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Marcus Whitney looked around the room during a post George Floyd meeting in the Nashville health care community and had a realization. 

“I found myself in a position as the only Black health care venture capital partner in town with a unique perspective on some of the issues in the health care industry, particularly from the capital allocation perspective,” Whitney says.  

He started to have conversations with industry leaders about structuring and creating a fund that would invest exclusively in Black-founded and led companies at the forefront of health care innovation. Once he got his fellow partners at Jumpstart Health on board, it was a matter of putting together the fund. Earlier this month, Jumpstart Health launched Jumpstart Nova, which is the culmination of more than a year of work from Whitney and his team in gathering partners to launch the $55 million fund. 

Advancing equity will be among the topics at the Health Evolution Summit, April 6-8, 2022. Apply to attend.

The fund launched with some major partners including Eli Lilly and Company, HCA Healthcare, Cardinal Health, Atrium Health, Henry Ford Health System, LHC Group, Meharry Medical College and the American Hospital Association. The fund has four portfolio companies to date including Drugviu, a virtual platform for patients with autoimmune diseases; Cellevolve, a development and commercialization biotech focused on transforming cell therapy innovations into treatments; Teamwork, a provider of community-based Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services; and Alerje, a Detroit-based, food allergy management startup. 

Health Evolution spoke with Whitney about why there needs to be more opportunities in the health tech space for Black-owned and funded startups, what the pandemic has revealed about health inequity, and much more. 

Why is there such a big need in the health tech space for Black-owned and funded startups? 

Within health care specific venture funds, you will really struggle to find Black partners and there is kind of this unfortunate pattern matching that happens relative to the demographics of partners. Unless the fund is truly intentional, the capital allocation will often reflect the demographic makeup of the partners. Where we find ourselves today is with very little—1 percent or less—of health care venture capital being allocated to black founders. This is particularly challenging because we’re all at this point where we realize that the health care industry requires innovation to solve its most serious problems. We know about breakthrough therapies and treatments for diseases, but there’s also health inequity, there’s reaching people across different socioeconomic bands, there’s social determinants of health. There are all these challenges that we are facing in the health care industry today and innovation is going to be the way to solve a lot of these issues. If we don’t have diversity in terms of who is coming to the table to bring ideas to solve these problems, we’re going to end up with a limited set of solutions.  

There’s a pretty clear need that we’re inviting everyone to the innovation opportunity and capital is just one of the ways that invitation happens. You can’t innovate in health care without capital. Generally speaking, it’s a highly regulated industry, the cost of entry is reasonably high and so capital allocation is a really critical part of making sure that we have requisite diversity in health care innovation. 

What has the pandemic revealed about inequity in the health care system? 

The pandemic put a lot of focus on health systems in particular because we have built up our health care industry in the United States largely around health systems as the centers of care for the community. I think what we’ve seen is that not all hospitals are created equal and depending on what part of the United States you live in, and this could be different zip codes within the same city, or at a higher level looking at rural versus urban, depending on where you live, the quality of care and the access to care that you’re going to be able to receive is different. We’ve seen not just inequity between Black people and white people, but socioeconomic inequity as well that are pretty clear. A lot of people have realized that we’re going to have to use innovation to try and figure out how to bridge some of these gaps. We’re not going to be able to just try to replicate the types of hospitals that we have in some of the richest markets in the country in some of those markets that don’t do as well, economically. Innovation is going to have to be a big part of the solution for how we raise the bar in terms of the quality and access to care that all people receive.