Success Factors for Hubs: In Conversation with Anna Kessler from InsurTech Hub Cologne

Spread across Germany, the 12 Digital Hubs form an economic ecosystem and give innovators a home. If you had to sum up the work of the hubs in one word, it would be: networking. Between startups and SMEs in the region, between founders and investors, between business, politics and science. Depending on the industry, this networking takes the form of matchmaking, co-working, networking events and programs. 

However, the work of digital hubs encompasses much more. In many regions, they are the starting point for successful startups. They support young startups and companies with coaching, workshops, individual consulting services and - in very practical terms - with co-working spaces or technical resources. In addition, the hubs provide important assistance in the search for suitable financing opportunities. In short, anyone with an innovative business idea can learn how to implement it successfully with the help of the digital hubs.

For Anna Kessler, Hub Manager at InsurLab Germany, successful networking is part of her daily business. For years, her hub has been making a decisive contribution to the digitization of a previously rather traditional sector - the insurance industry. Cologne has long been one of the most important locations in this industry. In the Hub, founders from the InsurTech sector meet traditional insurance companies. They not only work on expanding classic products, but also rethink the topic of insurance. What makes the Hub so successful? We spoke to Anna Kessler about this.

Hello Anna! You are the managing director of InsurLab Germany and thus also of InsurTech Hub Cologne. Since when have you been part of the Hub and what exactly do you do there?After about nine years in various positions at Deutsche Bank, I became part of InsurLab Germany three years ago and have been responsible for the operational and strategic development of our industry initiative in the role of Managing Director since May 2023. In close collaboration with my colleagues, our member companies, partners, and other stakeholders, we address current trends and use various interactive formats to discuss how the insurance industry can benefit from them and how to get there. 
Today, the InsurTech Hub is considered one of the most important industry platforms in Germany. The Hub is operated by InsurLab Germany. How did the Hub come into being and what was the goal when it was founded?InsurLab Germany was founded in 2017 as a cross-industry innovation network that brings together startups, established insurance companies, academics and other stakeholders to share ideas, research results and technologies and work together on forward-looking insurance solutions. Our main goal is thus to drive the digitalization and transformation of the insurance industry, to promote the use of new technologies, as well as to enable the exchange of knowledge and experience and to support start-ups in successfully establishing their innovative concepts and products on the market.
Why do traditional and already established companies like insurers need the innovative power of start-ups?Start-ups are key drivers and equally stimulators of innovation and transformation. They often use the latest technologies, develop their offerings and services close to the customer, and demonstrate a high level of adaptability and pragmatic solution orientation. By working with startups, insurers can leverage their core competencies, become more agile, tap into new customer groups and business areas, and, above all, learn a lot. 
Is there a current example of this from your hub?In our ecosystem, of course, there are already numerous examples of successful collaboration between established companies and startups. Just recently, we presented the insureNXT Innovators Award 2023 in the "Business Transformation" category to Fusionbase, Gothaer and SAS as part of insureNXT. The companies had met as part of our InsurLab Germany collaboration program, where they worked on a joint use case for the automatic recording of tariff characteristics in commercial insurance. In the medium term, the resulting solution is now to be integrated into the existing underwriting process for commercial insurance at Gothaer Versicherung. In addition, Fusionbase and SAS are entering into a technology and sales partnership to support financial service providers in implementing data-driven business models. In this respect, it is an ideal example of how established companies can also benefit from a partnership with an innovative young company.

More details about the project can be found in the links. 

What does it take to successfully establish a digital hub? What core competencies should be in place?As an innovation hub, we must also, or rather even more so, constantly question and develop ourselves further. Here, too, the central element in determining direction is proximity to our member companies and their needs. On the one hand, we have to support them in addressing current challenges and suggest possible courses of action and solutions for evaluation. On the other hand, looking into the future is also at least as important in order to remain relevant on the market.
Digital hubs are characterized by strong partner networks, among other things. In your view, what should hubs look for when selecting partners?A high level of commitment and the initiative to actively contribute to the content of the current key topics in the industry are elementary for us, as is openness to cross-company cooperation and the mutual exchange of experience. In addition, we always try to take into account as many different perspectives and complementary skills as possible when considering current focus topics in order to promote creative thinking and the exchange of innovative ideas in the best possible way. 
Visibility plays a big role in expanding networks. How do potential partners and companies become aware of you?As part of the Digital Hub Initiative, we benefit from a strong network that gives us as a hub, but also our members, access to numerous relevant events and trade fairs in Germany and abroad, where we are able to present our content. At the same time, we are of course very active ourselves - be it in social media, through our own publications and formats, content-related presentations at our member companies or industry-relevant events, as well as close relationships with comparable organizations and networks. The insureNXT, which we organize jointly with Koelnmesse and our knowledge partner Bain & Company, also helps us to achieve high visibility in the industry, as does our InsurLab Academy - a certified training program for managers and high-potential employees in the insurance industry that is also open to non-members.
What criteria should startups meet to become part of the Hub?When we get to know start-ups, we pay particular attention to the novelty of their solutions, their USP compared to existing competitors in the market, and the expertise and personal composition of the team. In order for the cooperation with our member companies to have a chance of success, conformity to the legal framework of the strictly regulated financial industry is also essential, as well as initial experience in going through purchasing processes in corporate groups is an advantage. While most of our insurance companies tend to focus on more mature startups for collaboration, some also deliberately select younger companies in order to enter into a more intensive exchange at an early stage and also jointly develop solutions further.
The digital hubs' ability to have an impact is made possible above all by their employees. What characterizes a functioning team for you?

I am very fortunate to be part of a strongly intrinsically motivated, very competent team that constantly strives for further development. We are all burning for our common mission and contribute our individual strengths and experiences in an optimal way or complement each other. Although we are a small team by comparison, it is precisely this high degree of initiative, our pragmatic approach and short decision-making processes that enable us to achieve an incredibly high level of efficiency.
as well as short decision-making processes, we achieve an incredibly strong impact.

Last but not least: How could you support the development of hubs even more in the future?As InsurLab Germany, we are very happy to be part of a nationwide initiative that promotes digitization, building an important bridge between politics and the private sector and anchoring it centrally. Nevertheless, a look at Germany alone reveals a large number of hubs and initiatives, some of which operate independently, which makes it difficult even for industry experts to find the appropriate local and industry-specific points of contact. Consequently, a holistic strategy for harmonizing existing structures at the federal and state levels could be very helpful for the future, as could building stronger bridges to comparable initiatives abroad in the next step. The German government's start-up strategy to improve conditions for start-ups and increase funding is another important step in the right direction. However, comparable programs have existed internationally for some time, which is why we still need to do a lot more in this country.
How events foster ecosystems and drive innovation


How events foster ecosystems and drive innovation