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By all accounts, these are heady times for health-tech startups. In 2020, as the pandemic raged, a record $28.5 billion of venture capital poured into the U.S. biotech startup scene, according to Pitchbook data. New dollars inflated valuations for telehealth services, concierge medical practices and a slew of other startups designed to save doctors, hospitals and patients time and money.
But not everybody reaped the benefits. A survey of nearly 700 health startup leaders conducted by Rock Health in 2020 found that support for Black founders was largely inadequate. Black founders were more likely than white or Asian founders to bootstrap their companies, while most were based in the South or the Midwest—far from the funding hotbeds of the Northeast and West Coast.
These inequities formed the genesis for Jumpstart Nova, which bills itself as the first venture fund investing exclusively in Black-founded and Black-led health companies. The fund—a spinoff from Nashville-based venture capital firm Jumpstart Health Investors—announced Wednesday that it has raised $55 million from health care investors including Eli Lilly and Company, Cardinal Health and Atrium Health, oversubscribing its initial $30 million target.
Jumpstart Nova partner Kathryne Cooper
Though Jumpstart is based in Tennessee, the Nova fund will have roots in Los Angeles, as well. Jumpstart Nova partner and native Angeleno Kathryne Cooper is based in L.A., and is working alongside Jumpstart co-founder Marcus Whitney to lead deals and manage the portfolio. Cooper brings an experienced background in the worlds of health care technology and startup investing. She previously managed an FDA-backed seed fund for the West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics, and has served as an advisor to Backstage Capital, an L.A.-based venture fund for minority-led startups, as well as the city of Los Angeles’ Women in STEM (WiSTEM) initiative.
“[Black people] have been overlooked traditionally for investments from the venture space, and I believe that talent is equally distributed and anyone can build within health care,” Cooper told dot.LA. “So I think it was a unique market opportunity to create a fund that invests exclusively in Black founders.”
According to Jumpstart, of the nearly 785,000 companies in the U.S. health care sector today, only around 35,000—or less than 5%—are Black-owned. The venture fund is hoping to eliminate certain processes baked into the venture capital world that it believes make it harder for minority founders to access funding. For instance, instead of relying on in-person meetings that require founders to fly out to L.A. or Nashville, it is soliciting founders from all over the U.S.—an attempt to rectify some of the geographical inequities that leave many Black founders at a disadvantage.
“I think protocols like that are helpful because some of these methodologies have chronically underserved certain types of founders,” Cooper said. “And we don't make the same mistake, even though we're investing in Black founders.”
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