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On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Kathryne Cooper introduces Jumpstart Nova, a new $55 million fund investing in seed and Series A companies led by Black founders who are focused on health care innovation.
Cooper, an L.A.-native, previously managed an accelerator that made over 150 investments into medical technology companies. She’s a graduate of Stanford and went to medical school at USC. Later, she would return to the school to get her MBA while working at health tech startups.
Jumpstart’s other partner, Marcus Whutney, works out of Nashville and created the fund in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests and the discussions about racial inequities they prompted. Cooper said the events made Whutney think about health inequities “and specifically his position of power as the only Black VC in Nashville.”
The pandemic was another wakeup call about the disparities in the health care system, especially for people of color, said Cooper.
“There are disparities in our health care system, in terms of health care outcomes affecting communities of color,” Cooper said. “And data has emerged as the disparities in health care outcomes for those who had COVID-19, adversely affecting Black and brown patients—even independent of comorbidities.”
Cooper said research has found that the health care industry, like many others, chronically under-invests in Black and brown leaders.
“Because health care is here to impact and improve patient lives, [...] sometimes it can get a pass for other things—like not being particularly diverse, or having a lack of executives who are women and people of color at certain levels in health care organizations,” she said.
But Jumpstart doesn’t limit its focus to companies working on health care disparities. It also invests in founders focused on a range of health issues.
“Just because you are a founder of color, or woman, or in this case, let's say Black founders, that doesn't mean that your solution needs to solve a health equity issue. It can also solve issues for all patients,” Cooper said.
Jumpstart Nova looks at a wide range of opportunities within health care—everything from tech enabled services, biotech, health IT to diagnostic devices.
If she comes across a promising startup, Cooper said she will often reach out to their strategic limited partners, which are made up of some of the nation’s leading health care companies, including Cardinal Health, the American Hospital Association, Atrium Health and Eli Lilly, among others.
“When we're looking at companies to invest in, we also want to see if there's some way that they may also fit into an ecosystem related to our strategic limited partners,” she said.
Cooper hopes that Jumpstart Nova’s focus on under-invested founders can also help spur other investors and VCs to look at the type of founders they’re investing in.
“If they all kind of over-index in one area, [then they might] ask themselves why that is. Is it a network issue? Is it that you are tending to overlook these founders? You know, I don't know what the answer is. But I encourage people to kind of look at the data and see what it says to you,” said Cooper.
dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
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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