Health Insurance Startup Shows Power of Right Niche and Strong Pitch

New Orleans recently played host to two events for startups with a broad range of topics that included discussion of specific industries, like climate technology and healthcare; advice on running a company with relatives, finding mentors, and taking advantage of contracting opportunities for Super Bowl LIX; and plenty of spaces for small business owners to tell their stories and make connections.

One of the participants at the March events, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and the 3rd Coast Venture Summit, was Elizabeth Tilton, the founder and CEO of OS Benefits.

Tilton is a native of New Orleans, and the startup is developing health insurance programs for restaurants, bars, and other hospitality companies, a key part of the New Orleans economy. OS Benefits was one of four finalists that each received a minimum of $100,000 in venture funding, with eligibility for a second round of $240,000.

That meant that Tilton had to prepare and present a deck for an audience that included venture capitalists, Fortune 500 CEOs, and media. Although the process seems a little like the Hunger Games, Tilton finds it helpful. “These are opportunities to clarify my message and think through what matters most,” she says. “On the observing side, it’s really amazing to look at three other entrepreneurs coming out of the Gulf Coast.”

Tilton worked in hospitality for many years before starting a consulting firm, Oyster Sunday, and its insurance start-up OS Benefits. Service businesses need engaged employees, but they often can’t afford to offer health insurance to part-time and seasonal workers.

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The hospitality industry has interesting challenges for insurance plans, Tilton says. Employees may not have personal computers or company email addresses. OS Benefits had to design interfaces that worked well on phones and that didn’t rely on business email addresses for authentication.

Right now, OS Benefits allows employers in nine states to purchase access to a Wellness Marketplace for $35 per employee per month, which includes workout classes, family planning, telehealth, and other basic supplemental health care programs. The company is in the process of getting set up as an insurance broker to offer Affordable Care Act-compliant catastrophic and minimum essential coverage plans, which are less expensive than full health care plans and address the needs of typical hospitality workers. The plans start at $260 per employee per month and include access to the Wellness Marketplace.

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In some states, Tilton says that people may be able to get better coverage through the ACA’s health insurance marketplace. “Do your due diligence,” she says. “But for us, we knew that we were able to protect more people meaningfully through our program.”

OS Benefits is currently working through a waiting list for customers looking to offer its insurance plans. The funding earned through the Venture Summit’s Idea Pitch will be a big help in getting those folks on board.

In the meantime, Tilton has this advice for anyone doing a pitch competition: “Remember that as the founder, you are the expert and steward of your business when pitching,” she says. “Focus on clear storytelling and communication.”

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