and most recently was president of Sun Life Financial U.S. What’s more, as an intrapreneur, he helped pave the way for a restructure of a major Philadelphia-based insurance company in the early 2000s that resulted in a new business model. This is Thompson’s first startup.

Emergency insurance solutions — supplemental or gap policies — exist to protect individuals from the risk of unexpected medical emergencies not covered by health insurance. Emergency insurance is designed to complement health insurance by providing a cash benefit that can be used for any out-of-pocket costs related to a covered illness or accident.

But here’s the problem, according to Emerge: They are neither straightforward nor easily accessible to most consumers. These products are sold essentially as an afterthought or add-on to health insurance exclusively through brokers and agents, there is no digital marketplace for customers to compare pricing for policies, get educated, get advice and apply online.

The big picture: Rising healthcare premiums are causing consumers to take on more and more risk, and medical costs are now the leading form of consumer debt in the U.S. today.

Emerge.me has reinvented the customer experience of shopping for and purchasing a policy. Traditionally, buying an emergency insurance policy would require you to spend anywhere from two days to a few weeks corresponding back and forth with a broker or agent about your coverage needs, the available policies and the application process.

That’s all changing. Before launching Emerge late last year, the company spent a year building an in-house algorithm. Now, a customer can come to emerge.me, and engage with tools, get coverage advice, compare personalized quotes, and apply online — all within 15 minutes or less, the company said. Emerge primarily markets to the consumer but sees significant opportunities in the B2B arena.

Emerge has launched with two products, critical illness insurance for financial protection against cancer, heart attack, stroke and more and physical injury insurance, which provides benefits for falls, injuries, broken bones, etc. Emerge is already planning to add other supplemental insurance products in the near future such as hospital indemnity and short-term disability.

“We have a great team and great partners,” Thompson said. “The space is ripe for disruption.”

Launched: December 2016

Website and social: emerge.me, blog.emerge.me, www.facebook.com/tryemerge/

Management team: Wes Thompson, founder and CEO; Mike Rolfe, head of strategy and product development; Whitney Romanchuk, head of product design and UX; Marc Howard, head of growth and data analytics; Cheryl Egazarian, project manager.

No. of employees: 13

Financing: Raised $1.8 million in seed funding via Thompson’s self-funding and private investors; seeking an additional $400,000 via convertible notes prior to Series A funding targeted for June.

Recent milestones reached: Emerge is now licensed in all 50 US states as an insurance broker. Digital insurance carrier partners include trusted companies such as United Health One/Golden Rule, Mutual of Omaha, Assurity, Manhattan Life and SureBridge. Secured $1.8 million in seed funding. Won second place in TechCrunch Miami Pitchoff event. Recognized by Plug&Play as a finalist for its InsurTech accelerator program.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Convincing insurance companies to innovate and participate on emerge.me, as emergency insurance products have traditionally been distributed exclusively through traditional agents and brokers.

Next steps: Seeking Series A funding in order to expand the product offerings, continue to improve the user experience and invest in customer acquisition and talent acquisition.

Follow @ndahlbergon Twitter.

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