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Hartford startup wins top $1.5M prize at ‘19 VentureClash

A South African developer of a peer-to-peer insurance app, which recently established a presence in downtown Hartford, won the top $1.5 million prize Thursday at Connecticut Innovations’ (CI) fourth annual VentureClash pitch competition.

Pineapple, founded in 2018 by Matthew Elan Smith and Marnus Van Heerden, beat out nine other finalists in the $5 million venture challenge that allows early stage digital health, insurance technology, fintech and internet-of-things companies compete for investments, grants, mentoring and other services from CI to spur their growth in Connecticut.

The live event, where the winners were decided by a panel of judges, was held at the Yale University West Campus in Orange.

Pineapple participated in the Hartford InsurTech Hub last year before being accepted earlier this year into Nassau Re’s newly minted insurtech incubator program in downtown Hartford. The startup now has dual headquarters in South Africa and Hartford.

The Pineapple app allows users to insure almost any individual item in under a minute with the snap of a mobile phone camera.  

Users looking for insurance for their phone, laptop, bike, drone or watch, can take a photo and Pineapple’s artificial intelligence will detect what kind of product it is and categorize it. Once a user inputs how much the item is worth, the app automatically calculates a premium payment. After submitting credit card information, the user is insured. 

Meantime, another $3.5 million will be shared among seven other winners.

HBJ PHOTO | JOE COOPERCovr Financial Technologies CEO Mike Kalen is bullish about his insurtech’s potential to raise funding following its expansion into downtown Hartford.

One of them includes Covr Financial Technologies, a digital life insurance software developer, which created a second headquarters downtown in February at Nassau Re’s Boat Building. Covr is one of three winners to receive $500,000 from CI.

Covr’s 2,800-square-foot Hartford office shares floor space with Pineapple’s home at Nassau Re’s insurtech incubator program.

Covr CEO CEO Mike Kalen, a former president of U.S. individual life operations at The Hartford and former CEO of its Hartford Life Europe operations, in a statement said the startup is “extremely excited” to have been named among this year’s VentureClash winners.

“Connecticut, and specifically the Hartford area, has been and continues to be a critical part of Covr’s growth strategy,” Kalen said. “We have grown from three to fifteen Connecticut-based employees over the past year and the engagement with Connecticut Innovations will help us drive continued growth.”

This year’s VentureClash competition attracted more than 300 applicants from 20 countries, CI said. Finalists were selected after two rounds of judging by an outside panel of industry leaders and experts.

The other winners Thursday included:

  • EyeControl (Israel): A startup developing a communication device for individuals who suffer from paralysis, won $750,000.
  • Atidot (Israel):  An insurtech that uses artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and predictive analytics to support life insurance companies, won $750,000.
  • Cinchy (Canada): A new alternative to buying and building applications for data collaboration, won $500,000.
  • MothersChoice (Israel): A company creating natural personal care products, won $500,000.
  • Curatio (Canada): A private social network for health, won $250,000.
  • DEEP IT (Israel): A platform that uses AI and machine learning technologies to create visual storytelling elements, including semi-automated video production, won $250,000.