New Seattle company founded by ex-Boeing executives aims to boost healthcare startups with diverse teams

New Seattle company founded by ex-Boeing executives aims to boost healthcare startups with diverse teams

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

A new healthcare-focused venture capital firm, Pier 70 Ventures, is growing on Seattle’s waterfront. Its managing partners have deep expertise in fostering startups and focus on funding diverse teams and women entrepreneurs.

“We’re a different kind of fund and a different kind of team,” said R. Miller Adams, former Boeing executive and managing partner of Pier 70.

The company launched in 2020 and aims to raise $100 million for its first fund.

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

The gaps are vast. Only about 1% of startup funding went to black founders in 2020, and US companies founded solely by women raised just 2.4% of total invested capital in 2021.

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

Adams is a former vice president of global R&D strategy at Boeing. The company’s other managing partners are Robert (Bob) Balk, an athlete who won medals for the United States 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, Adams said. At Boeing, Adams formed an internal business incubator and launched the company’s first venture capital investment program. Balk then led this program, integrating it into a $250 million portfolio.

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

Pier 70’s investment areas include digital health, medical technology, diagnostics and health services.

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

First investments

Connecting startups to the team’s extensive network in healthcare and biopharma and connecting them with corporate investors is a major focus of the company, Adams said.

Pier 70 has partnered with the venture capital arm of Johnson & Johnson to lead a $10 million Series B funding round in its first investment, Silicon Valley-based DocSpera, a coordination platform surgery to help manage patient care.

Pier 70 has also invested in Acclinate, a Birmingham, Alabama-based company that helps biopharmaceutical companies and research organizations increase clinical trial diversity. Pier 70 is closing in on a third investment, Adams said.

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

Such diverse teams are not a prerequisite or requirement for Pier 70. “We start with technology and opportunity,” Hawkins said. “We’re not saying you have to sacrifice quality. This is absolutely a business-driven initiative.

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

Aim for impact

The firm invests in companies based anywhere in the United States, though it keeps an eye out for opportunities in the middle of the country and startups that other companies might overlook. Hawkins is based in Indianapolis, and that’s “an advantage,” said Adams, who also previously served as an executive at Integral Systems, a public satellite company acquired in 2011.

Pier 70 is also present in San Francisco and New York.

The broader economic downturn has made fundraising difficult, Adams said. But he said it was also an opportune time to invest in venture capital due to falling corporate valuations.

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

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