Picwell wants to be the 'Moneyball of the insurance world' - Technical.ly Philly

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Jan. 15, 2016 12:22 pm

Picwell wants to be the ‘Moneyball of the insurance world’

Founded by a crew of Penn profs and a Wharton MBA, Picwell just closed a $7 million Series A and looks to grow to 50 employs in 2016.

Picwell's office at 22nd and Arch.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Recommendation engines are all over your favorite internet products. Etsy, Spotify, Amazon, Netflix.

Why not health insurance?

That’s the thinking behind Picwell, the Center City startup that recently raised an additional $3 million for its Series A. Investors include Chicago-based firms Sandbox Industries and BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners.

Run by healthcare industry veteran Jay Silverstein, the company is still working out its metaphors. It likes to think of itself as the “Moneyball of the insurance world,” Silverstein said, but they also aim to be the “TripAdvisor for health insurance products.”

Picwell CEO Jay Silverstein (left) and CTO Ani Vemprala in their new office, under construction.

Picwell CEO Jay Silverstein (left) and CTO Ani Vemprala in their new office, under construction. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Silverstein, 56, knows firsthand how hard it is for consumers to choose a healthcare plan.

He was an executive at Oxford Health Plans when the City of Philadelphia hired the company to roll out Medicaid Managed Care in the late ’90s. He’d go out to “tough neighborhoods,” visiting people’s homes and churches, explaining the healthcare options his company was offering. (Fwiw, that roll-out didn’t end well for Oxford.)

He saw how people made decisions. He saw what they understood, what confused them. It was clear to him that choosing a healthcare plan was just not a simple or easy process, he said. Picwell aims to change that.

The company works with insurance marketplaces and carriers like Aon and Cigna to help consumers choose their healthcare plans. (They’re in talks with Independence Blue Cross right now, Silverstein said.) Their data engineering team, which includes civic technologist Bob Lannon and ex-Monetate developer Jeff Patti, works with a “massive” dataset of claim data from private and public sources to model situations. For example, if you got into a car accident, would that make you more risk averse when you buy your next policy? Or, as you age, do you become more risk averse? Stuff that insurance providers might have had an intuition for but never had data to back up. Hence the Moneyball analogy.

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The company was cofounded by three Penn professors, two from Wharton (Bob Town and Jonathan Kolstad, who has since left for UC Berkeley) and one for Penn Law (Tom Baker), who brought in Ani Vemprala, a Wharton MBA at the time. Vemprala, 31, is now Chief Technology Officer.

They brought Silverstein in after a venture capitalist told them, “No one’s going to fund a group of academics who are doing this on a part-time basis. You need to get yourself a CEO.”

The timing was perfect. Silverstein, the former Chief Marketing Officer for United Healthcare and Chief Branding Officer for Medco, had just happened to move to Philadelphia from Connecticut because his twin sons were recruited to a school for budding Philadelphia Union players. (They’ve since left their dad behind, one going off to Italy to play at a pro academy, the other playing in California.) Silverstein used to play soccer, too, but “never at the level they played at.”

“I’m continually reminded of that,” he said. Kids.

(And that venture capitalist who said Picwell needed a CEO was right: Silverstein’s ties to the healthcare industry led to the company’s $7 million Series A.)

Inside Picwell's office.

Inside Picwell’s office. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

The company employs 28, up from 18 this summer. They plan to grow to 50 by the end of 2016.

While the team is working out of a 1,200-square-foot office on the ground floor of a residential building, a bigger space, right across the hall, is in the works. They’re adding a 3,800-square-foot space that’ll be decked out with shuffleboard and a bowling alley. It’s not an automatic bowling alley, like you’d see at North Bowl. But it’s cool, Silverstein said, the newest employee will be the designated pin setter.

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