Photo: Twenty20 / @nettiphilip

By Kiersten Tomson

It’s hard to call Harish Neelamana a risk taker.

By nature, the 42-year-old is an insurance guy.  

He believes in safety nets, coverage and protection.

So why did this father of two leave his job, his paid vacation, and his healthcare, to co-launch an insurance tech startup in 2016?

“Good question! That’s exactly what my wife would ask me,” laughs Neelamana. “We came to the realization that there is substantial value here. There is a risk, but the fact that there is a significant enough upside to making this work encouraged me to make that move.”

After years of working for corporations, including the insurance giant Zurich, Neelamana realized what wasn’t working in the $250 billion dollar commercial insurance industry.

He is trying to fix it in his Schaumburg-based startup, Datacubes, Inc., using artificial intelligence.

“We are a product company that is focused on commercial insurance, specifically the underwriting of commercial policy,” Neelamana explains. “These are policies that are written by large insurance companies, using paper and a lot of inefficacies that you wouldn’t believe in this day and age.”

Neelamana worked at AllState and Zurich before co-founding Datacubes, Inc.  Photo courtesy of Datacubes, Inc.

From understanding the pain points of insurance underwriting, Neelamana co-created Datacubes to streamline the process – helping companies save time, money and stress.

“Insurance is an industry where understanding how the domain works is relevant and important in developing the product – knowing the intricacies of how commercial insurance works is absolutely relevant in building a credible product for the marketplace,” says Neelamana.

But even with his insurance knowledge and expertise, from coding to coverage, Neelamana still needed to learn – a lot – to launch his own firm.

“We were actually responsible for writing the code for the product that we would have to end up selling so there’s a lot of relearning on the technology side,” recalls Neelamana.

But there’s also the learning of how to exactly be an entrepreneur too.

In September 2017, Datacubes, Inc. raised $2.5 million dollars in capital funding. Photo courtesy of Datacubes, Inc.

In September 2017, Datacubes, Inc. raised $2.5 million dollars in capital funding. Photo courtesy of Datacubes, Inc.

 

“The early days, we were the chef and the dishwasher in the building,” says Neelamana. “We had to do everything.”

From setting up payroll to onboarding new hires, Neelamana learned to be an entrepreneur means making the big decisions and probably taking out the trash as well.

“’How do you buy insurance as a business?  You sell insurance, but how do you buy it?’” a question Neelamana says he asked himself while building the business. “I need a policy to actually run an organization – those are some of the things that I had to learn along the way.”

One thing Neelamana says you need to learn fast as an entrepreneur, is how to balance work and family – something that is a work in process.

“I have kids, I have a wife, how do I make sure I spend enough time with those guys without giving up on the dream of the startup itself?” says Neelamana. “There’s no trick to it. I think you have to consciously prioritize certain things.”

Right now, Datacubes is growing. The Schaumburg based business has 15 employees but is expected to grow to 20 by year’s end.

“Be conscious from day one, what you invest in the company shouldn’t detract from the investment on your personal side.”