DURHAM – One startup developed a game for people on short-term disability to help them get back to work.

Another used a mobile platform to give on-demand support to special needs families.

And yet another designed a digital health platform to connect postpartum women to health information.

This is a snapshot of what was showcased when MetLife teamed up with Techstars to create its first incubator for early-stage insurance startups. It culminated with a Demo Day for ten startups from around the world, pitching their companies to a 250-strong crowd packed into Cotton Room at Golden Belt in downtown Durham on Thursday night.

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Mee-Jung Jang, Techstar’s managing director.

“Insurtech is a growing vertical that’s just getting started in terms of innovation,” said Mee-Jung Jang, Techstars’ managing director.

“The mission is to find the best entrepreneurs innovating from around the world. With the Techstars and MetLife partnership, it’s just a powerhouse accelerator program to help these entrepreneurs.”

“We see growth as linked to innovation,” added MetLife’s chief digital officer Greg Baxter.

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MetLife’s chief digital officer Greg Baxter.

“We’ve looked to build this innovation ecosystem where we get the best ideas; we incubate them, and then we scale them. We haven’t done that in the past. This incubation in the middle is critical to us. TechStars have done it before in so many industries. That’s why we were excited to have them on board.”

Some startups get pilots

For the last 13 weeks, 10 startups relocated to MetLife’s global technology campus in Cary to take part in the program, gaining access to $120,000 in funding and Techstars mentor network. They also tapped into insurance industry connections, including executives at MetLife.

 In exchange, the companies agreed to give up 6 percent of equity.

Already, five of the startups have signed formal agreements  — or are in discussions — to test their products and services with MetLife or a subsidiary.

Meet MetLife Digital Accelerator’s class of 2018, powered by Techstars

Among them is FIX Health, a startup based out of Atlanta,  which delivers a unique blend of gameplay and health behavior change.

“We do what we call ‘health entertainment’,” said Fix Health’s cofounder and CEO Mike Tinney. “We’re a company that makes games that make people healthier.”

During the course of the incubator program, the team developed a game called “Lost Tides – The Voyage Home”, which helps short-term disability patients be more consistent with their at-home therapy.

It will be piloted next month, and offered to select MetLife claimants who are filling short-term disability claims.

“It’s a huge; it’s groundbreaking for our company,” said Tinney.

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MamaMend’s cofounder Sara Bates.

MamaMend — a husband-and-wife team based out of Boulder, Colorado — is another fortunate startup that scored a pilot with Hyatt Legal Plans, a subsidiary of MetLife.

“It’s our first pilot with a corporation,” said Sara Bates, who started the company with her husband, Jon, just this past January. “It was an amazing opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.”

MamaMend is a digital health companion that guides women through the ups and downs of life after childbirth.

Jang stressed that the program’s main aim is not to get a pilot. However, it’s certainly a draw for many companies who attend.

“That’s not the only value you get out of the accelerator. But it’s definitely something a number of startups explored and were able to execute on,” she said.

Techstar’s grows presence in the Triangle

Techstars already runs more than 45 accelerator programs around the world.

In 2015, Techstars portfolio of companies received 5 percent of all Series A deals. Through 2017, 90 percent of all Techstar portfolio companies have exited or are in active operations.

The terms of the partnership between Techstars and MetLife includes a three-year minimum, with one cohort of up to ten companies to run each year.

This year, no companies from the Triangle were represented, but that could soon change.

“We don’t have any geographic preference,” said Jang. “We certainly would love entrepreneurs from the Triangle involved. I highly encourage any InsurTech entrepreneur in the Triangle to apply for next year.”