In 2013 Glenn Parker got terrible news that would fundamentally reshape the trajectory of his life: His wife, Robin, had pancreatic cancer. He quickly left the company he'd founded 12 years prior, a health care business called Convey Health Solutions, to focus on her health care. When she died just months later, "the concept of doing business for business's sake, as opposed to working collaboratively with people to try to reach a goal, became pretty immature and futile," Parker, now 56, says. Going forward, Parker determined, he'd work to sustain relationships with customers long-term--a significant departure from the notoriously impersonal and transactional model often found in the health care industry.

Today, Parker says that philosophy has driven much of his newest startup's success. Founded in 2015, Plantation, Florida-based NationsBenefits works with more than 50 health insurers around the country to expand their offerings beyond standard illness and injury coverage. (Parker declined to name any specific insurers, citing confidentiality agreements.) The company focuses on hearing-assistance benefits, as well as supplementing low-income customers' purchases of non-prescription medical items such as Tylenol and diabetic socks.

Parker funded the launch with his own assets and an undisclosed amount of debt financing, and in just four years, NationsBenefits has grown to 200 full-time employees split between Plantation and Hyderabad, India. In 2016, the company's first full year of business, NationsBenefits pulled in just over $200,000 in revenue. By 2018, that number jumped to $27.3 million--good for a two-year growth rate of 13,066 percent and the No. 1 spot on this year's Inc. 5000 Series: Florida list. 

Parker, who is a medical doctor, began working in the health insurance industry in 1999. After his wife died, he started brainstorming ways to get out of the house--at the same time that his wife's mother started pricing hearing aids. Together, they realized that the standard $3,000 to $5,000 cost for hearing aids seemed unreasonably high. Parker started researching hearing-focused insurance benefits, and put together a business plan that encouraged both less expensive services and a relationship-driven approach to health insurance.

There have been challenges along the way. Recently, Parker paid the Internal Revenue Service roughly $200,000 to settle a federal tax lien relating to unpaid back taxes, and is currently working with accountants to review a similar $500,000 lien. He's also contending with rapid new developments in the business: Last July, the startup expanded its portfolio to include over-the-counter supplemental benefits, prompting a change from its original name, NationsHearing, several months later. Parker had done similar work at Convey Health Solutions, and launched his company's new division when his noncompete agreement ended. Early returns are positive: Parker says the over-the-counter program has a 2020 run rate of between $8 million and $10 million.

The additional services will be necessary, he adds, because nearly every major hearing-benefits competitor has recently been acquired by a significantly larger firm--including, in one case, insurance giant United Healthcare. That's a double-edged sword, says Ken Goulet, a former Cigna and Anthem executive on the NationsBenefits advisory board. "I think Glenn uses that as a great differentiator--to be independent--for who he's talking with now," Goulet says. "There will be competition, but he'll be the one with the lead."

For Parker, who has already built a startup and exited it, NationsBenefits is a chance to build a legacy. His wife is gone, but he gets to work every day with his 25-year-old son, Michael, the company's COO since 2017. "It's not like the boss's son came to this super-mature company," Parker notes. "We're all here burning the midnight oil together."

In other words, he anticipates sticking around for a while, rather than selling to a large insurance provider: "This potential to grow is too good."