A new firm founded by ex-Boeing leaders aims to boost health startups with diverse teams

Pier 70 Ventures, a new healthcare-focused venture firm led by managing partners with deeper expertise in nurturing startups, is placing an emphasis on funding diverse teams and women entrepreneurs.

“We are a different sort of fund and a different sort of team,” said R. Miller Adams, a former Boeing exec and managing partner at Pier 70.

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

“We are going to deliver financial returns and we want to have impact,” said managing partner 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 gaps are vast. Only about 1% of startup funding went to Black founders in 2020, and U.S. companies founded solely by women raised just 2.4% of total capital invested in 2021.

Pier 70 sees diversity as a business asset. Adams points to data showing that private equity firms with diverse leadership on average outperform other firms, despite controlling only a tiny fraction of total investment industry 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 U.S. at the Paralympic Games and has an interest in wearable devices and adaptive technologies; and chemist Preetha Ram, founder and CEO of a social learning startup acquired by Brainly in 2016.

The team’s mix of aerospace and bioscience experience is a boon, said Adams. At Boeing, Adams formed an internal business incubator and launched the company’s first venture capital investment program. Balk later ran that program, building it into a $250 million portfolio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,” said Hawkins. “We’re not saying sacrifice quality. This is absolutely a business-driven initiative.”

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

The firm invests in companies based anywhere in the U.S., though it has its eye on opportunities in the middle of the country and on startups other firms might overlook. Hawkins is based in Indianapolis, and that is “an advantage,” said Adams, who was also previously 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 downturn has made raising funds challenging, said Adams. But he said it is 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 companies at the early stage 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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