This year I spent an enormous amount of time reflecting on health equity and racial justice following the protests against police brutality this summer. I looked at the parallels and how it related to the digital health and venture capital (VC) ecosystems. Naturally, I spoke to colleagues and reflected on the lack of Black representation in digital health: physicians, founders and stakeholders.
I reflected on times past, when friends would ask me, “Do you know any Black doctors?” They’d ask for my recommendations in specialties such as primary care, OB/GYN and dermatology. I realized a trend: it wasn’t easy to find Black doctors and it was more difficult to locate Black founders in the digital health ecosystem. Health plans and providers generally don’t list physicians by race. Digital health news and research outlets weren’t conducting extensive research on this issue.
This past summer was the turning point for me. I was tired of the excuses, but what could I do about it? First, I set out to find Black founders of digital health companies. I searched the internet diligently, scouring several popular digital health and tech websites, followed by accelerators, incubators, and finally requesting referrals from colleagues at Columbia University Venture Community, Columbia University Black Alumni Council and Black Venture Institute (BVI).
It was a project that kept me up at all hours, but I knew the outcome would be worthwhile. If I could identify Black founders and their companies, I could distribute the list, making it accessible to the public. Most importantly, this list represents companies and founders who are solving complicated problems and deserve more attention from the venture capital industry. This week, in BVI, Bill Gurley gave his thoughts on advancing diversity in the VC industry, he remarked that it was necessary to bring awareness and transparency to this significant subject and shine a light on success stories.
The reasons behind the lack of representation in digital health are the same that I’ve heard in the tech industry: pipeline problems, networks, funding, education, etc. Fortunately, I know that Black people are resilient and pipeline problems have never stopped us from making waves in multiple industries. However, I also understand that sometimes the odds are stacked against us in the forms of bias and systemic racism. I’ve observed entire departments without a single Black physician and noticed partnerships being denied to Black companies, even if all their KPI’s outperformed the competition.
This leads me to a recent study conducted by Rock Health and Dr. Ivor B. Horn. Their study highlights statistics that prove Black founders are receiving disproportionately less funding in the West, Northeast and Midwest regions. I was not surprised to find the South as a region where Black founders could thrive. Atlanta remains a strong hub for Black entrepreneurs in tech with support from government, HBCU’s, TechSquare Labs, Atlanta Tech Village and more.
Source: Rock Health 2020 Diversity in Digital Health Survey, Rock Health Digital Health Venture Funding Database
I believe problems are best solved by the people who live them. Black founders are uniquely positioned to solve some of the hardest problems in healthcare, because many of us have lived through the pain of a broken healthcare system and we’ve seen our loved ones die from preventative diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
I’ve been troubled by the unnecessary deaths and trauma inflicted upon Black women in childbirth. We can’t deny the disproportionate amount of death and sickness that has affected the Black community from Covid-19 exasperated by an inept administration. Additionally, in the VC industry, Black founders overall receive approximately 1 percent of funding. This problem of underrepresentation affects several layers of our tech and health ecosystems.
Despite the odds, I remain optimistic and I am betting on Black founders. When I created The List, I was excited to see different challenges in analytics and clinical specialties being tackled: sleep science, maternity, chronic kidney disease, clinical trial analysis, drug drone delivery and more! I was even more thrilled to discover Black founders receiving millions in venture capital:
I also want Black founders to know that they’re not alone in digital health. There are over 70 companies on this list and most are funded with venture capital. In the tech ecosystem, I sometimes feel there is a lack of attention to healthcare, although that is changing. This is my effort to support Black founders and increase awareness of their companies in the digital health ecosystem.
What's next? Deeper research and white papers on the ecosystem. Curated list of resources.
Please contact me HERE if you identify changes that need to be made or if there is a company that isn’t present. I'd love to see this list continue to grow!
By Tsahia Hobson for Tsahia & Company, LLC, providing strategic advisory services in value based care and empowered reimbursement for pre-seed and seed stage digital health startups, small businesses, local and federal governments.
A special thank you to a few of my colleagues for being thought partners and helping me bring The List to life:
@Dr. Camille White @LaAerial Owens @Narmeen Azad @Tesfa Wossne
Tsahia (like Tsunami - yes, the T is silent - Sa-hee-ah) is a healthcare enthusiast working to transform patient care for all of us while driving creative and innovative solutions with technology.