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Other innovations 19/12/2017

AXA Strategic Ventures: supporting startups on a daily basis

AXA Strategic Ventures investment fund will join ENGIE at CES in January 2018 with one the startups it has invested in. Sébastien Loubry, AXA’s partner in charge of business development, answered our questions and gave us an introduction to the investment fund and the startups that it provides support to.

Hello Sebastien. Can you give us a short introduction to AXA Strategic Ventures?

AXA Strategic Ventures is an investment fund launched 2 years ago by AXA with the goal of attracting entrepreneurs working on issues that affect both insurance and financial services.
The investment fund manages just under $500 million, split between direct activities ($275m) and funds ($175m). We have five offices: London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and most recently Hong Kong
Most of the team comes from the investment world with some additional AXA people.

As a classic investment fund, our goal is to support startups by financing them, but also to connect and assist them in their potential relationships with AXA. We are an active investor and support our startups by giving them the means to develop.
We make investments of between €500,000 and €2 million for early-stage investments and between €2 and €20 million for growth investments. We obviously have a close relationship with AXA, which allows us to attract the "right" entrepreneurs, those whose ambition is to work on insurance and asset management.

We are looking for startups that are developing technologies with potential use cases in insurance and asset management, whether for immediate applications (like insurtech) or with future uses like artificial intelligence, the blockchain, etc. We’re also interested in technologies like artificial intelligence. We’ve seen a lot of companies that work on automatic claim processing, fraud management, and other artificial intelligence mechanisms that can help insurers.

Another aspect that we’re paying close attention to involves startups that operate in the field of cybersecurity, particularly in prevention (scoring and risk analysis). And we also have some startups in healthcare. Some deal with prevention and others better interactions between doctors and patients. Lastly, there are technologies with longer-term applications such as blockchain.
In short, our scope is very wide.
What will you show at CES?

We are going to CES with a startup in the cyber risk field, SecurityScorecard is one of our cyber investment. They’ve finished a fairly large financing round, and the company is already well-established. They work on upstream on diagnosing and analyzing risk.
It’s currently difficult for insurers to price and understand the nature of cyber risk. After analyzing, aggregating and correlating a company’s internal and external data, SecurityScorecard can score a company’s cyber vulnerability. This score gives the insurer a better understanding of the risks and the ability to price premiums more precisely. SecurityScorecard is introducing a new market practice, providing a powerful tool for scoring and correlating data.
It’s an important tool for us to be able to educate businesses about cyber risk.
What do you expect to get from participating in CES?

For us, participating in the CES is first of all a way to develop our special relationship with ENGIE. Our two companies already know each other but this is an opportunity to strengthen our ties.
For AXA Strategic Ventures it will also be an opportunity to develop our visibility in the United States. We are naturally known in Europe and France but CES will be an opportunity for us to take the stage for the US market and connect with investors and the US economic landscape.
But our main goal for this CES is to showcase Security Scorecard in the hope that doing so generates business opportunities for them.
The CES is also a good place to learn about what’s happening in the world of innovation, to detect trends and startups in which we could invest in.
On that subject: how do you choose the startups that you will invest in?

Our analytical process is a classic one for an investment fund. We invest mainly in companies with stable technology, who have initial validation from the market and a first set of customers.
We don’t invest in companies that are still in the proof of concept phase. We want them to already have customers and a technology that has been approved by those initial customers.
Deciding where to invest includes the technical nature of their solution. We’re looking for differentiated technologies that are unique.
We currently have 32 companies in our portfolio: 28 early stage ones and 4 growth phase.
What is the most important innovation for you, the one that has contributed to changing people's lives the most?

Although it seems banal, for me the iPhone is a market solution that revolutionized how we do many things, combining an approach to design, the user interface and ease of experience.
Apple’s product universe, in the broad sense, is very intuitive, with a very simple approach to their products, accessible even to children. But simplicity is the most complicated thing to do!
In the healthcare field, some innovations will revolutionize the fight against certain diseases with the use of sensors, for example.
Many innovations will bring radical changes, but in everyday life the iPhone has changed a lot.
A final word ?

What's important about AXA Strategic Ventures: we are really looking to support our entrepreneurs. Our strength lies in our team and our desire to develop and support our startups on a case-by-case basis, to understand their needs, and to help them meet the right people.

When we talk to our startups, two requests come up frequently:

  • Help us meet the right people and not waste our time navigating a huge company.
  • Help us recruit talent, because for a startup this is complicated.

If we can respond to these two requests, we can bring value. We don’t want to do everything, but we want to be excellent in our business and what we know how to do. We are relatively new to the market as a fund but our connection to AXA is an advantage and a way to accelerate growth for our startups.

Investing in and supporting startups is a hot topic, but our goal is really to create value for them. We work with entrepreneurs who are in a world of scarce resources and we need to be helpful in the right place at the right time; when you come from a big company, it's a new culture that you have to be able to fit into.

More about AXA Strategic Ventures

Source: Thomas BARDY

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