Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.
today announced it has chosen Milwaukee startup Pythonic AI as the winner of its second Reverse Pitch MKE competition.
Pythonic co-founders Matt Younkle and Baoqiang Cao triumphed over six other teams in the pitch contest held on March 18. They will receive a seed investment of up to $85,000 from the insurance company, and a spot in its Cream City Labs
innovation space at 733 N. Van Buren St., next to its downtown headquarters.
Northwestern Mutual offers mentorship and connections to its portfolio companies working at the space, which also include inaugural Reverse Pitch winner Socialeads
. In Socialeads’ case, the company is working to pilot the technology internally.
In Reverse Pitch, Northwestern Mutual executives present their business challenges to entrepreneurs from around the country. After the initial presentation, entrepreneur teams worked to come up with solutions, and then pitch them back to the company.
Northwestern Mutual in October
revealed the 2018 challenges for which it was seeking solutions, and in November pitched them to about 100 entrepreneurs. They were:
- 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.
The pitch event was kept private, and the winner was under wraps until NM revealed it today. According to NM, 16 teams submitted ideas and seven were selected for the pitch-back.
Pythonic AI uses machine learning and natural language processing to automate portions of medical records review in the life and disablity insurance sector. The aim is to incubate the software platform at Northwestern Mutual and then market it to other insurers to speed the underwriting process, Younkle said.
Younkle, 45, and Cao, 43, met about a year ago through Cao's former colleague at American Family Insurance portfolio company Networked Insights. Both have experience in development and in founding startups. They had already been exploring the application of machine learning to understanding medical documents, Younkle said.
"We didn’t realize that the problem of needing to understand medical documents extended into the life insurance industry,” he said. "That was a really interesting discovery for us with respect to Reverse Pitch.”
Younkle and Cao are working with underwriters at NM to understand how they currently evaluate medical documents and what items they are looking for in the risk assessment process so they can build a taxonomy into the platform.
"There will need to be a degree of customization,” Younkle said. "When you attempt to automate something, it’s important that it fit in really nicely with existing workflows.”
The co-founders' current goal is to create a minimum viable product with the funding from NM. They have received $25,000 so far, and would receive the remainder upon meeting development and piloting milestones.
“We actually are surprised by the commitment from NM. Especially their commitment to help grow the ecosystem here,” Cao said.
“We’d like to congratulate the Pythonic AI team for their innovative solution and the strong entrepreneurial spirit and talent of all seven participating startup teams,” said Karl Gouverneur, vice president of digital workplace, corporate solutions and head of digital innovation at Northwestern Mutual, in a statement. “At Northwestern Mutual, we believe the technology startup ecosystem must be nurtured in order to evolve and thrive. Reverse Pitch MKE allows us to support startups with funding and resources at the earliest stages of their business development through the launch of a potential product of their own.”