AssureStart, a Seattle-based start-up direct company that sells small business insurance on the Internet, opened for business in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Owned primarily by American Family Insurance, AssureStart opened in Texas in November 2013 and now is in three states. The company will serve the remaining U.S. states in the coming years.

Business model: AssureStart’s niche is small businesses (up to 25 employees) who prefer to shop for and buy business insurance online. Products are underwritten by an American Family Insurance subsidiary (Midvale Indemnity).

Historical relevance: It’s believed only one other insurer offers similar business insurance products online.

Product offerings: Initially will provide businessowners policies (BOP) that meet the general liability insurance and property insurance coverage needs of small businesses. AssureStart will later expand to include workers compensation insurance and commercial automobile insurance policies.

Why a small business should consider AssureStart: Smaller companies with rather straightforward business insurance needs benefit from lower costs associated with the direct approach, along with ease and convenience of doing business online.

Why this makes sense for American Family Insurance: AssureStart allows the company to serve a different segment of customers who want to use direct channels to handle their small business insurance needs. Agents remain American Family’s primary distribution channel, but this is about providing options to meet all customer preferences.

CEO bio: Prior to forming AssureStart, CEO Mike LaRocco held leadership roles at Firemen’s Fund Insurance Company, Safeco, GEICO and Progressive. Mike holds a B.S. degree from The Ohio State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Tampa.

AssureStart quote: "Online direct is a smart option for many small businesses, and AssureStart’s staff is trained to help them to meet their commercial insurance needs." – Mike LaRocco, CEO.