Northwestern Mutual launches venture studio

Last updated on May 19th, 2020 at 12:05 am

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual is moving into its “next phase of innovation” with a venture studio focused on building startups in the finance and health and wellness space, the company announced today.

Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio focuses on business ventures that are broadly related to financial services or health and wellness. The studio was launched in October of 2019, but the company is now opening the studio to entrepreneurs outside of the company.

The venture studio is currently working on a project called “ProQuo,” a platform for race event organizers and endurance race participants to track their progress against their personal goals. ProQuo also allows brands to incentivize participants with opt-in challenges, which awards participants discounts on products if they complete the challenge.

“We tested it in October at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon and saw good results,” Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio managing director Nick Wichert said in a blog post. “Now we’re evolving the business model and will add more events later this year.”

Northestern Mutual expects that new ventures, like ProQuo, will come from within the company, but the studio is also looking to partner or co-create with entrepreneurs outside the company, Wichert wrote in the post.

Health and wellness startups incubated in the studio will focus on leveraging data to improve care, building platforms to improve health outcomes and investing in products that help individuals manage their care. Financial services startups will look to solve a variety of challenges in the space, including debt, fraud, personal security, wealth disparity and retirement

At any given time, Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio hopes to run between five and 10 experiments with the expectation that at least two spin out of the company into their own venture each year.

“While the startups we launch through the Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio won’t necessarily be targeted at making our core business more efficient, we will be leveraging our expertise and capabilities in different ways, which I believe will ultimately help us stay generationally relevant,” Wichert said.

The venture studio model has gained popularity in Wisconsin and across the country in recent years. A venture studio is different than an accelerator program in that ideas are sourced and vetted from inside the organization as opposed to looking for companies out in the world.

Rather than a call for applications, a company would start with its own ideas, spin out its own products or projects into a company or co-develop ideas with partnering entrepreneurs.

Wisconsin has a few venture studios, including gener8tor’s Accelerator Studio Program and Titletown Tech, a venture studio developed by the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft Corp.

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Brandon Anderegg
Brandon covers startups, technology, banking and finance. He previously worked as a general assignment and court reporter for The Freeman in Waukesha. Brandon graduated from UW-Milwaukee’s journalism, advertising and media studies program with an emphasis in journalism. He enjoys live music, playing guitar and loves to hacky sack.