Blog: A dozen UK and European insurtech start-ups to watch in 2017 and beyond – part one

Element, Flink, Gavin, Liimex, Luko and Marshmallow are all start-ups to watch

Almost $1bn ($985m) was invested in insurtech in the second quarter of 2017.

That was the finding of the second quarterly Insurtech Briefing from Willis Towers Watson, which reported a new record high of 64 transactions in quarter two of 2017, nearly double the 38 transactions completed in the Q1 of 2017.

The fact that the Q1 report highlighted a 64% drop from the corresponding period in 2016 shows the fluctuating nature of the sector.

Another illustration of that fluctuating nature is that Cvrd is now Nimbla and Tego Cover is called Zego Cover, flush with £1.2m of seed funding. While one of the companies I mentioned in my first start-up review, Brolly, only closed its seed round at the end of July led by Valar Ventures, Pi Labs and Entrepreneur First.

So with Post’s largest insurtech event Digital Insurance World now just three months away, I have scanned the market again to spotlight another dozen firms that might be offering keynote insights at such future conferences, spread over two instalments.

Element – Berlin, Germany

The pitch: “Element is the digital evolution in the world of insurance.”

Probably the most high-profile insurtech business on this list as it is backed by a Berlin-based company builder, Finleap, which has already had success in this space with robo-adviser Clark, raising €13.2m in 2016.

When it was launched in March, Finleap said the brand “intentionally refers to chemistry, where bringing together the right combination of elements results in creation of something new and advantageous”.

By combining various insurance services and partners, Element aims to “create useful and unique insurance propositions” and “improve the chemistry between consumers and their perception of insurance”.

It has submitted a license application under the German Insurance Supervision Act  to the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority to become a full-stack risk carrier. And in June announced a tie-up with Dortmund/Hamburg-headquartered Signal Iduna Group to “significantly accelerate the development of new, innovative products and services”.

Focusing on business to business to customer distribution, it is targeting everyone from established digital companies, insurtech start-ups, insurance brokers and even incumbent insurers looking to modernise.

Spearheading Element’s push are executive board members Wolff Graulich [or Wg to give him his elemental name], who previously headed up Axa Germany’s commercial business and spent eight years at Arag; and Sascha Herwig [Sh], who joined in July from domestic insurance company Nürnberger Versicherung.

In total, Element boasts it has 268 years of insurtech experience across a multinational team drawn from five countries.


Flink – St Gallen, Switzerland

The pitch: “We strongly believe that the insurance industry needs a remake, which is why we have built Flink, an insurance our users love.”

Flink, which translates as “nimble”, is a start-up located in St Gallen, incubated by the major Swiss insurer Helvetia. A Swiss version of Ageas’ Back Me Up, if you like.

Having started as an internal project in late 2016, the business has to date launched two insurance products (private liability and household insurance), which can be bought through its youthful looking chatbot, also called Flink.

The project is being led by the self-proclaimed ‘captain’ responsible for business and insurance Michel Bürki and ‘quartermaster’ responsible for products and marketing Daniel Kunz.

Previously, Bürki was an academic at the University of St Gallen and Kunz developed Travel Gap, a mobile application that “brings your friends’ travel tips into your pocket”.


Gavin – Amsterdam, Netherlands

The pitch: “Gavin is the world’s first risk-sharing service. We’re turning insurance upside down.”

Gavin aims to offer customers the “same coverage and better service at half the price”. Its website adds: “Our technologically advanced platform ensures that you won’t pay any upfront premiums, and claims are settled right away. We are independent; no big offices or bonuses keep costs low, which benefits you.”

The Amsterdam-based business urges people outside the Netherlands to sign up to keep abreast of developments, teasing international expansion in time.

Although the website is a work in process, it is evident mobile, bike and travel will be among its first offerings. Motor and life are mentioned as possible future areas of interest if they gain traction.

