SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 1]

SummerHack 2021 Winner

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! 

Check out a snippet of the interview with our winner, Team Foresters! 

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! 

Pop-up Lab Medellin in Spanish [Nov 16 – 18]

Pop-up Lab Medellin

We are inviting insurers from across Latin America to come together for a one-of-a-kind co-creation experience in Spanish, where you will have the unique opportunity to tackle a regional insurance challenge collaboratively.

Summer Bootcamp 2021 Final Presentation [Aug 12]

This is a VIP, closed virtual event. Only members with access who are working closely with each student team and the team will present their final solution and participate in a live Q&A session with organization members only.

Summer Bootcamp 2021 [Aug 10-11]

We are excited to have our members be part of Cookhouse Labs’ first Summer Bootcamp in collaboration with University of Toronto, Dept. Statistical Sciences. Over 2 days of unforgettable insurance innovation, we will support our member organizations in finding a solution to an existing challenge they currently face in their organization.

WinterHack 2020: A Global Race to #MakeInsuranceBetter [Part 2]

WinterHack 2020 Winner Team

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with WinterHack 2020 Winner, Team EMIL-Hannover Re. I asked Dr. Lorenz Kemper (Hannover Re) and Henrik Dittmar (EMIL Group Gmbh) to share behind-the-scenes stories and advice from their WinterHack 2020 experience — check out the full interview below!

Team EMIL-Hannover Re, congratulations on your huge success at WinterHack 2020! Before we dive into the event, let’s do a quick round of introductions first.

Lorenz: I have been working as a Data Scientist at Hannover Re for 2 years now. Just recently, I became the first member of the Hannover Re Digital Accelerator, where I am responsible for the technical aspects in a team that works with insurers, digital insurers, and InsurTechs to get them going globally.

Henrik: I am the Head of Product at EMIL Group. We’re a technology company that helps insurance companies quickly launch innovative products.


Thank you for the introductions! We’d love to know, what inspired you to join WinterHack 2020?

Lorenz: When I heard about WinterHack, I thought it was a great place to meet like-minded people and network to meet possible corporate partners from other parts of the InsurTech industry, such as a primary insurer or technology provider.

Henrik: Since we provide software for insurers and reinsurers, it’s essential for us to collaborate with them and see how they are thinking, especially when it comes to innovation. Networking, of course, is a motivator, but we really want to know how insurers and reinsurers approach innovation.

Speaking of collaboration, this was your first time meeting one another. How did you connect and how was the experience of working together?

Lorenz: We hit it off on a personal note very quickly. We actually met before the event for a quick call to get to know one another and to get on the same page. We talked about our backgrounds and our goals for the event, and in that initial call, we decided we wanted to have fun but also win the competition!

Henrik: It was a fun 2 days, which has a lot to do with the team. In our case, that meant Lorenz as our teammate! We started out on the same page and worked well from the beginning, which was really nice.

It’s always great hearing about successful collaborations! Diving into your solution now, which of the 4 challenges did you choose to tackle and what was your idea?

Lorenz: This is a funny story — the jury panel thought we were tackling the challenge of loneliness for the elderly, but what we were really focusing on was digital subscription models!

Henrik: Our solution was an app that integrates many tools and services from around the digital world and makes them accessible to senior citizens, so I understand how the confusion happened! It was all about combining these easy-to-use services in an app as an entryway into the digital world for senior citizens.

How was your experience using Design Thinking to develop this solution?

Lorenz: Design Thinking was a good way to encourage customer-centric thinking, especially because none of us are a customer group. We used Design Thinking to empathize with the customer, but we actually didn’t use all of the tools. We cherry-picked within the toolbox of Design Thinking to select the best tools that would help us reach our goal, such as the Persona, Empathy Map, and Journey Map, and decided very quickly what product we wanted to pitch.

Henrik: The target group focus in the Design Thinking approach is very essential in today’s world, especially when it comes to innovation and developing something the target group actually wants. It was very helpful for us to get into the mindset of the user group and start from there. Our general approach was to get to the prototyping stage very early, and so we chose the tools that went along with that. We wanted to create the solution quickly and test it by having the prototype ready, creating a landing page, and seeing how people would react when they saw the page, which is how we chose to validate it.

On that note, what else do you believe contributed to your overall success at WinterHack 2020?

Lorenz: Because we were a small team, we were really quick and well-coordinated. Everyone took charge of certain tasks quickly and owned them. We were very clear on who was responsible for each task and relied on them to do a great job.

Henrik: Our focus on prototyping the solution early helped us create something that in the end, when the judges saw it, conveyed the usefulness of the idea in real-life. As much of a bubble as these 2 days were, that’s what they were trying to evaluate — how much would this idea make sense outside of this context?

Looking back at the event, how would you describe your overall experience?

Lorenz: For me, it was fun and broadened my perspective in many ways. I was surprised at how much we were able to get done in 2 days. I was also quite surprised that we were able to hit a personal note even though we had never met before! This was new to me, because I felt this year that it would be difficult to really connect with other people via Zoom, but I think we were able to do that quite effectively. It was a big learning for me!

Henrik: There was a lot to do in 2 days and we worked through it quite well as a team, which made it really enjoyable. Our skillsets matched up very well with all of the tasks we had to do!

As you know, at Cookhouse Labs our mission is to #MakeInsuranceBetter for everyone! How do you think your solution and events like WinterHack 2020 help achieve this?

Lorenz: In a way, our product has the same characteristics as what makes insurance better. Our product aims to bring technology to the elderly, who typically are not the primary users of technology but could benefit from it. Technology can improve their lives and make things much easier for them. In the same way, the industry is not typically the first to take up digital ideas and technology. However, it is an industry that is predestined to make use of technology, and in this way, we can make insurance better.

Henrik: Historically, insurance has been a slow industry, especially when it comes to product innovation. It takes a very long time to launch an insurance product. Changing this mindset is one thing that events like WinterHack encourage, and this is our goal at EMIL, too. We want to make it technologically possible to launch new products, but this only works if we can bring the insurers we work with into the mindset to launch new products quickly. These types of industry events create the sensibility for innovation in a short time and make the process of quickly launching new products possible.

Team EMIL-Hannover Re, thank you for an insightful interview and congratulations once again on your big win at WinterHack 2020. We wish you the best and hope to see this collaboration continue in the future!

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