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In 2020, fewer than 3% of venture capital funding went to companies with Black or Latinx founders, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
In an attempt to address these disparities, the insurer has launched a Health Equity Business Accelerator, a program meant to lend financial, strategic and mentorship support to founders of color.
The program will be focused on “creating equitable healthcare services and solutions,” according to Blue Cross.
Accelerator participation includes a $150,000 investment, as well as nine months of tailored programming delivered in conjunction with partners such as the Capital Network and Healthbox to help accelerate growth and foster innovation.
Michele Courton Brown, Blue Cross vice president of business development and managing director of Zaffre Investments, said the goal “is to help incubate new ideas that can advance healthcare and better serve consumers, including our members.”
WHAT’S THE IMPACT?
The program is being piloted with a small initial cohort of companies nominated by the broader healthcare and venture capital communities.
Among them is Bloomer Tech, which is focused on solving major women’s global health issues, starting by tailoring cardiovascular healthcare to women using advanced fabrics technology and machine learning. Also on board is MedHaul, a cloud-based management platform for non-emergency patient transportation with a mission to innovate access and improve the quality of care in vulnerable communities.
Another company, Quality Interactions, focuses on cultural competency solutions to improve health outcomes and has trained more than 250,000 healthcare professionals at the country’s largest hospitals, health plans and medical schools.
Rounding out the cohort is SoHookd, a digital wellness platform offering wellness-centric rewards, events and challenges to health plans and employers, and TQIntelligence, which uses validated diagnostic tools, AI and voice recognition technology to enable therapists to make faster and more accurate diagnoses.
Blue Cross and Healthbox – an Accelerator partner serving as business advisor to the cohort – will sponsor two Pitch Day events to increase the visibility of participating startups with potential customers and investors. The first Pitch Day, planned for May 19, will offer cohort companies an opportunity for industry exposure and networking. Advisors will assist the startups in raising awareness of their offerings and creating long-term promotion strategies.
Blue Cross said it intends to use the nine-month program as a joint learning experience, and is exploring ways to advance and expand the program in the future.
THE LARGER TREND
Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts signaled its focus on equity in 2021 when it made a number of investments, including: a grant program to support nonprofits led by Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC); a first-to-market approach to collecting race and ethnicity data to address inequities in the care members receive; expanding marketing efforts to better reach a more diverse audience, with messages focused on addressing gaps in care and improving overall health; and new investments and support for minority-owned businesses.
Those efforts were enabled by $350,000 Racial Equity and Justice Grants that support BIPOC-led not-for-profit organizations focused on addressing racial injustice in Massachusetts communities.
ON THE RECORD
“This is not a philanthropic act – it’s a good investment and business decision,” said Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO at Blue Cross. “By investing in these diverse start-ups, we’re able to help support the growth of businesses that are centering equity in their work and making advances in technology and services that will lead to improved health outcomes.”