Gravie CEO Abir Sen doesn't think of the Minneapolis-based health benefits company he co-founded as a disrupter but sees someone winning big as rising costs threaten the sustainability of employer-sponsored health care.

Sen likens the change he sees coming to health benefits to the transition from pensions to 401(k) plans.

Gravie, founded in 2013, is creating consumer "mind share" in an area where it hasn't existed with employers selecting benefit plans.

"At the risk of sounding like a megalomaniac, I do think there's an opportunity to build a very large company in this space," Sen said. "I'm not saying Gravie will win in that space necessarily. But somebody will and that somebody will build a very large and hopefully a very long-lasting company."

Gravie creates custom plans that enable employers to set a budget that each employee uses to shop for benefits on a Gravie marketplace, Sen said.

Gravie administers benefits for employers and guides employees through plan choices. Gravie's aim is to make health benefits "easier and more affordable for employers and employees."

Sen, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School and is on Allina Health's board, previously was CEO of Bloom Health, co-founder and president of RedBrick Health and a co-founder of Definity Health.

Gravie and Land O'Lakes next year are expanding a Farmer Health Insurance plan tested last year in Minnesota to more than 15,000 farmers in this state and 28,000 in Nebraska.

Overall Gravie serves more than 900 employers and more than 62,000 individuals across the United States. Customers include Great Clips, Anytime Fitness and Servpro.

Q: What do you like about being a disrupter in this space?

A: I don't like anything about being a disrupter because I don't even think about it. What I like is seeing a pain point for the consumer and being able to solve it. If that ends up disrupting other people and they're mad at me that doesn't make a difference with me.

Q: What has motivated your focus on health care?

A: Where I have been in my career is the intersection of two big trends. One is the shift away from an employer to the consumer, consumerism in health care. The second is an overarching feeling that employer-sponsored health care isn't sustainable because health care costs are going up three to four times as fast as (gross domestic product) is growing. That is simply not going to be sustainable in the long term.

Q: What competition is Gravie facing?

A: Most of the time when we're talking to an employer we're not competing with someone that's doing the same thing. The competition is with inertia. The competition is the incumbent model more than any particular entity.

Todd Nelson