Starship brings gig economy focus to health savings accounts


Since the beginning of the pandemic, Starship has seen in influx of users. The New York-based startup is designing health savings accounts geared at independent contractors, striking partnerships Uber and Postmates.

CEO and Co-Founder Sean Engelking described the venture as simplifying HSAs and making them more consumer-friendly. The company offers an app to access its HSAs and a corresponding debit card that can be used to pay for healthcare expenses. It also has a robo-advisor for investing excess funds for a small fee.

In the first six months of 2020, Starship said it has seen 500% growth in its active accounts and is on pace to double its membership again by the end of the year.

“We’ve acquired more customers during the pandemic than in our company’s existence,” Engelking said in a phone interview. “Roughly half of the country no longer gets benefit from a traditional employer as we know it. That group is growing.”

Starship’s focus is on people who get their health coverage through the individual market. The idea is to make it easy for people with multiple employers to contribute to a health savings account.

“Traditionally, people get help from their employer. But what we really were concerned about is there are a lot of folks who don’t have that guidance,” Engelking said. “They’re quite literally on their own.”

As employers try to tamp down on healthcare costs, more are offering high-deductible plans, which in turn shifts more upfront costs to employees. Health savings accounts are meant to help offset that by letting people stash away money for future healthcare expenses. But a survey of 1,637 people with high-deductible plans by the University of Michigan found that for those who enrolled in a plan that included an HSA, 55% had not contributed to the account in the past year.

Engelking thinks making HSAs easier to access and understand can help. He also thinks it could have helped his family.

“I come from a blue-collar family in the Midwest. A lot of my family had HSAs but didn’t know how to use them,” he said. “It would have helped my father avoid bankruptcy. I remember thinking how frustrating it was that he could have avoided so much if he would have known how to use this.”

Engelking started the company with his two co-founders in 2016. Starship’s backers include Valar Ventures, which led a $7 million series A in the company late last year, as well as 500 Startups, Third Prime and Broadhaven Capital Partners. Starship partners with nbkc bank in the Kansas City metro to provide its spending accounts.

In the future, Engelking plans to keep his focus on the individual market.

“We are seeing the shift from the employer to individuals,” he said. “There’s a big shift in labor happening in slow motion.”

Photo credit: Zhuyufang, Getty Images

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