SteelSky Ventures’ leadership team, clockwise from top left: Managing partner Buffy Alegria; founder and general partner Maria Velissaris; managing partner Casey Albert; venture partner and entrepreneur in residence Maya Hardigan; venture partner Nichole Jones; and analyst Georgia Cavanaugh. (SteelSky Photos)
Startups focusing on women’s health are underfunded. That’s the premise behind SteelSky Ventures, a women-run venture company that recently announced an inaugural $72 million fund for women’s health, backed by a roster of big-name healthcare providers like the American Hospital Association and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. .
The fund has early stage investments in 13 companies in the medical devices, consumer health, digital healthcare, e-pharmacies and therapeutic retail sectors. The company says the new fund is the world’s largest focused on women’s health care.
SteelSky is based in Atlanta, home of founder and general partner Maria Velissaris. But the company also has a presence in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle-based fund analyst Georgia Cavanaugh and managing partner Buffy Alegria is from the Northwest with a background in banking and lives in Yakima, Wash.
GeekWire interviewed Alegria about what inspired her to start the fund with Velissaris and the need for an investment vehicle focused on women’s health.
Women make the vast majority of health care decisions and, on average, spend much more than men on health care, Alegria said. Yet companies that specifically target women’s needs have accounted for only 5% of all digital health funding since 2011, according to Rock Health. That percentage has increased to 7% in the first eight months of 2021.
That shift could continue as more female investors get on board. Women still make up just 15% of general partners in venture capital firms, which is a small step forward – only 12% of women were general partners in 2019. Alegria and her colleagues are part of the change.
SteelSky’s portfolio includes digital company Origin, specializing in pelvic floor health, pregnancy and postpartum care; AI-powered chronic care management company Lark; and Raydiant Oximetry, which is developing a fetal emergency monitor.
“This is just the beginning. We see the momentum and we are very excited about it, but there is still a lot to do.”
While BlueSky Ventures has not yet supported startups established in the Pacific Northwest, several of its companies are hitting the region through their customer base or regional presence. The fund invests primarily in seed and Series A rounds.
Learn more in the interview with Alegria below, edited for clarity and brevity.
GeekWire: How did SteelSky Ventures get started and how did you get involved?
Buffy Alegria: I’ve joined a few different angel groups, including Pipeline Angels (which supports female founders). There I met my business partner Maria Velissaris. We invested in similar deals together and noticed that we both had an affinity for the women’s health space, and also noticed that there was a huge funding gap. There was kind of a cliff of funding when it came to raising later seed or series A rounds, because the industry is quite new, but also traditional VCs invest in people who look and resemble them, and have problems that with which they can identify.
We decided that if we could fundraise and write bigger checks, we could occupy board seats and board observer seats and really make more of an impact, and help businesses scale and reach the next level of funding.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
We eventually moved forward and have our first close in September 2020 with our first round of investors. We had the idea that before COVID we wanted to invest in different delivery models of healthcare and digital health, but then COVID really kind of cemented our position and forced the adoption of those digital health solutions. COVID has accelerated the growth of digital healthcare and has also really highlighted the disparities in our healthcare system when it comes to access and care for women and disadvantaged populations.
Are you looking for female founders?
We believe that if companies innovate in women’s healthcare, they must have female C-suite representation and their board of directors, but it is not a requirement that they be a female founder for us.
What do you think has sparked the interest of your partners and investors?
We have a very cohesive expertise and network connections. We pay a lot of attention to relationships with payers and providers to really understand what the gaps in their portfolios are and what they want to see, but we also have the perspective of what women need, what women want and what isn’t there and what types of business models could do well. We’re really trying not to spin [companies] completely gone, we make sure to redirect them if it doesn’t suit us.
Can you give an example of the type of company you invest in?
Cayaba Care is one company. It provides home care for mothers. They have a hybrid care model that is mainly delivered to those vulnerable populations that have been underserved in the past and have barriers to accessing care. This population usually gains access to their prenatal care by going to the emergency department. The company deploys community clinics that can come home.
How are your businesses involved in the Pacific Northwest?
Many of our companies already have a presence in the Pacific Northwest. One of the companies we first invested in is Twenty Eight Health. The surgeries are Medicaid-enabled. They offer virtual telemedicine visits to women trying to obtain birth control and other health conditions for women, then deliver them to their door. They can serve all populations, but they serve what we call birth control deserts. The company is now in nearly 50 states.
Another company is ConcertoCare [which offers care to seniors in their home, taking the burden off of caregivers]† They are setting up a complex aged care and hospice program in Washington state. Many of our companies work here.
What do you see in the future for SteelSky Ventures?
We’ll probably invest in about 25 original companies from this fund, and then we’ll set aside a portion for follow-up investments in those companies when they raise their next round. This is just the beginning. We see the momentum and we are very excited about it, but there is still a lot to do.
We’ll try to probably raise a $100 million fund later this year and move forward in this amazing space because we see so much potential and so many ways we’ve already been able to impact women’s health. Collectively, our portfolio companies have already provided more than 44 million people with access to essential healthcare.
This post This female-led VC firm aims to address ‘huge gap’ in funding for women’s health startups
was original published at “https://www.geekwire.com/2022/this-women-led-vc-firm-wants-to-address-a-huge-gap-in-funding-for-womens-health-startups/”