Censio, Led by Ex-Zipcar CEO, Brings Mobile Tech to Car Insurance

Xconomy Boston — 

In the business of connected cars, at least one clear market has emerged: insurance. Today a Boston startup is taking a big step in that market.

Censio, which has been growing quietly next to the Harvard Innovation Lab, said Wednesday it has formed a partnership with Progressive Insurance to develop a mobile app to monitor driving data. The app, called Snapshot, captures information about how people drive—things like mileage, time of day, and braking habits—and rates drivers on safety and usage. Progressive will start testing the app with customers this month, with the goal of rolling out a finished version in 2016.

The idea is that drivers can earn discounts based on good behavior and habits—supported by data, not just odometers and paperwork. And, of course, the bigger goal is to improve safety. “Usage-based insurance” is a recent trend that parallels the rise of data and transparency in fields from finance to personal health. Indeed, insurance companies and auto makers are banking on consumers wanting to track their own driving habits and become better drivers (think Fitbit for cars).

Progressive already had a wireless telematics tracking device, also called Snapshot. But putting the technical capabilities into a smartphone app should make the system more convenient and easier to use (see screenshot below). “Our customers today are more tech-savvy and on-the-go than they’ve ever been, and they want information and insights in real-time,” said Dave Pratt, Progressive’s general manager of usage-based insurance, in a press statement.

Snapshot driving-data app from Censio and Progressive Insurance (image: Censio).

Snapshot driving-data app from Censio and Progressive Insurance (image: Censio).

Censio seems to have the right mix of expertise for the job. Its interim CEO/advisor and co-founder is Scott Griffith, the former CEO of Zipcar. Its other co-founders are Jon McNeill, an insurance expert and Enservio veteran; CTO Brad Cordova, an MIT alum; and operations head Joe Adelmann, a Harvard alum. The team also includes president Kevin Farrell, a longtime LogMeIn executive.

Farrell said in a statement that Censio sees an “opportunity to help Progressive take usage-based insurance mainstream.” (The mainstream will have to get over any privacy issues, but here’s betting they will if it saves them money.)

Censio had 14 employees as of February, housed in the Launch Lab, an expansion facility of the Harvard i-lab for startups with at least one Harvard alumni founder. The company’s staff website currently shows about 20 people, roughly half of them machine learning engineers, software engineers, and data scientist interns.