Reverse Pitch MKE challenges announced

Winner of Northwestern Mutual competition gets up to $85,000

Entrepreneurs ask questions of Northwestern Mutual at the Reverse Pitch kickoff event.

Last updated on June 27th, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. today announced the challenges to be solved in its second annual Reverse Pitch MKE competition.

The 2018 challenges are:

  • Securing payments: An automated way to conduct secure high-volume, high-dollar, business-to-business financial transactions.
  • Evaluating inclusion: A solution for comprehensively measuring the effect of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace.
  • Streamlining medical record review: How to reduce human review of PDF medical records in insurance underwriting and claims analysis.

“Those are the challenges that we think have enough breadth and depth,” said Karl Gouverneur, vice president of digital workplace, corporate solutions and head of digital innovation at Northwestern Mutual. “We need to make sure these challenges actually can be the seed of a future company, not just solve a problem for us.”

Securing payments is “ripe for disruption” and impacts many large companies that make wire transfers, he said. Measuring diversity and inclusion is often done via survey, but NM would like to find a more objective measure. And medical data often comes to the company via electronic faxes and digital images, and NM is looking for a way to liquidate and understand that data in a more automated way, which could also be a solution for other companies.

The contest will kick off Nov. 6, during Startup Milwaukee Week, when Northwestern Mutual executives pitch their business challenges to entrepreneurs from around the country. The company hopes to attract 100 to 200 problem-solvers to the launch. The winning solution will get up to $85,000 in seed investment from the firm, as well as mentorship and office space in NM’s Cream City Labs.

After the initial presentation to entrepreneurs from NM, teams will have some time to come up with solutions, and then pitch them to the company in January 2019. NM plans to select the winner in February. Among the criteria the five- to seven-member investment committee will review are: the business and revenue model, the size of the addressable market, the competitiveness of the solution, and the management team.

“At Northwestern Mutual, we recognize that great ideas can come from outside of our four walls and welcome outside-in thinking,” Gouverneur said. “Reverse Pitch MKE allows us to connect with startups in new ways, as well as provide them with funding and resources to launch a potential product of their own and help them grow their businesses.”

Gouverneur said the company decided to make the competition annual after the inaugural event proved successful.

“Last year was, let’s just say we were experimenting, we were trying something different, we were trying something out and the success of what we’ve been able to accomplish has led to us doing this again,” he said.

Karl Gouverneur describes the company’s challenges and innovation structure to entrepreneurs at the 2017 kickoff event.

Last year, there were five challenges to be solved. The winner was Socialeads, which addressed NM’s challenges regarding salesperson market potential and referral friction. Socialeads, founded by entrepreneur Larry Hitchcock and solutions architect Matthew Salzer, harnesses a financial representative’s social networks and uses machine learning and data science to help them target the right people in their network at the right time.

Socialeads now has space in Cream City Labs and is working with NM to pilot the platform internally before launching it more widely.

“Northwestern Mutual has been an invaluable partner and champion as we’ve worked to launch our startup, build a product and bring it to market,” said Larry Hitchcock, co-founder, Socialeads. “The resources and guidance we’ve received from the company throughout our product development is as, if not more, important than the investment capital.”

Entrepreneurs can register for the Nov. 6 event at

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.