SkyWatch.ai, a new player in the drone insurance market, offers the energy and flexibility of a high tech company – combined with the security of big insurance.
InsurTech is a relatively new word – and nobody embodies the fusion of technology and insurance better than Israeli-based Skywatch.ai. Seeing sneaker-clad CEO Tomer Kashi laughing with impeccably dressed Head of Business Development, insurance insider Brandon Packman, is like seeing a meme come to life: insurance meets high tech face to face. In this case, Skywatch seems to have combined the best of both worlds for their clients.
Founded in 2016, the company originated in what’s become almost a classic theme in high tech: 3 geeks meet in a dorm…
Tomer Kashi, Ori Blumenthal and Ronny Ahituv have worked together ever since meeting at the prestigious “Talpiot” program in the Israeli Air Force Academy. “Imagine the love child of MIT and Westpoint Officer’s’ Academy, with some Israeli flavor,” says the team’s media kit, but that description is something of an understatement. Talpiot is an elite Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) program for recruits who demonstrate outstanding ability in the sciences: about 150 cadets are chosen after extensive testing from a pool of nearly 10,000 applicants. It was in this intensive environment that the three began a partnership which has culminated in the Skywatch platform.
The three “loved anything that flies,” says Tomer. That love of aeronautics piqued the trio’s interest in the drone industry, and Tomer eventually got his Part 107 and became a licensed commercial drone operator. The team quickly identified safety and insurance as critical issues holding back the drone industry – and from there the story continues along the established lines. They combined their background in data analytics with their understanding of the drone industry to create a new platform: Skywatch combines flight safety features like a best-in-class risk map and in-flight warnings with insurance coverage which takes a pilot’s safety score and flight risks into consideration.
It was an idea with immediate appeal for investors, and the team raised $2M in venture capital to get it off the ground. They were also able to partner with STARR, one of the top aviation insurers in the world, and one of the fastest growing commercial insurance companies. STARR is part of multi-billion dollar investment firm, Starr Holdings, Inc. Steve Blakey, President and CEO of Starr Insurance Holdings, sees huge potential for the platform; not only for drones, but for other new technologies.
“We believe that SkyWatch brings a fresh approach to how insurance operates and their safety solutions put them at the forefront of the industry,” says Blakey. “Drones are a perfect fit for usage-based insurance. Since most drones involve operations from a mobile device, they are connected in their nature. As more and more platforms become connected, we expect to be able to offer the same solution for more emerging technologies.”
The company also added Packman, an insurance industry insider with a special interest in the drone industry, to the team. Packman worked on drone insurance during his tenure at Lumbermens Insurance. His interest in the industry led him to set up a maker space in his community and become active in AUVSI. After his agency was sold in 2016, he went to work as VP of Business Development at the side project he’d helped get off the ground: Drone World Expo.
A few months after meeting Skywatch, Packman joined the team. “The start up environment is much more my style, and I was really excited to be in putting my skills to work with them,” Packman says.
“SkyWatch is on the leading edge of the InsurTech market, with a truly unique position of providing value to both our underwriting partners at STARR with AI insights they need, and rewarding safer more experienced pilots with reduced rates,” says Packman. “SkyWatch.AI is lead by a multi-talented, team of founders… They are nimble and have executed on building a great product, and an insurance agency with the right partners,” he says. “I wanted to disrupt the insurance industry when I started five years ago, and now I am part of the team that is capable of pulling it off.”
The combination of high tech startup energy and the solid backing of an insurance giant like Starr has a lot to offer customers. Tom Walker, CEO of drone pilot platform DroneUp, says that the company’s attitude and approach made integration with the platform easy. “Skywatch just asked what we needed, and got it done,” he says. “They are great to work with, they understand this industry.” That flexibility and can-do culture has led to the fast accumulation of partnerships and integrations: DroneUp, Drone Harmony, DroneDeploy and Maps Made Easy are the first announcements, more are on the way. As Insurance meets Tech in the drone industry, Skywatch.ai is an InsurTech platform to watch.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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