A new company founded by ex-Boeing executives aims to boost healthcare startups with diverse teams – GeekWire

Pier 70 Ventures managing partners, clockwise from top left: R. Miller Adams, Robert (Bob) Balk, Shaun Hawkins and Preetha Ram. (Pier 70 Ventures Photos)

Pier 70 Venturesa new healthcare-focused venture firm led by managing partners with deeper expertise in nurturing startups, emphasizes funding diverse teams and women entrepreneurs.

“We are a different kind of foundation and a different kind of team,” said R. Miller Adamsa former Boeing executive and managing partner at Pier 70.

The firm, which has a presence in Seattle and three other US locations, launched in 2020 and aims to raise $100 million for its first fund.

“We want to deliver financial returns and we want to have an impact,” the managing partner said Shaun Hawkins, who previously led Eli Lilly’s venture capital arm. “What are the ways to reduce economic inequality gaps? The best way to do that is through entrepreneurship.”

The holes are big. Only about 1% of startup funding went to Black founders in 2020, and US companies founded entirely by women raised only 2.4% of the total invested capital in 2021.

Pier 70 sees diversity as a business asset. Adams points to data shows that private equity firms with diverse management outperform other firms on average, despite only controlling a small fraction of the investment industry’s total assets.

Adams is a former vice president of global R&D strategy at Boeing. The firm’s other managing partners are Robert (Bob) Balk, an athlete who has won medals for the United States at the Paralympic Games and has an interest in wearable devices and adaptive technologies; and chemist Preetha Ramfounder and CEO of a social learning startup acquired by Brainly in 2016.

The team’s mix of aerospace and life sciences is a blessing, Adams said. At Boeing, Adams formed an internal business incubator and launched the company’s first venture capital investment program. Balk later ran this program and built it into a $250 million portfolio.

At Boeing, Adams and Balk were immersed in remote sensing and communications technology used to monitor pilots, soldiers or the space station. “There is a natural overlap” with health technology such as fitness tracking and telehealth, Hawkins said.

Pier 70’s investment areas include digital health, med-tech, diagnostics and health services.

In May 2021, Pier 70 launched its first fund, called INpact — where “innovation meets impact,” Hawkins said. Pharma giant Eli Lilly is among the fund’s investors.

First investments

Connecting startups with the team’s broad network in healthcare and biopharma and connecting them with corporate investors is a big focus of the firm, Adams said.

Pier 70 paired with Johnson & Johnson’s venture arm to lead a $10 million Series B round in its first investment, Silicon Valley-based DocSperaa surgical coordination platform to help manage patient care.

Pier 70 also invested in bow, a Birmingham, Ala.-based company that helps biopharma companies and research organizations increase diversity in clinical trials. Pier 70 is approaching a third investment, Adams said.

Both Docspera and Acclinate have black founders and diverse management teams.

Such diverse teams are not a prerequisite or a requirement for Pier 70. “We start with the technology and the opportunity,” Hawkins said. “We don’t say sacrifice quality. This is definitely a business-driven initiative.”

But creating impact by investing in traditionally underrepresented entrepreneurs will be a “material and probably overweight part of our portfolio,” said Hawkins, who was chief diversity officer at Eli Lilly before heading its venture capital division.

Aim for effect

The firm invests in companies based throughout the United States, although it has an eye for opportunities in the middle of the country and for startups that other firms may overlook. Hawkins is based in Indianapolis, and that’s “an advantage,” said Adams, who also previously was an executive at Integral Systems, a public satellite company that was acquired in 2011.

Pier 70 also has a presence in San Francisco and New York.

The broader economic slowdown has made raising funds challenging, Adams said. But he said it’s also an opportune time to invest in venture capital because of the lowering of company valuations.

Ultimately, Pier 70 aims to invest in 16-to-22 early-stage companies through Series B. Initial investments will range from $250,000 to $2 million, with a follow-on amount of $2 million to $5 million.

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