Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with our SummerHack 2021 winner, Team Foresters. I asked the team to share behind-the-scenes stories and advice from their innovation experience — check out the full interview below!
Team Foresters, congratulations on your big win at SummerHack 2021! Before we dive into the event, let’s do a quick round of introductions first.
Raresh: I’m Raresh Bunea, a Contract Administrator at Foresters Financial. I handle contracts for sales distribution in the Canadian market. This is my second time participating in a Cookhouse Labs ideathon, for which I’m very grateful. It was an amazing experience this time around, as it was the first time around!
Liam: Hi, I’m Liam Kinnon. I’m a Marketing Specialist with Foresters. This is my first time participating in one of these events and it was a blast.
Ravinder: My name is Ravinder Sabharwal and I’m a Control Analyst and it was my first time participating in SummerHack.
Sandra: I’m Sandra Viteri, Senior Underwriting Manager. It was my first time participating in one of these events. I loved it!
Brian: I’m Brian Cournoyer and my title is Manager, Advanced Markets & Training. This is also my first time participating and it definitely was a great experience that I can’t wait to repeat.
And we’d love to have you back next year for sure! It would be awesome to see if you could pull it off twice, but before we even talk about next year, let’s talk about this year and hear from the team. What inspired you to get involved this time?
Sandra: I noticed that there is a lot of disruption happening right now, and of course, it was long overdue in the insurance industry. At Foresters, we’re embracing that change. We’ve been going through a lot of transformation, with new technologies and innovative products. So, for me, this was an opportunity to participate and sharpen my skills in Design Thinking and innovation methodology, especially after reviewing last year’s topics. I felt they provided interesting and relevant challenges, applicable to today’s world. So, I just thought, “This is great. This is perfect”, and went for it.
After you made the decision to join SummerHack, you pulled together really a big team. We’d love to know; how did you prepare?
Brian: That’s a great question! Obviously, we don’t want to give away all our secrets because as you mentioned, we have a title to defend. Before the competition, we reviewed what the team did last year, but more importantly, we identified areas together that we felt we could improve upon to be better prepared for this year. Some of us were new to the competition, me included. So, after those conversations I reviewed the material again and I did some research to make sure I would be able to offer the right support to the team during the event. On a personal level, I made sure that all my priorities outside of this event were already taken care of so that when the competition was on, I wasn’t going to be distracted and instead could help my team build a winning strategy.
Wow! It’s always amazing to see the energy and dedication Foresters brings to the competition every year. So, we ‘ve talked about pulling together a big team and about making team decisions. The question now is, which of the four challenges did you select as a team and then ultimately, what was the solution that you decided to pitch?
Liam: We voted on challenge #4 to develop a solution or service to support dynamic and engaged independent workers. While walking through the process and through interviewing a freelance designer, we discovered that one of the challenges of the gig economy is the lack of benefits. Using the Design Thinking methodology that Cookhouse was walking us through as part of the hackathon, we came up with a solution called GigLife, which is a benefits platform for the gig community. We thought of a platform providing health benefits funded through a combination of participation fees and perhaps through the unique use of group life insurance. We realized that perhaps benefits could be provided to participants by purchasing a life insurance policy and advancing a portion of the death benefit to cover the costs of the benefits, legalities to be considered of course. Then, the other part of it that we were excited about was that there isn’t really any group advocacy for the gig community. We wanted to include a social component in the GigLife app, which would allow a space for advocacy to form organically.
That is a really well-thought-out solution. And it wasn’t just a judge favorite, it was also a crowd favorite because you were awarded People’s Choice for the Americas. So, in your opinion, what was it about the solution that made it a crowd favorite?
Raresh: I think it was our consideration for building an advocacy community for gig workers and the simplicity of how benefits can be accessed via the paid participation.
Considering nowadays everyone is working remotely, it’s pretty cool that you thought about all of this. So, thinking back now to your entire SummerHack 2021 experience, how was it?
Ravinder: Overall, it was indeed a great learning experience for all of us. Design Thinking was a concept that I had heard about, but this platform gave me an opportunity to practice it. One thing that stood out to me was coming together as a team and working through a structured methodology to deliver a customer-focused solution, and all within two days, wow! Talking about GigLife, it’s more than a digital solution — it is our responsibility towards the community we live in and that is what matters. I sincerely thank Foresters Financial and Cookhouse Labs for this wonderful opportunity.
Well, we thank you for coming back every year with all this energy and an incredible game plan! Speaking of coming back, we’re very curious to know; how has the ideathon concept, environment, and energy evolved and improved since last time?
Raresh: For me, the energy level was much higher, and I also set higher expectations for myself this time around. Adding Joolia (the virtual innovation assistant tool) helped us stay on track with deliverables and helped us keep an eye on the time.
And now looking back at your experience, what advice would you give teams who will soon be participating in SummerHack 2022?
Raresh: I would suggest teams consider a holistic approach that considers both a feasible business model and the natural economic reality. There’s a trend in the expansion of the safety net. There’s talk about UBI, UBS, and Pharmacare in Canada, as well as climate crisis developments and trends towards the green economy. More and more countries are aligning themselves to IPCC recommendations to eliminate carbon emissions. I believe that solutions that come from the insurance industry will also need to adapt accordingly to all these realities.
Liam: I was a bit nervous at first because we had a four minute limit on the video and we only hit two minutes. I thought, “Oh, did we not communicate enough?” and so I was thrilled when we were chosen as a winner. I realized that you just need to explain your concept as clearly and succinctly as possible and the length doesn’t really matter— what’s important is the story. I would also say that you should construct a narrative around your solution. That’ll give you a leg up in terms of how to position your solution to the challenge.
Brian: It’s important that you put the judges’ hat on once you formulate your idea. You must step back and say, “Now if I was a judge, what type of questions would I ask?” This way, when those questions are asked, you’re prepared to answer them. That helps you build the strategy upfront so that it includes all those details. Stepping back and reevaluating helped our team and then from there, we made sure we had a solid plan to deliver to the judges.
Final question for the team now: As you know, Cookhouse Labs is all about making insurance better and that’s the objective of these types of events. So, in your opinion, how can an event like SummerHack help make insurance better for the global community?
Sandra: I see SummerHack as a practice arena to develop new skills, learn Design Thinking techniques, and simply to inspire us to be more creative. My hope would be that it translates into impactful change in the industry that makes insurance easier and better for everybody. For most of us, that’s basically what we hope to achieve, so this is a great platform for that.
With a solution like GigLife, you’re helping people that want to be included in insurance benefits, so you definitely did what you set out to do. You took a very big step towards making insurance better for gig workers, so thank you Team Foresters and congratulations once again on your big win!
Curious about our ideathons? Check out our past ideathons, winning solutions, and team interviews here!