Nick Wichert

Managing Director, Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio

Co-creating with the Community: Our Next Phase of Innovation

Topics: Cream City Labs.

For the better part of the past decade, our company has been focused on digital innovation that creates efficiencies in our core business – helping us save time, reduce unnecessary costs and improve the experience of our clients and employees, while also increasing our technology acumen. Three years ago, we made the conscious decision to broaden this perspective, to think beyond our core business and leverage the capabilities we've built over the past 160 years to broaden our innovation pursuits and capabilities, including incubating and co-founding new ventures. In October 2019, that concept formally took shape in what we are now calling the Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio, which I lead, together with a team of very talented individuals.

We like to think of this as the next phase of expanding our innovation capabilities at Northwestern Mutual.

The Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio is focused on exploring ideas that are broadly related to financial services or health & wellness. One project we're currently working on, called ProQuo, takes advantage of our aligned interests in helping people live a healthy lifestyle. As a platform for race event organizers, it will help them manage endurance races (5K, 10K, etc.) and allow event participants to track their progress against their personal goals. We allow brands to incentivize participants with opt-in challenges, such as, "If you complete this 5K or run this trail a certain number of times, we'll give you discounts on products you love." We tested it in October at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon (with Garmin as one of our partners) and saw good results. Now, we're evolving the business model and will add more events later this year.

We expect some of the Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio ideas to come from within our company, like ProQuo did, but we are also looking to partner and co-create with entrepreneurs outside of the company. Some of these ideas have already been well thought out; others might still live on the back of a napkin sketched out over lunch. Our goal is to run between five and 10 experiments at any given time, and we expect at least two each year will show enough promise during the validation process to spin them out of the company and into their own venture. For those, we'll partner with an entrepreneur – either from within the company or outside of Northwestern Mutual – to join us in its development and help scale the venture as an entrepreneur in residence.

In that way, the Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio will give entrepreneurs across our community an opportunity to co-create with us, leveraging our subject-matter experts and resources, working in partnership to co-found and scale new ventures – which is one of the reasons we are so excited about this. Northwestern Mutual is dedicated to building a more robust entrepreneurship community in Milwaukee, and this is one way we can do our part.

While the startups we launch through the Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio won't necessarily be targeted at making our core business more efficient, we will be leveraging our expertise and capabilities in different ways, which I believe will ultimately help us stay generationally relevant. How do we rapidly create new value, new products and new services that will meet the needs of our clients?

We're just getting started with the Northwestern Mutual Venture Studio, and I can't wait to see what we build!

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