Interview: Andrew Vallejo-Sanderson

Peter Grewal, CRO Reinsurance, volunteered to be a mentor for Swiss Re Startup Academy. This interview will give you some of his insights and thoughts on his experience, startups, innovation, and how it can apply to business. He highly recommends that everyone apply to be a mentor because “it was one of the most rewarding weeks of my life.”

What is vision of the Swiss Re Startup Academy?

The Swiss Re Startup Academy is funded by the Swiss Re Foundation, organized by Reinsurance Finance, and facilitated by our partner Aiducation International (

During a one-week course high-potential students in Kenya and the Philippines gain skills to develop a comprehensive business plan and become successful entrepreneurs. During each academy, Swiss Re mentors volunteer to deliver lectures, workshops, and 1 to 1 mentoring sessions with students.

For more information, please contact Tamara Krieger (

Why did you volunteer to do this?

There were two reasons that drove me to volunteer.

The first is that I heard that it was a great and rewarding experience. And I can say that it exceeded all my expectations because it was one of the most rewarding weeks of my life. I gained a whole new family of mentors, students and organisers!

The second reason is that it was an opportunity to both give and learn. What I gave was my time in the form of knowledge, mentorship (both on their business plans and for life decisions), and technical guidance, but what I learned and experienced was unforgettable. This experienced reinforced very clearly how lucky and privileged we are, and this was a truly humbling and rewarding experience. I also got to experience how these very talented young men and women came into the program as shy individuals who next to nothing about business and entrepreneurship, and after a week they became very confident individuals that worked in teams to form and pitch solid business plans. Witnessing and being a part of their personal transformation was what I found so rewarding.

What are 2-3 characteristics of the Startup DNA?

To be a startup I’d say someone needs to have…

Passion; they need to be passionate about their why. They need to know why they are doing it, so that they know what to do. I’m not just talking about making money because money is only a means to an end. This will enable them to innovate and try new things.

Energy; its hard work and they need to be prepared to put the time and effort in. Nothing just falls in your lap.

Network; you need to get to know the right people to make it happen. This includes your team, mentors, supporters, investors. Basically, you can’t do it alone, and you need to be able to rally a network around you for support.

Can these characteristics be translated into the Swiss Re world?

Without a doubt. We need a more commercial mindset in all of Swiss Re. In thinking about the startup DNA, passion, energy, and network will definitely drive Swiss Re to innovate and improve.

Why do you think innovation is important for Swiss Re/Risk Management?

Without innovation you stand still at best and often decay. We need to innovate, so that we aren’t left behind and hopefully can take the lead as our competitors will certainly not stand still. At the end of the day, it’s about survival and then growth. I saw the startups that I mentored take old concepts and transform them by using ideas and technology in a new way, and that’s the kind of mindset that we need to have.

What are the biggest obstacles to innovation at Swiss Re and/or Risk Management?

There are three that I would like to point out. First, there is a strong fear of failure, and that if a project/idea fails, then that person must be a failure. We must move away from this mindset. Second, time. It’s hard to innovate when you don’t have the time to explore. Third, support. It’s not always clear what people should do with their ideas when they have them.

What are the next steps?

I mentioned that we are like new family members now, so I will continue to stay in touch with them via social media as they go on their journey. I will also apply again to the program because it is definitely worth it. I can highly recommend that everyone apply to be a mentor.

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