When Laura Bennett started Embrace Pet Insurance eight years ago, she worked out of her home. Last month, she and co-founder Alex Krooglik moved the company into Highland Hills offices big enough to accommodate the forty-something employees — and their pets — currently working for the corporation in Northeast Ohio, one of the early startup successes in a scene that's burgeoned quickly since then.
They've even set aside some room for yoga and set up a ping pong table, which is of course for employees and not the pets. Bennett, an actuary who worked at a large life and health insurance company in Toronto for 12 years, knew she wanted to do something different early on.
"I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life," she recalls. "I thought I was going to end up running a large life and health insurance company and I couldn't think of anything more awful."
To figure out what she was looking for, she enrolled at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. While there, her friends' cat got sick and they spent more than $5,000 on its recovery and various bills. She realized pet insurance options in the United States were limited, so she put a business plan together as part of a collegiate competition, targeting a market that was just beginning to develop.
"We ended up winning and I realized that this was something I could use my talents on," she says. After moving to Northeast Ohio when her husband graduated and got a job at Progressive, she raised some startup money to launch Embrace and partnered with Lloyd's of London.
No one really likes insurance companies, but everyone loves pets. Bennett has straddled that divide and built a lasting business in a town that seems to siphon talent at an alarming rate.
"Cleveland is fabulous," she says. "People always ask me, 'Why did you move there?' I say, 'Here is great.' Having young kids, Northeast Ohio is perfect. There are smart people here and it's inexpensive. If you did this in New York City, you couldn't afford it. A great entrepreneurial environment has grown up here over the years."
Bennett is also the founder of Burning River Coffee Community, a mentoring group for women looking to grow their companies. "I thought if I could help and encourage other women, that would be great," she says. "It's my way of giving back and helping the startup community."