As the number of insurtech firms grew exponentially, so did the number of conferences on the subject. One stands out to the author.

The insurtech movement spawned what some have called a cottage industry, others a revival, of insurance-focused conferences.

While there is now an abundance of choice, not all events are created equal: Some may be strong in networking opportunities but light on valuable content, and others may have great topics but constrain the time, or load panels with so many speakers it is impossible to explore topics in depth. It can be a balancing act to get the right mix of networking and education that delivers the best experience for participants, and not all events succeed.

One event that gets it right, which is why I’m happy to serve as emcee, is InsurTech North.

When insurtech conferences began to spread, about five years ago, participant numbers were fairly low, and speakers often shared information that left audiences feeling like they were hearing about tech possibilities in some distant future, far beyond the reach of most insurance industry companies. The cultural divide between early-stage companies making big claims about the promise of technology and incumbent insurance carriers hearing these forecasts was so great that many underlying messages benefiting both entrepreneurs and insurers often got lost in translation.

For example, many insurers downplayed the potential impact of entrepreneurs, who obviously needed more insurance experience. Likewise, the numerous warning signs to that first generation of insurtechs could not have been brighter or clearer with respect to the need to build new capabilities for an industry that generally was change-resistant, risk-averse or both. The explosion, and subsequent washout, among the first generation of telematics start-ups, for example, yielded multiple lessons for entrepreneurial teams who were tuned in to how to work with the insurance market.

As the number of insurtech firms grew exponentially, so did the number of conferences one could choose from to learn about this sector. At this point, if you wanted to attend a conference a week, and sometimes two, you could easily be occupied for at least two years without repetition.

As with any growth market, the more that firms raced to provide solutions, the less differentiated they became from each other. Such is also the nature of the insurance conferences related to innovation and technologies, with their increase in volume watering down meaningful insights and impact.

So, what makes a conference like InsurTech North stand out among the crowd and rise above the noise and familiar formulas? Let’s start with the speakers.

It’s not the standard “pay-to-play” model. Sponsorships are not the primary source from which panelists and moderators are chosen. The best events select speakers based on their subject matter expertise. Where sponsors are tapped to moderate a panel, they are carefully paired with the expertise and experiences needed for a session. More valuable events also limit the number of panelists per session to allow more time for meaningful information and dialogue with the audience.

A common feature at many insurtech events is the “pitch-fest” competition. Conference organizers who wish to energize and inform their participants often organize some form of showcase or competition for early-stage ventures to make their case to the insurance market. These are typically exciting and informative agenda sessions. The organizers of InsurTech North have taken this concept and made a meaningful enhancement by reaching out to a select group of respected accelerators and venture capitalists to nominate one early-stage company from within their portfolios. This approach provides an opportunity for participants to hear from entrepreneurs with solid concepts and a high propensity for success.

At the inaugural InsurTech North event, in 2018, attendees literally witnessed history in the making when data and analytics start-up QuantumSense, nominated by Holt Fintech Accelerator, made its first pitch during ITN’s “Wolf Pack Competition.” Here was a pitch from a live start-up built on a working quantum computer platform. This was a genuine leading-edge capability, with a team who then remained at the conference to field questions and seek support. It’s worth noting that the competition was so fierce that another startup, Maple, representing the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, won the judges’ vote and JAUNTIN‘, from the Global Insurance Accelerator, won the audience vote, showing the depth and quality of companies on the stage.

The most compelling events offer an informative and actionable agenda, designed for the benefit of the audience, speakers and sponsors. The dialogue in the sessions is candid while balancing strategy and theory with sound tactics. The events provide time for networking and deal making. Last but not least, the event is warm, welcoming, genuine and just plain fun. InsurTech North embodies these qualities and is worth attending. I hope to see you there.

InsurTech North’s 2019 conference takes place May 23-24 in Toronto. Sign up using code “ITLten” to receive 10% off your registration fee. To learn more and register, visit https://insurtechnorth.com/

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