Tell us about your role at Ascension Ventures.
I’ve been with Ascension Ventures for more than 16 years. We are a strategic investment venture fund with more than $800 million in capital under management. We invest on behalf of 13 nonprofit healthcare systems, and the general partner is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ascension. We identify innovations that are advancing healthcare in a meaningful way and introduce them to our health system partners. Our role is to be the risk taker that brings curated external ideas to our own healthcare networks. Of course, financial returns are a priority, but we also bring a strategic voice to the boardroom, a front row seat to innovative business models for our partners, and we offer an opportunity for health systems to collaborate on addressing challenges.
What is important to Ascension Ventures? What do you look for when making investment decisions?
We invest in three verticals: healthcare services, healthcare IT and medical devices. We are investing in a broad range of businesses—from startups run by a single entrepreneur to growth equity deals. We want to work with companies that offer a solution that benefits health system customers, that solves a pressing problem, or elevates care to a new level. The most important dimension for an investment is the quality of the management team and their ability to execute. Our investment criteria are traditional, but we do require each potential investment company to complete a questionnaire that we review with a theologian to ensure the company is aligned with our ethical directives and core values.
What are the hot trends in healthcare innovation that you have your eyes on?
Technology is certainly important: blockchain, AI, 3D printing, robotics, IoT. Rather than get excited about the shiny object, we aim to solve a problem for clinicians, payers or patients and their families and pay special attention to workflow.
Are there any recent portfolio companies that you’re excited about?
VisitPay helps health systems solve consumer payment challenges. Patients are largely dissatisfied with billing and health systems are struggling to manage the increasing volume of patient payments. VisitPay helps improve customer satisfaction by allowing patients to manage their payments, decreases the cost of collections and enables hospitals to increase yield on patient balances dramatically.
I’m also excited about Reputation.com. They develop enterprise software platforms that help marketing departments manage consumer reviews. The platform aggregates data from social media, review sites like Google, and other internal systems, and serves it up in a dashboard that allows an organization to understand its online “reputation.” Health systems can manage and respond, in real time, to what consumers are saying and remedy problems as soon as possible.
How can healthcare organizations continually evolve to stay relevant to customers?
Health systems are changing their thinking about customers. They are not just patients; they are consumers. Just as retailers build personal relationships with individuals, health systems must get to know consumers—before they are sick.
No matter how good we are at caring for the consumer in an office or hospital, we can treat them in a more personalized way when we know their life situation. Social determinants of health play an important role in health and wellness. Does the individual have transportation problems, a unique situation in the home, genetic factors at play? By taking advantage of more data streams that provide insights into the whole person, we can do a better job of keeping people healthy.
What do you like most about your job?
My colleagues at Ascension Ventures and I have exciting jobs serving as the bridge between two worlds. We interact with entrepreneurs and help them be successful. We work with the clinicians who are providing the empathetic care to all populations, with a focus on the poor and vulnerable. We are trying to help our hospital administrators tackle the dual transformation of optimizing their current businesses while positioning themselves for future success. Our job is to help all of our ecosystem partners (health systems and entrepreneurs) be successful, and we have a good track record of doing that.
Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
As a native New Yorker, I perfected the skill of finding amazing food at a reasonable price. It has become part of my DNA. I also enjoy sports, such as basketball and tennis, where I can compete and release stress. Although I live in St. Louis now, I still root for the New York sports teams, like the Jets, Knicks and Mets. St. Louis is an under-appreciated city that should be on the radar screen for entrepreneurs due to the talent, central location, abundance of healthcare and reasonable cost of living.