BCBS of Massachusetts launches health equity business incubator

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts launched a new program that will provide financial, strategic and mentorship support to startup founders of color focused on creating equitable healthcare services and solutions. 

Startups participating in the Health Equity Business Accelerator program, announced Tuesday, will receive a $150,000 investment and nine months of programming to help accelerate growth and foster innovation.

"This is not a philanthropic act; it's a good investment and business decision," said Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO at BCBS of Massachusetts, in a statement. "By investing in these diverse start-ups, we're able to help support the growth of businesses that are centering equity in their work and making advances in technology and services that will lead to improved health outcomes." 

The program is being piloted with a small cohort of companies that were nominated by the broader healthcare and venture capital communities. The companies include Bloomer Tech, MedHaul, Quality Interactions, SoHookd and TQIntelligence.

The companies were selected based on their mission to create more equitable healthcare services. 

Bloomer Tech focuses on women's global health issues; MedHaul provides a cloud-based management platform for nonemergency patient transportation; Quality Interactions focuses on improving patient outcomes through cultural competency; SoHookd offers a digital wellness platform with rewards, events and challenges for health plans and employers; and TQIntelligence utilizes diagnostic tools, AI and voice recognition to help therapists make accurate diagnoses faster.

"Our goal is to help incubate new ideas that can advance health care and better serve consumers, including our members," said Michele Courton Brown, Blue Cross' vice president of business development and managing director of Zaffre Investments, in a statement.

In 2020, less than 3% of venture capital funding went to companies with Black or Latinx founders. Brown said the accelerator program reinforces Blue Cross’s "commitment to addressing health inequities and racial justice.”

In November, BCBS of Massachusetts announced an initiative to promote health justice and eliminate barriers that lead to health inequities. BCBS pledged to provide $10.6 million in direct financial contributions and $5.5 million in pro bono and in-kind support to nonprofits working to address food, environmental and racial justice in Massachusetts communities. 

The focus on health justice strategy is part of Blue Cross' corporate citizenship efforts announced earlier this year to help Massachusetts residents lead healthy lives and ensure a more equitable community.

Blue Cross said in the statement it will learn from the pilot Health Equity Business Accelerator cohort and then explore ways to advance and expand the program moving forward.

The programming will be delivered in conjunction with partners like The Capital Network and Healthbox, which will serve as a business adviser to the cohort companies. As part of the Health Equity Business Accelerator program, Healthbox will sponsor two “Pitch Day” events to connect participating startups with potential customers and investors. Advisers will also assist the startups in gaining exposure, raising awareness of their mission and creating long-term promotion strategies.

"Having Blue Cross as a strategic partner not only provides capital, but also thought partnership and broader access within the healthcare ecosystem,” said B.J. Wiley Williams, founder and CEO of SoHookd, in a statement. “This opportunity will allow SoHookd to amplify our mission of making wellness more accessible and affordable, so that we can play our part in bringing wellness to all."