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Laura Bennett of Embrace Pet Insurance

Meet Laura Bennett, co-founder of Embrace Pet Insurance. The company has 35 “Embracers” who design, sell and manage pet health insurance policies to cover pets’ unexpected veterinary bills.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?

I was in my 11th year of working at a large life and health insurance company in Toronto, and doing very well. I had studied hard to become an actuary and a CFA, but I was totally burnt out.
As 2000 approached, I thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. I realized I’d really like to run a company. I went to Wharton for an MBA to expand my business knowledge. While there, a friend’s cat got sick and I realized that the undeveloped world of pet insurance was where I should apply my skills.
Why did you start Embrace?
My friend spent over $5,000 on her cat’s treatment. Afterward, she said, “I should have had pet insurance.” After seeing the lack of quality products -- and so few pets insured in the U.S. (less than one percent) -- we saw an opportunity to create a product that did so much better.
Four of us entered the Wharton Business Plan Competition, putting together a comprehensive business plan for a pet insurance company. We won! After graduation, one of the team members, Alex Krooglik, and I decided to start our own pet insurance company. It took over three years to sell our first policy, but we got it done.
How many pets do you have?
I have three cats: Lily, Rocket, and Rosie. I grew up with cats and dogs in the house and my mother was a veterinary technician so a house without pets isn’t a home for me.
How did you come up with the name “Embrace”?
We surveyed potential customers with our selection of names, but none of them scored more than 2.3 out of five. Several people had suggested we reflect the human-animal bond. I came up with “Angel” and Alex came up with “Embrace.” Embrace scored 4.8. I have to admit I thought it was an awful name for about a day, but have loved it ever since.
What is the biggest struggle or hurdle you had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
As a specialized agency, the only thing we don’t do is take the insurance risk. After we got our first angel investor, we received funding from JumpStart. We approached over 100 potential U.S. insurance partners before we were able to persuade Lloyd’s of London to meet with us.
JumpStart hosted the meetings and gave us their full support. JumpStart also sent our entrepreneur-in-residence to London with me to help negotiate our contract. I think their support, our solid business plan, and the fact I am an actuary gave Lloyd’s comfort we knew what we were doing.   
What motivates you to go into work each day?
Today, it’s seeing the good results in everything we do and that our hard work benefits us all. For the first few years there were many times when I felt physically ill from the stress of a startup, but knowing that the Embrace staff and our Embrace pet parents relied on us kept me getting up and going to the office during those tough times.  
What advice would you give to someone starting a company in Cleveland?
There are many organizations in Northeast Ohio to help startups, so network and visit with them all and share your idea and business freely. A lot of support has been put into helping Cleveland startups get off the ground and grow.
Don’t be afraid to reach out beyond the area for funding, as Cleveland is gaining a reputation as a great place to grow great businesses and more and more funders are looking here for good opportunities to invest in.
How have you handled your rapid growth?
First, we hired smart and flexible people who expect the unexpected and can roll with change with good humor. Second, we focus on technology and processes to scale our business. It also helps to laugh at the mistakes we make and to support each other when things aren’t going so well, so everyone has the strength to get through the challenges.

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