Breaking Barriers In Healthcare Venture Capital

Trailblazers in Venture Capital

Venture capital still has a long way to go in terms of diversity and equal representation for both investors and founders. Recently, I met two founders trailblazing the reality for future women investors and founders, and wanted to share with you their stories.

Black Opal Ventures is a venture capital firm founded by two MIT graduates, general partners Tara Bishop and Eileen Tanghal. This month, they announced their inaugural fund investing in health-tech. They chose the intersection of health and technology because, despite healthcare spending increasing rapidly every year, problems with accessibility and affordability remain.

In a VC diversity study conducted by VentureBeat, of over 172 general partners surveyed, only 59 (34%) identified as women. Additionally, 32 funds out of the 141 surveyed consisted of only male general partners.

Together, Tara and Eileen have not only broken into the traditionally male-dominated world of venture capital, but they are also actively fostering diversity within their firm and portfolio.

Journey to Venture Capital

Tara and Eileen’s entry into the world of venture capital was rather unconventional. Despite pursuing STEM degrees, they embarked on different paths before deciding that they wanted to start Black Opal Ventures. Tara has a medical background (MD and MPH) and extensive expertise in health policy, whereas Eileen comes from decades of investing – both in financial venture capital and corporate venture arms as well as for In-Q-Tel, which is an investment arm of the US Government.

Black Opal Ventures was founded in 2021 to target the intersection of healthcare and technology, seeking to invest in companies that possess distinctive tech capabilities, health-oriented market value propositions, and high potential for positive impact in healthcare.

Together, Tara and Eileen have about two decades of healthcare tech experience each. They also have medical expertise with extensive experience in health services, digital health, and start-ups. Combined, they also bring 20 years of experience investing in more than forty early-to-late-stage companies globally.

Tara’s journey through academic medicine, health policy, and executive roles in healthcare startups, and Eileen’s trajectory from deep tech investing in the UK and Europe to involvement with high-growth startups, melded seamlessly into their shared vision of Black Opal Ventures.

Investing in AI-enabled wearables

I asked Tara and Eileen to talk about an exemplary investment from Black Opal’s first fund. Empatica came out of the MIT Media Lab, led by Matteo Lai and Rosalind Picard. Rosalind is the founder and director of the MIT Media Lab’s Affective Computing Research Group. Empatica focuses on developing wearable technology that measures elusive health indicators, including stress, pain, and neurological conditions. Their wearable device, validated by the FDA for seizure detection, not only aids in clinical trials but also empowers patients by offering a remote monitoring platform for multiple conditions. This investment not only embodies the ethos of Black Opal Ventures but also underscores their commitment to disruptive and life-altering innovations.

Fostering Diversity within Black Opal Ventures and the Portfolio

In the male-dominated world of venture capital, Tara and Eileen encourage diversity within Black Opal Ventures. Through the Black Opal Fellows Program, they nurture aspiring investor talent and invite more women to participate as limited partners, providing opportunities to learn about how to leverage venture capital as an asset class for wealth creation. Moreover, in their portfolio companies, Black Opal Ventures ensures inclusivity by requiring the implementation of anti-harassment policies, diversity metric tracking, and a concerted effort to source diverse talent for executive positions and boards. They advocate for bias-free product development, ensuring equitable representation and product testing.

Tara and Eileen are adamant about providing more than just funding to their portfolio companies. They actively assist in sourcing diverse talent, emphasizing that a diverse team is essential for a robust and innovative approach, ensuring the products developed are representative of a wider demographic.

Empowering the Future of Healthcare

The duo at Black Opal Ventures envisions a future where technology, health, and innovation seamlessly intertwine, transforming the healthcare landscape. They emphasize the importance of Edge computing, improved connectivity, and advancements in artificial intelligence, seeing them as the pillars that will catalyze the next wave of healthcare evolution. They’re also keen on the appropriate development and application of AI in the healthcare domain, understanding the ethical considerations and the potential for bias in AI technology.

Their approach doesn’t stop at mere investments but emphasizes the need for technology to revolutionize healthcare practices, leading to unbiased products that serve diverse populations. They believe that investing in the intersection of healthcare and technology will not only enhance patient care but also make healthcare more accessible and inclusive, catering to all needs and demographics.

Looking Ahead

Tara and Eileen’s story at Black Opal Ventures is a testament to how diversity and innovation can disrupt traditional landscapes. Their pioneering strategies and investments herald a new era for healthcare venture capitalism, where diversity and technology converge to create a more inclusive and impactful future.

I was captivated by how articulate, passionate, and driven both general partners were. I’m excited for what Black Opal will achieve when it comes to an AI-driven future of healthcare.

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