26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Erik Ross, head of VC and open innovation, Nationwide Ventures

Erik Ross has been head of venture capital and open innovation for insurance and financial services firm Nationwide since February 2016 when he helped launch the corporate venture capital (CVC) arm, Nationwide Ventures.

In August 2017, Nationwide Ventures committed $100m to startup investments, and has so far backed 18 insurtech, fintech, cybersecurity, the industrial internet of things, mobility and eldercare developers from seed through series F.

Mike Mahaffey, Nationwide’s chief strategy and corporate development officer, said: “As the leader of Nationwide’s VC team, Erik has helped position Nationwide as a forward-thinking, innovative company with which entrepreneurs and tech startups want to do business.

“His strategic approach and collaborative spirit continue to support Nationwide’s mission to protect people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care.”

One of the early opportunities he identified was value creation through strategic partnerships and investing, with 12 portfolio companies having partnered Nationwide. “Those business cases are showing material impact,” Ross said.

Nationwide Ventures has closed five new deals in the past year including security system provider Deep Sentinel and clinical services provider Vesta Healthcare. It has exited an undisclosed company in the first quarter of 2020.

“We will continue investing in both the portfolio and new opportunities that align with Nationwide’s business, strategy and mission through the pandemic and economic downturn,” Ross said. “We will also assist our portfolio companies through partnerships, subject matter expertise, shepherding them through Nationwide and capital raises.”

Nationwide Ventures counts a unicorn in its portfolio – online insurance portal Next Insurance – which achieved more than $1bn in valuation in October 2019.

Furthermore, the unit made six follow-on deals including automotive insurance comparison service Insurify, which it first invested in 2017. It also facilitated eight new startup partnerships with Nationwide business units, having made over 75 startup introductions.

Nationwide Ventures hired three new team members last year, and Ross said: “I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by a high-calibre, very exceptional team and great support from our senior executives and board that makes all of these things possible. None of this is possible without them. They are the real stars – I am just the team’s coach.”

His team includes Jake Nice, a principal who featured in GCV’s Rising Stars 2020 roster and who was instrumental in Nationwide Ventures’ investment in business finance provider BlueVine.

Nationwide also has a business incubator dubbed Refinery 191 that partners startups, universities and other corporates to develop new technology, and it is among the limited partners (LPs) for insurance-focused VC firm Rev1 Ventures’ first fund.

Ross believes CVC units should focus on their unique strengths, continue to hone them and deliver on that value to their portfolio companies, co-investors and their LP. “It can be a huge advantage to have a large enterprise logo associated with your venture group, so focus on the unfair advantage you bring to the ecosystem and how your stakeholders can benefit,” he advised.

“Build the necessary relationships internally so when a promising company enters your investment funnel, you have relationships established to expedite discussions and partnership opportunities, and continue to deliver on your value throughout the relationship. This approach will win you credibility with your business partners, founders and investors.”

Prior to joining Nationwide in 2014 as an associate vice-president of innovation, Ross had been chief digital officer for the US state of North Carolina for nearly two years.

Ross holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Penn State University.

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF