A Richmond-based startup that offers on-demand accident insurance for people who enjoy recreation such as hiking, biking, skiing and climbing is expanding rollout of its service.
The startup, Buddy, said this week that it has formed a partnership with StarNet Insurance Co., an underwriting company for Berkley Accident and Health, a New Jersey-based insurer.
“The folks at Berkley have a fantastic innovation team when it comes to working with accident and health products,” said Charles Merritt, CEO and co-founder of Buddy. “They have got deep subject expertise that it is fantastic to have in a carrier partner.”
Founded by several Richmond-area entrepreneurs, Buddy operates within a market often referred to as “insurtech” — referring to using technology to innovate access to insurance products.
The startup created a platform on which people can buy short-term or long-term accident insurance when engaging in sports and activities such as running, hiking or biking.
Unlike traditional accident insurance, Buddy is pioneering the ability to sell coverage in bite-sized chunks as short as a day. Policyholders pay only for the coverage they need.
The deal with Berkley and Starnet will help Buddy with a larger, national rollout of its insurance products, Merritt said. The company’s insurance has now been approved in 23 U.S. states, with more states pending approval by regulators.
“We have been able to leverage the expertise of our partners at Berkley to help us expedite that process,” he said. “The key for us is it has helped us with product design and helped us get it to market across the country.”
The deal comes as the recreation industry has undergone “a massive shift” because of the coronavirus pandemic, Merritt said.
A lot of recreation providers and organizations that Buddy was working with to offer insurance — ski resorts, for instance — had to shut down their operations. “That obviously put a wrench in our work,” Merritt said.
At the same time, as gyms around the country have been forced to close, many people have turned to other types of outdoor exercise. Bicycle sales have grown, for instance.
So Buddy is now working through other channels to provide its insurance to individuals. “Our product, at the end of the day, is designed to protect an individual without them having to be a part of an organization,” Merritt said.
“We fully expect that as the economy does reopen, we will continue to be able to work with great partners,” he said. “We are also now thinking about how we can support people who are trying a new sport.”
In 2018, Buddy was one of two Richmond-area startups and only 10 nationwide that participated in the inaugural class of the MetLife Digital Accelerator, a business development program held at MetLife’s Global Technology Campus in Cary, N.C.
That helped the company introduce a “minimum viable product” and study the market and make improvements.
Now, “we are thinking about this [rollout] as sort of a national version of the product,” Merritt said.
Buddy has a full-time staff of six people, along with several contract service providers and advisers.