Co-founder and CEO Matthijs Nelemans was involved with helping start SME digital marketing specialist Spotzer in 2006, and is a professor of financial law enforcement at Tilburg University.

In a recent blog post, he echoed Microsoft Bill Gates’ banking mantra by stating that “insurance is necessary, insurers are not”. As transaction costs decline and the need for solvency capital is reduced, “has technology replaced the insurer?” he asked.

He is joined by head of finance and risk Pier van Loon, who previously worked for insurers Aegon and Achmea. Also part of the start-up team are CTO Gertjan Schuurmans and Pieter Ottevanger, responsible for brand and customers.


Liimex – Hamburg, Germany

The pitch: “Business insurance made simple.”

Liimex is a digital insurance broker – the first in Germany, it claims. It aims to empower businesses to choose and manage their insurance policies more efficiently through what it describes as its “unique combination of cutting-edge technology and human experts”.

Two of the co-founders and joint managing directors of the business Christian van der Bosch and Benno von Buchwaldt have very similar CVs, having worked together as private equity investment professionals at EQT Partners and Morgan Stanley’s investment banking division before that. The third founder, CTO Jens-Christian Finnerup, most recently cut his teeth at Accenture in Copenhagen.

Writing in November, van der Bosch noted disruptors had shied away from commercial insurance because they believe it “to be too complex, too uniquely tailored to the customer’s needs to be exposed to radical change any time soon“.

“This perception is wrong,“ he added. “Yes, commercial insurance is more complex than the B2C market. Yes, medium and larger commercial customers often do need more tailored solutions. But what it really means is that there is room for innovation.“

At the end of March, Liimex successfully completed a round of financing, led by Picus Capital. It also signed a cooperation agreement with fellow Hamburg-based broker Gossler, Gobert & Wolters Gruppe and established an advisory board including the likes of Robert Dietrich from Hiscox and Frederik Wulff from Markel International.


Luko – Paris, France

The pitch: “Luko is your home guardian. It analyses your energy consumption in real time and listens to your appliances to make your home more secure, connected, and green.”

The latest in a growing line of connected home start-ups, Luko is a Paris-based firm, founded by Raphaël Vullierme, an entrepreneur who has previously tried his hand at gourmet food delivery [Goodfood] and real-time private jet booking [Openjet].

With his latest venture, he is looking to “work hand-in-hand with the biggest utilities and insurers to develop the most advanced technology to increase home safety and efficiency”.

The start-up A-Team includes head of marketing and business development Francesca Ambroggio and co-founder and CTO Benoit Bourdel. The trio photo-shopped as the TV show’s characters Hannibal, Murdock and Faceman on their website

Noting that Internet of Things penetration in Europe is under 3%, Luko’s plan is to distribute a “very affordable plug-and-play device to reach millions of European homes before 2020”. Maybe then it will no longer be the “nerd joke” Vullierme claims it is seen as today.

And things seem to be going well: when I went to see how much the Luko device cost, the €59 units were “out of stock”.


Marshmallow – London, England

The pitch: “Insurance for people who’ve moved to the UK. We are revolutionising insurance for internationally mobile people.”

This start-up proclaims to be working towards “being an insurance platform that brings together - both obscure and traditional - products to migrant people”.

Starting with motor, the business adds that it will add home, emergency accommodation, travel, gadget and other products in time.

“When people move country, they are faced with a car insurance product that is up to 100% more expensive,” Marshmallow comments. “By collating extra data and verifying it, we can reduce prices by hundreds of pounds for some migrants”.

The team behind the business includes co-founder Alexander Kent-Braham, who until February worked for digital identity platform Yoti, which has raised £20m to date. Kent-Braham says  he “learnt a lot” there, working across sales, marketing, product and strategy. Among his greatest achievements to date, he claims to have founded his first company aged 20, raised £500,000​ and managed a team in India to make a ‘minimum viable product’. He is joined by another of the Kent-Braham clan, Oliver, and David Goate, who both also previously worked at Yoti too.


Read Part Two here

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