Ottawa’s Slice Labs lands US$20M amid push to upend insurance industry

Tim Attia

An Ottawa tech firm that provides a cloud-based platform to quickly process insurance applications using artificial intelligence has landed US$20 million in venture capital financing.

Slice Labs ​– which was founded three years ago and now has partnerships with insurance giants such as The Co-Operators Group in Canada and Progressive in the United States ​– announced the new funding on Wednesday.

The latest round is an add-on to an earlier series-A round and brings the company’s total funding haul to date to US$35.5 million. The Co-Operators led the round, with additional participation from XL Innovate, Horizons, Munich Re/HSB Ventures, SOMPO, Veronorte, the investment arm of Grupo Sura, and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

Slice CEO and co-founder Tim Attia said his firm is aiming to upend the industry with a system that lets customers buy insurance online without filling out pages and pages of forms. The company’s advanced data analytics technology mines information from a multitude of sources to calculate premiums and quickly process claims.

“You just tap a button, and you get insurance when you want it for the duration you want it,” Attia explained. “It’s click and buy. We gather all the data in the background.”

Sharing economy

Slice’s platform is specifically designed to target clients in the sharing economy, such as Airbnb hosts and Uber drivers. The company is also set to expand further into the digital space with products aimed at insuring corporate clients against cyber-attacks ​– a field ideally suited to a platform that constantly crunches data and learns from it, Attia said.

“The challenge with cyber is the environment is changing day-to-day, so our policy can adapt,” he said.

The Co-Operators has begun using the technology in its new duuo product, which allows Airbnb hosts to buy insurance only for periods when they’re renting out rooms.

Homeowners are charged an average of $8 a day and are insured for up to $2 million against incidents such as theft, vandalism and property damage. The product launched last week in Ontario and will eventually be rolled out across the country.

“As the digital economy expands, Slice’s unique platform and approach will enable innovative, agile and needs-based insurance solutions for a rapidly changing world,” Co-Operators president and CEO Rob Wesseling said in a statement.

“Through our partnership with Slice, we’re not only investing in a technology that enables us to stay on the leading edge of those solutions, we’re investing in our long-term ability to continue meeting the changing needs of our members and clients.”

Slice’s platform is also used in 49 U.S. states, where the company partners with Progressive and sells insurance itself in some jurisdictions. Slice takes a percentage of premiums from its partners in addition to charging them a subscription fee to use the platform.

Triple-digit growth

Attia said the 50-person outfit will use the fresh equity to expand its footprint into Europe, Japan, southeast Asia and South America.

The company already has offices in New York, Cleveland and the United Kingdom, where its platform is set to go live next month in a partnership with British insurance provider Legal & General.

The CEO said the sky’s the limit for the insurance technology trailblazer.

"We feel that we can (dominate) the market."

“As a Canadian company, we feel we have a global lead,” he said. “Even in the U.S., we’re considered one of the leaders in our space. We’ve got opportunities that are coming to us all over the world, and we feel that we can (dominate) the market.”

Not bad for a venture that had its genesis in co-founder Stuart Baserman’s living room in Old Ottawa South in October 2015, when Baserman and his former McGill University engineering classmate Attia launched Slice along with Ernest Hursh, a New York-based marketing guru the pair had met years earlier while working in the U.S.

After developing back-end systems for insurance firms south of the border, Attia and Baserman eventually became online insurance agents. Seeing a gap in the market for customers in the sharing economy and cybersecurity space, they eventually put their heads together and came up with the concept for Slice.

“We slowly moved further and further into the insurance space,” Attia said. “We thought, ‘Hey, we really want to change the game. We’ve got to be in control of everything.’”

The firm employs 37 people at its main office on Riverside Drive, which is home to most of its R&D and operations staff. After enjoying triple-digit annual percentage revenue growth since its inception, it’s already eyeing new space closer to downtown with room for up to 70 employees.

“We thought we would maybe have three clients by the end of this year, and it’s scaled a lot faster than we thought it would,” Attia said.

The nation’s capital, with its rich tech pedigree, is an ideal base from which to continue scaling up, he added.

“Ottawa’s a great spot,” he said. “It’s competitive because you’ve got (other software firms such as) Shopify, but it’s also a great spot because there’s a lot of telco engineers and things like that. It’s hard to build global software companies off of just engineers that are coming out of school. You need experienced people, too.”