Toronto's League Inc. has announced one of the largest Series A venture capital funding rounds in Canadian tech history with a $33-million investment lead by OMERS Ventures.
Backstopping League's vision of a mobile marketplace of medical providers – like Uber, but for dentists or massage therapists – are a mix of the nation's most ambitious venture capitalists and some of the biggest insurance companies. The funders include strategic investors Manulife Financial Corp., Power Corp. of Canada and Royal Bank of Canada, and also features participation by the venture arms of Real Ventures, BDC and Infinite Potential Technologies, a fund controlled by Research in Motion founder Mike Lazaridis.
It's a who's who meeting of the old economy and the innovation economy spurred to partnership by the twin forces of League chief executive officer Mike Serbinis's track record (he founded Kobo Inc. in 2009 and sold it for $315-million (U.S.) in 2012; before that he founded DocSpace in 1997 and sold it for $568-million in 1999) and powerful demographic shifts in health-care use.
His new company already has a little under 100,000 users on its network, and with a commission structure that captures 2.5 per cent of each transaction, League is earning revenue already.
"If I think of my old life, we used to sell $5 products and make pennies on that. Here, a typical spending account is in the thousands of dollars and our model is pretty simple: We charge a flat fee, a percentage of that spending account," Mr. Serbinis said.
Since its initial launch in June, 2015, League has focused on building its back-end systems so it could function as a digital payment provider across a variety of state and provincial regulatory regimes, all with an aim to lower the transaction costs for for health-care providers and insurers. It also increasingly works with companies to help them manage benefits and wellness programs for their workers, from small and medium businesses to large-scale employers like Toronto's University Health Network (11,000 workers), which joined last week.
League's corporate plans let companies essentially create individual health accounts that workers can spend on whatever they like (the range of services and amounts can be customized to allow different coverages according to status, executive, contract, etc.). There's also no breakage: Whatever workers don't spend comes back to the employer, who pays a 5 per cent to 15 per cent management fee per transaction. League does not currently offer a prescription drug plan, which is usually the most expensive item in a traditional insurer-provided benefits package.
"For the next generation of employees, there will probably be less of a focus on pharma and more on wellness," says League board member Sid Paquette, who is also the managing director of OMERS Ventures. "The concept is you keep yourself healthy. … It's pro-active, pharma is very much reactive."
The testing grounds for this refined product-market fit were Vancouver and Seattle. "Today, we've got under 500 employers that we're working with across those two cities, and really that started between January and May," Mr. Serbinis said last week in an interview at his Toronto office (at the MaRS Discovery District).
"If I look at U.S. and Canada, and only sub-100 employers, it's a couple hundred billion dollars annually that's up for grabs. It's a giant market."
The ability to rapidly expand the service by solving enterprise and small-business pain points in managing benefits is what has attracted League's new investors.
Mr. Serbinis describes the company as beginning its "ramp" of scaling up, going from a 30-person team to 90 to 95 by the end of the year, developing "deep learning capability on all the data that we get from consumers to be able to make recommendations and advise them" as well as expanding League's provider network to all of Canada's major cities by the end of 2016.
"We started out with this idea of transforming the consumer health-care experience. There's this paradigm shift in thinking about the consumer first, and empowering them to be healthy, versus avoiding claims," Mr. Serbinis said. "What we figured out is, to really achieve our vision, we needed to create a next-gen alternative to the traditional health-insurance product out there. And that's really what we've become."
There are also plans for U.S. expansion. The company is already active in Los Angeles, but Mr. Serbinis expects to focus first on regions and states that already lean demographically to his wellness-focused accounts.