Business partners Tuoyo Louis, Jason Robart, and Pete Sally launched a health tech investment fund under the corporate umbrella of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts eight years ago. Now, they’re doing something similar on their own, without a big organization to fall back on. Turns out, they didn’t need a safety net.
They just closed investments to their first fund, raised under the auspices of their independent firm, Seae Ventures (pronounced see-ah), with $107 million from more than 30 investors. The five-person operation also includes partner Arianne Kidder, Seae’s chief financial officer, and Leah O’Donnell, head of partnerships and corporate development. O’Donnell also worked at Zaffre Investments, the Blue Cross Blue Shield subsidiary, while Kidder worked with Zaffre as an auditor at Ernst & Young.
“We’ve been working together for so long, it’s really a well-oiled machine,” Robart said.
The cofounders — who held early meetings in the basement of the Boston Public Library — launched Seae in 2019 after leaving Zaffre, and spent the past two-plus years looking for investors.
Unlike some venture funds, they also started committing the money they’ve raised to startups, totaling 17 so far, before the first fund closed. They have already invested about $55 million, or about half of the money in their fund. Most of Seae’s equity investments are from $1 million to $5 million. The recipients range from a platform to help women of color find culturally sensitive healthcare providers, to a company that reroutes non-emergency 911 calls to a telehealth provider, to a business that provides virtual cardiac rehabilitation.
The Seae fund focuses on startups led by women and entrepreneurs of color, with an overarching goal of remedying healthcare disparities while proving that addressing a social good can also be a smart investment approach.
“We are really in the business of saving lives [and] bridging the digital divide between marginalized communities,” Louis said.
A global pandemic can be a tough time to start just about any business. But the Seae Ventures partners said they benefited from the newfound interest in telehealth and other digital health services. The reckoning after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 also made it easier to attract investors interested in racial inequities.
“There’s no doubt that the social reckoning that we’ve seen over the last couple of years has raised awareness and to some extent raised some interest in what we’re doing,” Robart said.
For now, the five-person venture firm is operating virtually. The partners plan to open an office in Boston soon, and possibly another one on the West Coast.
They say they have found more freedom to make investment decisions now that they are out on their own.
“One of the challenges of being within a corporate venture group,” Robart said, “is you have to think about a variety of stakeholders and all their needs [when] making investment decisions.”