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Canada Is a Great Insurtech Test Market: Idea File

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One life insurance distribution technology startup is taking root far, far away from the $2,800-per-month one-bedroom apartments of Manhattan and the $3,000-per-month studios of Mountain View, California.

Breathe Life Inc. is coming to life in Montreal, a city in Quebec where the average apartment rents for about $625 per month, in U.S. currency, and, according to the Montreal Gazette, has two bedrooms. And a living room.

(Related: 5 Insurtech Questions for 2019)

Ian Jeffrey, the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder, has worked in marketing and strategy for companies like Shutterfly and McAfee.

He said in a recent interview that he wanted to help set up an insurtech company partly because of exposure to his own father’s work for an insurance carrier.

“I wanted to do something that was meaningful, that could have an impact on the world,” Jeffrey said.

Another company co-founder saw the impact of life insurance benefits first-hand, when his own father died, Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey said Breathe Life can offer insurers new, practical ways to find exactly the right customers and get them to the point when and where those customers will have the highest propensity to get themselves covered.

More and more, “people are buying from their homes, at any time of the day or night,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey also talked about what it’s like to start a company in Montreal.

Here are four points about starting an insurtech company in Montreal, drawn from the interview and other sources.

1. There’s money in Montreal.

Diagram Ventures of Montreal recently helped Breathe Life raise $3.4 million in seed capital.

Breathe Life is Diagram Ventures’ third investment.

2. Some of the money in Montreal comes from insurers.

Diagram Ventures raised $19 million in funding in January 2017. The top investor was Portag3 Ventures, the venture capital arm of Power Financial Corp.

Power Financial owns a controlling stake in Great-West  Life Co.

Portag3 Ventures also has backing from organizations such as La Capitale Insurance and Financial Group and SSQ Insurance.

Those ties may give companies like Breathe Life an above-average chance of getting life insurance company technology buyers to return emails.

3. Regulations in Canada make testing insurtech ideas easier.

Canada has rigorous life insurance oversight, too, but Breathe Life can change its website without going through formal review process every time, and that helps with experimenting with new approaches, Jeffrey said.

4. Montreal has tech talent.

Technology companies often cite access to top workers as a reason to move to Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay area, New York or Boston.

But CBRE, a real estate broker, reported in July that Montreal has the lowest average wages for tech talent for any market it ranked, partly because the city’s cost of living is so low.

U.S. News & World Report lists the University of Waterloo as having the 14th best computer science program in the world.

— Read LIMRA Aims to Surf the Tech Wave, on ThinkAdvisor.

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