New York benefits startup taps Amazon, Walmart for advice on bringing big perks to small biz

As open enrollment season for health benefits approaches at many companies, small and midsize firms are coming up against something that could be “really scary,” as described by one executive.

“You have people projecting the highest healthcare cost increases ever,” said Marcus Osborne, senior vice president at Walmart Health. “And I particularly worry about how that affects small and midsize employers who are already struggling to hire and retain employees.”

Osborne is among a group of Fortune 500 executives named to a newly revealed advisory board for Lower Manhattan startup Nava, an employee benefits brokerage that raised $20 million in venture funding last fall. The startup’s vision is to draw on advice from benefits managers at Amazon, Caterpillar, Delta Air Lines and Walmart—which are each represented on the board—to help smaller employers design health plans that compete with those at major corporations.

The average annual family premium for employer-sponsored health insurance rose 4%, to $21,342, in 2020, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, outpacing inflation. The survey found employees at smaller firms on average contribute more to the full cost of their plan than those at larger companies.

Major corporations have significant advantages in designing health plans for employees, said Nava Chief Executive Brandon Weber, who previously helped found VTS, a commercial real estate startup. Large firms often have teams with dozens of workers designing healthcare plans and guiding employees on how to utilize them.

Small companies can’t dedicate those resources, Weber said, “but we can take that Fortune 500 benefits playbook and make it accessible to small businesses.”

Osborne said executives from large companies are open to sharing strategies for benefits because healthcare costs are a challenge across all industries.

Nava’s product is a software and advisory service that can analyze plans and, Weber said, help employees control costs while offering a wider range of benefits.

The advisory board also includes members from Airbnb and Docusign.

Advisory boards are common among technology startups, and members are typically compensated in equity grants. Nava declined to share exact figures.

Founded in 2019, Nava is still early in its attempts to win over small and midsize businesses. Weber declined to disclose exact figures but said Nava is approaching 100 employers using its platforms.

Investors in Nava include Thrive Capital, an investment firm led by Joshua Kushner, a co-founder of Oscar Health.

Nava is among several technology startups that are attempting to shake up the way that businesses purchase health insurance. The best-funded is San Francisco–based Collective Health, which is valued at $1.5 billion and offers software for employers to design custom health plans. Centivo, a startup in Buffalo that also helps employers design and manage health plans, last week closed a $51 million funding round.

Bunny Ellerin, president of the New York City Health Business Leaders industry group, said startups are seeing an opportunity in addressing not just the increasing costs of care but the complexity. There are now digital-focused companies for every health specialty that employers can reach deals with directly.

“You have so many of these different services that employers are trying to assess,” Ellerin said. “It is a very difficult business to navigate.”


Liked Liked