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Insurtech firm draws investment from Jeff Vinik as it relocates to Tampa

Brian Hartz



TrustLayer co-founders John Fohr, left, and Vincenzo Acinapura. Photo courtesy of TrustLayer.

The exodus from that other bay area to Tampa Bay continues. TrustLayer, an insurtech startup whose clientele includes Nationwide and Liberty Mutual, has bid adieu to Silicon Valley, moving its headquarters from San Francisco to Tampa. 

TrustLayer’s software-as-a-service platform automates the proof of insurance process, adding speed and efficiency to what can often be a cumbersome, paper-based process that can bog down deals and agreements between companies. Its business model enticed none other than Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who contributed to TrustLayer’s $6.6 million seed funding round that was led by Abstract Ventures. Twenty of the nation’s top 100 insurance companies also invested, according to a news release. 

“The pain point we’re solving is that when two companies work together, there’s often a lot of friction, especially at the beginning of that relationship, with identity information credentials,” TrustLayer co-founder John Fohr said in an interview with the Catalyst. “And so we’ve built a platform that helps companies validate, collect and track information about their business partners.” 

According to Fohr, the market for TrustLayer’s service is nearly unlimited, because insurance verification is a process that occurs “hundreds of millions of times” every year in pretty much every sector of the economy. 

“Every auto loan in America, every mortgage in America, every time a plumber walks onto a job site, every piece of leased equipment … this is a trillion-dollar industry,” Fohr said. “Let’s say I give you two million bucks to buy a crane. I need you to make sure you have [insurance] coverage on it. And that’s all done through paper now. With TrustLayer, you’ve just automated most of that paperwork.” 

As a SaaS platform, TrustLayer fees vary depending on the size of the user. A sole proprietor, like the hypothetical plumber mentioned above, might pay just $100 or so per month for an unlimited number of insurance verification checks. “Being able to validate coverage in real time is a solution that can help millions of businesses and can reduce a lot of fraud throughout the insurance industry,” Fohr said. 

Vinik seems convinced of the company’s potential. In a statement emailed to the Catalyst, he said, “John and the TrustLayer team show great promise, and we’re especially excited to see them building such a forward-thinking company right here in Tampa Bay.”

Fohr said he and his fellow co-founder, Vincenzo Acinapura, who also serves as the company’s chief technology officer, took a long, hard look at Austin, Texas, before deciding to move to Tampa. He said the Tampa Bay region possesses many of the same startup-friendly qualities as Austin, but the large and growing number of insurance firms that are based in the area or have a presence here proved to be the decisive factor. 

“For us,” Fohr said, “talent was the most important [quality]. We just thought we can build a really great business in Tampa.”

Fohr said he has yet to secure office space in Tampa but is in no rush. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the firm’s 16 employees are still working remotely in San Francisco. “There’s no point in having an office right now until Covid is a little bit more under control,” he said. 

Other investors in TrustLayer’s seed funding round, according to the release, include Propel Venture Partners​, ​NFP Ventures​, BoxGroup​ and ​Precursor Ventures​. BrokerTech Ventures (BTV)​, a group made up of 13 of the most innovative insurance agencies in the United States and 11 top-tier insurance companies, also took part in the seed round. TrustLayer was a participant in BTV’s business accelerator program. 

“We continue to be impressed and encouraged by the momentum and industry adoption of the TrustLayer technology and risk management platform,” BTV CEO ​Dan Keough stated in the release. “We view TrustLayer’s involvement in our inaugural BrokerTech Ventures Accelerator program as a catalyst for them to become the information clearinghouse for the insurance industry, and we are delighted to be a part of their capital raise and continued success.”

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