One of Columbus’ fast-growing technology startups has been sold.
Bold Penguin, an insurance technology, or insurtech, company that makes buying and selling commercial insurance faster and easier, has been acquired by Madison, Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance, one of its early investors.
Terms weren’t disclosed.
“My goal has always been to be bought or sold to a major insurance company or a software provider,” said Ilya Bodner, the company’s 37-year-old founder and CEO.
Bodner said a key part of the deal is that Bold Penguin’s operations will remain in Columbus and that it will continue to operate independently. Ben Clarke, 34, co-founder and chief data officer, as well as other leaders and employees will remain with the company, where staff doubled in 2020 to about 160 workers and a dozen contractors.
Bodner expects to double again this year. “We’ve got to wake up tomorrow and continue working,” he said.
Bold Penguin launched in 2016 with a goal of developing technology that better connects small businesses, insurance agencies and insurers when it comes to providing commercial insurance, which has traditionally been a paper-intensive, slow process. American Family Ventures, American Family’s venture capital firm, was one of the early investors in Bold Penguin.
Bold Penguin now runs the largest U.S. commercial insurance exchange and partners with many of the nation’s largest insurance companies, which use its platform.
Bold Penguin has had offers to sell before, but interest grew this year, Bodner said. The company’s digital platform has become more attractive because of the pandemic.
“We became a pretty hot commodity,” he said.
American Family’s Midwest roots and its emphasis on partnerships connected with Bodner and Bold Penguin staff, Bodner said.
“The personalities really did mesh. It was just a really good marriage. Two plus two equals five,” he said.
Bold Penguin’s appeal is its ability to help small business simplify and shorten the time it takes to get commercial insurance policies, something that American Family believes will help its small business customers.
“Ultimately, this is about small business customers and their communities,” Bill Westrate, American Family president and CEO-elect, said in a statement. “We recognize the importance of small businesses and we want to do our part to support them.
“Bold Penguin reduces the complexity of small business insurance for customers, for us and our industry. It enables insurers to reach more business owners with protection they need to safeguard their livelihoods and pursue their dreams to serve and employ people in their communities.”
American Family is the country’s 13th largest property and casualty insurer with $11.5 billion in premiums at the end of 2019. In Ohio, it’s the No. 7 homeowner insurance company with a 4.1% share in 2019 and the No. 10 auto insurance with a 2.7% share, according to state insurance records.
Commercial insurance is the company’s third largest segment, after auto and homeowners insurance, with a strong focus on protection for small and midsized business and rental property owners.
The deal is the latest in what has been a string of news regarding technology startups based in central Ohio.
Updox, a Dublin-based health care technology company, was sold before Christmas, and last fall, auto insurer Root went public in an initial public offering that valued it at more than $7 billion. Other tech companies are continuing to draw more investments.
“It should be a point of pride and celebration for us,” said Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer for One Columbus, the economic-development organization for central Ohio. “All of these things were not in our wildest dreams even a decade ago.”
McDonald said it is an indication that the region has become a stronger place for capital and entrepreneurs.
“We shouldn’t consider this the end game. The expectation is that this will continue to happen if we continue working,” he said.
Bodner agreed and said Bold Penguin remains committed to Columbus.
“This is life-changing for me,” he said. “To be honest, I’ve found something I’m really good at.”