Fintech Startup Zebra Raises $40M, Seremedi, Alice & More Texas News

Austin—The Zebra founder Adam Lyons has described the insurance startup as the “Kayak of insurance.” Now, The Zebra’s got a new CEO: the former head of Kayak.

Keith Melnick, who was Kayak’s president, takes the reins at five-year-old The Zebra, a website that allows consumers to enter basic information about their car’s make, model, and year, as well as their ZIP code, and search for the best insurance matches available to them.

The Zebra has also raised $40 million in a Series B round from Accel Partners. (The Palo Alto, CA-based venture firm has also backed Kayak, as well as companies such as Facebook, Spotify, and Venmo.) Melnick says The Zebra will use the new funds to expand its product offering beyond just auto insurance, such as home policies.

Being at The Zebra is a “nice parallel to my former job at Kayak,” Melnick says. “We [at Kayak] didn’t own plans or hotels but we helped our customers find the best place to buy them.”

The Zebra does not underwrite insurance policies, though it operates as an independent agency with licenses in all 50 states. In some cases, The Zebra fulfills the policy and takes the standard commission. Otherwise, it refers the consumer to the insurance company and takes a cut of 10 to 20 percent.

Once a user engages with the website, a Zebra employee will contact the person asking for more information, such as credit score and accident history, which also affect policy rates. (Except in California, where, Lyons says, it is illegal to factor in credit history for insurance purposes.)

Lyons, who stays at the company as president and chairman, formerly worked at Lloyd’s of London and told me that he frequently was asked by friends and families for his recommendations on insurance. That led him to seek out a technological tool that could offer such customized suggestions.

Since its founding in 2012, The Zebra has raised a total of $61.5 million from investors such as New York’s Daher Capital, Silverton Partners in Austin, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Melnick says he was attracted to The Zebra because the company is in an ideal stage of growth. “I didn’t want to go back to an eight-person startup, which is where Kayak was when I joined it,” he says. “Zebra is exactly at the stage I wanted: 70 people, the business model works. I’ve been through this growth process before.”

And, in other Texas innovation news:

Houston health IT startup Seremedi is one of 10 health IT startups selected for this year’s accelerator class at the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator. The three-month program is run by Techstars and takes place in West Hollywood, CA. Kim Bond Evans, Seremedi’s founder and CEO, says she believes participating in the accelerator will result in good connections with the health innovation community on the west coast.

—Rice University is one of four finalists in the 100&Change competition hosted by the MacArthur Foundation. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, who directs the Rice 360 Institute of Global Health at the university and is a MacArthur award recipient, is leading the project. The group is developing the Nest360—or “newborn essential solutions and technologies”—designed to reduce newborn deaths in Africa by 50 percent.

Alice, formerly known as the Circular Board, announced Tuesday it has raised $1 million in a seed round led by Signia Venture Partners, with participation from investors Jean Case; Sherpa Capital; Zehner, Shatter Fund; Cathie Reid and Lovell Family Limited Partnership/Ann Lovell, president of Women Moving Millions. In May, the Houston-based Circular Board, as it was then known, announced, along with Dell, the formation of Alice, an artificial intelligence platform designed to connect women entrepreneurs with resources needed to develop their companies.

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