Northwestern Mutual to invest up to $85,000 in local startup

Company seeking solutions via reverse pitch competition

Karl Gouverneur

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:05 pm


Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. will invest up to $85,000 in a local startup company through a reverse pitch competition.

The competition, which aims to solve one of five business challenges for the insurer, will kick off during Milwaukee Startup Week on Nov. 6, said Matt Cordio, an organizer of the week and president of Startup Milwaukee and Skills Pipeline. On that day, Northwestern Mutual will present to interested startups its five ideas:

  • Legal automation: A way to automate the procurement contract process by disaggregating key components and virtually red-lining language of concern in contracts – an efficiency win for any corporate law department and procurement professional.
  • Referral friction: A creative solution to overcome the friction its financial representatives encounter in acquiring referrals and new leads.
  • Compliant communication in the digital world: A way to allow clients to reach their advisor using their preferred digital communication method while remaining compliant.
  • Salesperson market potential: An automated way to identify prospects based on a financial representative’s publicly available social media contacts.
  • Real-time spending capture: Software to act as a platform linking several cards a customer already uses to capture real-time transactions and offer the ability to automate future credit card actions through the platform, based on business logic.

The competition is open to interested individuals, teams and existing startups. There will also be kickoff events in Chicago and Madison to attract regional participation. The goal of the program is to attract and hopefully retain a startup in Milwaukee, Cordio said.

After Reverse Pitch MKE on Nov. 6, teams will have until Dec. 10 to apply for a Pitch Back to Northwestern Mutual’s team. Finalists will be selected from those entries, and then a Startup Pitch Day will be held Jan. 8 at Northwestern Mutual to select the winner.

The winning team will receive a $10,000 prize, free space in the new Northwestern Mutual Tower in downtown Milwaukee for up to one year, mentorship from the company’s executives and Startup Milwaukee’s network, and the opportunity for follow-on investment from Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures. The additional potential $75,000 would be an equity investment in the startup.

“The commitment that we’re making is a $10,000 cash reward for the winning team,” said Karl Gouverneur, vice president of digital workplace, corporate solutions and head of digital innovation at Northwestern Mutual. “The financing details are yet to be determined. Certainly there will be an investment that we’re going to be making in the entrepreneurs. Much like any other investment, it really depends on the value of the idea.”

Northwestern Mutual launched its Future Ventures division in January with plans to invest $50 million of venture capital in consumer financial security startups that align with its mission. The company decided to make venture investments after it acquired personal finance software company LearnVest in 2015, which has provided substantial benefits.

Given its desire to make Milwaukee a destination for technology professionals, Northwestern Mutual felt it was important to participate in Milwaukee Startup Week with an event like this, Gouvernour said.

“As a company, we take a conservative risk management approach to everything we do,” Gouverneur said. “We realized about five years ago that that approach applied to technology isn’t going to work.”

Gouverneur is assembling a panel of judges for the final competition from among Northwestern Mutual’s employees.

“The core of the idea is to really start up an entrepreneur,” he said. “Somebody that will create economic benefits to the City of Milwaukee. This is one of those cases of a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s for the City of Milwaukee to help Milwaukee, but if we help Milwaukee, it will help us, too.”

Cordio said a Milwaukee corporation making this kind of investment in a local startup is unique.

“One of our biggest challenges to…building the startup community and building more high-growth tech startups here in the region has been the lack of early stage seed funding,” Cordio said. “Perhaps other companies will follow the lead of Northwestern Mutual, will become more active in the tech and startup community here in Milwaukee.”

Individuals or teams interested in applying for Reverse Pitch MKE can sign up at The event will be held from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by a happy hour.

In its second year, Milwaukee Startup Week has been expanded statewide to include 10 communities. The event schedules for each of those communities will be posted soon at, Cordio said.

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