A Problem-Solver Takes Action
Arianna Armelli (B.Arch. ’12) was always drawn to problem-solving and solution-building. As a high school student, she attended an industry-focused charter school and then went on to study architecture at New York Tech. After graduating, she embarked on her career in architecture—until Mother Nature and the nature of invention changed her course.
“I was working on large-scale development projects that happened to be located in and around flood zones, and I became really interested in disaster planning and mitigation from a structural perspective,” she says. That interest took on a new urgency when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012. Spending time in Far Rockaway, she witnessed people hauling debris out of their own homes without any help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “These were people who had insurance but were waiting long periods of time for any payouts,” she says. “I saw how many average families were being affected and not necessarily getting the resources in a timely fashion.”
Over the next few years, Armelli kept an eye on the Far Rockaway rebuild and noticed what government plans were being put in place to handle similar situations. She observed billions of dollars being spent to protect business interests in downtown Manhattan but little support going to the average homeowner. Inspired to do something more hands-on, she went back to school to study landscape architecture and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania. “I was very interested in starting my own business,” she says. “I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I knew it be in the realm of disaster, planning, and mitigation.” Armelli worked on projects focused on how to build sustainable economic solutions for individuals and communities facing climate change while utilizing data analysis for climate prediction modeling. From that spark of an idea, her company Dorothy was born.
Dorothy (named after the famous fictional Kansan who got swept up in a tornado) helps expedite the insurance claim process by acting as a liaison between property owners and public adjusters who will process and review their insurance claims. The company also underwrites a short-term cash advancement product using future insurance claim settlements as collateral. The products offered by Dorothy can eliminate the need for people to take out high-interest short-term loans, pay out-of-pocket expenses on a credit card, refinance a mortgage, or any of the other financially risky moves people take to recover from disasters.
“Insurance is something that people are always going to need and have, whether it’s private or government backed. The issue we’ve established with disasters is that insurance takes a really long time to pay out, and insurance carriers fight you on how much they owe because it’s difficult to analyze these situations.” By utilizing climate risk analysis, property characteristic data, historical claim event data, and real-time weather event data, Dorothy can target areas with the highest probability of experiencing damage and offer their services to vulnerable home and business owners.
“Ethically, I think there’s a massive market for us, and there’s a way for us to be incredibly profitable,” she says. “But there’s a way for us to do it without putting the onus on the consumer.”
As an innovative start-up, Dorothy could disrupt the existing insurance industry. Dorothy has gotten a lot of attention in a very short time. Most recently, the company won the 2023 Visa Everywhere Initiative, LGBTQ+ Special Edition competition. And in 2022, Armelli was presented with the Emerging Alumni Award at the School of Architecture and Design’s annual Alumni and Friends Reception. In her speech she said, “To the students that are here tonight, if you have a passion, I suggest you pursue it because building something from nothing is an unparalleled feeling.”