Reckoning with the World’s Health Challenges

Cofounder and CFO Donna Lecky reveals how HealthVenture champions healthcare and technology solutions around the globe

Donna Lecky knows how to transform ideas into products with real-world impact. Her full-service investment firm, HealthVenture, is revolutionizing the digital health space by cultivating early and seed-stage start-ups from the ground up. “Our global mission is to meaningfully impact healthcare by launching innovative solutions. We are a full-service firm dedicated to solving healthcare needs in all areas where digital healthcare can play a major role,” Lecky says.

HealthVenture originated at Yale University’s School of Management. Lecky and her cofounder and CEO Sri Muthu, previously the head of technology for innovations at Wells Fargo, met as students in the MBA for Executives program. With a concentration on healthcare, they teamed up for assignments, and in 2016, they together developed Muthu’s capstone thesis—the genesis of HealthVenture.

“Our thesis is that digital health solutions substantially improve personal health and well-being,” Lecky explains. “We know that end-to-end support for academic medical entrepreneurs accelerates the creation of impactful solutions. So, we cultivate an elite cohort of healthcare entrepreneurs to build scalable digital health solutions for the global market.”

Donna Lecky, HealthVenture Corporation; HealthVenture Capital

Lecky and Muthu further developed and formally launched HealthVenture in the fall of 2016, where Lecky serves as the CFO, in addition to her role as managing director for HealthVenture Capital. Their individual expertise formed a complementary partnership between finance, treasury, tax, law, operations, and IT. Lecky and Muthu leverage their skill set gleaned from their combined fifty-plus-year careers.

Prior to HealthVenture, Lecky led the tax, tax counsel, benefits and treasury functions at Omnicare, a subsidiary of CVS Corporation, and HealthSouth Corporation. In her previous twenty years, she worked in various tax leadership roles while servicing healthcare and financial services clients at KPMG, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, a juris doctor from Howard University School of Law, and completed the Emory University School of Law LLM taxation program. To further hone her skills in venture capital, Lecky also completed the University of Oxford’s Private Equity Programme in 2016.

Today, the Connecticut-based company comprises four strategic entities: the incubator, HealthVenture Labs, which is an intensive, 120-day incubator program working with start-ups to develop, build, and launch a minimally viable digital health solution. The consulting firm, HealthVenture Advisory, which accelerates innovation goals at mid- to large-sized healthcare companies. The investment arm, HealthVenture Capital, is a venture fund that invests in disruptive, scalable, and sustainable global technologies.And the Tulasi Foundation supports girls and women to innovate and deploy healthcare solutions.

Supported by the Yale community, HealthVenture localizes the search for clients with global potential. That mind-set manifests in pitch competitions, which are held 3–4 times per year in strategic countries. HealthVenture also holds boot camps in communities covering design, financials, operational structure, staffing, and pitching. These events, in addition to fundraisers, exemplify the firm’s grassroots commitment to community by supporting and developing entrepreneurial skills for clients, prospects, students, and non-clients alike. HealthVenture also works with local hospitals and universities to directly consult on their innovation practices and is launching a healthcare innovation center called Health-Haven Hub with local and global innovation groups.

“Credibility and reputation are key to our business, and since our inception we have developed several strategic alliances. We are partnering in varying capacities with organizations in the US and in Asia,” Lecky says. Some of those alliances include the Yale School of Management, Yale Center Beijing, The Elm City Innovation Collaborative, CT Innovations, the Global Network for Advanced Management—which consists of thirty-one elite business schools around the world—and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, just to name a few.

To date, HealthVenture has launched pitch competitions in New Haven, Connecticut, and in Beijing, and has sponsored a number of related events. More than eighty teams have applied, thirty were invited to pitch, seven teams are being supported for prototyping, and the company is investing in three of the teams—two from the United States and one from Asia.

“Our competitions allow HealthVenture to identify and vet incredible teams, showcase innovators from around the world, and enable us to connect digital health start-ups and potential investors,” Lecky says. “We’ve designed a highly selective intake process based on stringent due diligence practices. And while you want to support all prospects, there has to be a return on investment. We evaluate the business model, the financials, the composition of the team, any significant stops and starts, and whether there is clarity around what the start-up is trying to accomplish. Our clients are disruptors. We tune in to the team’s communication style—both verbal and nonverbal. Are they passionate because they have a great idea that they want to get off the ground, or are they passionate because they already have traction?”

HealthVenture’s due diligence of a start-up is typically a 6–8-week process. It reviews the start-ups analysis and considers how the innovation will translate internationally. “If we’re not sure about the financials or if the valuation is difficult to discern—which can often be the case for the stage of start-ups with which we work—we’ll go to our toolbox,” Lecky says. “We will leverage our relationships with multi-national companies to gauge interest. Finally, we run the numbers to ensure that it all makes sense for HealthVenture’s investors and the start-up.”

HealthVenture’s clients, such as MindNest Health, are disruptors. MindNest was founded by Dr. David Grodberg, medical director of the Yale Child Study Center Clinic in New Haven. His innovation is a digital health platform that trains parents to implement the same evidence-based interventions that are used by experts at academic centers.

“The innovation was designed to help parents navigate in a world where children have a diagnosable medical health condition,” Lecky says. “There are few resources that support families in this way, all while reducing the stigma that unfortunately is correlated to challenges surrounding mental health. This is a solution that has substantial global implications. Think of how many families our client will touch and help globally—that’s bigger than HealthVenture. It’s impactful and significant, and we are proud to be associated with Dr. Grodberg.”

This fall, with the support of the India Institute of Management, HealthVenture will host its inaugural pitch competition in Bangalore, India, on the heels of its annual competition in Beijing. Future pitch competitions are scheduled for Mexico in 2019 and in Africa in 2020, as supported by its alliance with EGADE Business School Tecnologico de Monterrey and the University of Cape Town, respectively. The aim is to boost investor, partner, and start-up interest around the world.

“It’s important to work with multi-national companies that are based in the US that are interested in supporting early- and seed-stage innovators,” Lecky says. “HealthVenture is uniquely positioned to be the conduit that connects these institutional investors who have navigated these waters and who are interested in supporting firms that have global solutions.”

According to Lecky, 2017 was the most active year for digital health funding with more than  $11 billion across a record-setting 794 deals in the United States. Given global market opportunities, increasing demand for innovation, and the wave of high-quality entrepreneurs, the expectation is that there will be significant capital in 2018. Other countries have ramped up their investing in digital health markets as well. Lecky says that there is heightened global recognition of the importance of digital healthcare. While there are several healthcare solutions, there is an abundance of healthcare waste around the world. Digital health solutions support and help to streamline the system, she says. HealthVenture aims to grow its international presence in the next few years to uncover these innovators, their innovations, and solutions.

“I am thrilled to be a part of this evolution. Growing HealthVenture has stretched me in many different ways,” Lecky says with a laugh. “I’ve learned to be a stronger leader and a more fluid leader. Each day I think, ‘What mark are you leaving on the world, and do your profits support an important purpose?’ Recognizing the global impact, HealthVenture allows me to answer those questions in more meaningful ways.”

Photo by Kelsey Marie Crawford