- Define Ventures, an early-stage healthcare VC firm, raised $200 million for its second fund on Tuesday.
- The firm, which has backed startups like Folx and MedArrive, will continue to support early-stage digital health companies with its newest fund.
- Founder Lynne Chou O'Keefe told Business Insider she was eager to invest in companies that were authentic, like Folx, meaning their founders are part of the communities the companies hope to serve.
- Chou O'Keefe is also eager to back young companies like Lightship, a startup that runs decentralized clinical trials, that create products and technology for end-to-end processes.
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One of digital health's only early-stage venture firms just raised a fresh tranche of funding to help the youngest startups get off the ground during a pivotal year for the industry.
Define Ventures raised $200 million for its latest fund, the second since it was founded by ex-Kleiner Perkins investor Lynne Chou O'Keefe in 2018.
The early-stage firm will continue making new investments in companies in the incubation stage all the way up to Series B, Chou O'Keefe told Business Insider.
The new fund's timing, coming after a record-setting year of private investment in healthcare startups, was purely coincidental and on track with the typical two-year fundraising cycle at most firms, she said.
"We've had well-timed investment cycles," Chou O'Keefe said "But the activity has increased, overall, post-COVID."
Read more: A former Kleiner Perkins investor is staking out the future of digital health. Here's why she just made an early bet on an in-home care startup founded by a former Uber exec.
Define wants to back early startups rebuilding the healthcare system with patients at its center
Chou O'Keefe said she anticipated keeping up the pace in 2021, writing more checks to companies she believes are reimagining what it's like to be a healthcare patient in the United States. In Define's first $87 million fund, she backed a wide range of digital health startups, including LGBTQIA+ primary care startup Folx and in-home care provider MedArrive.
She said to expect more of the same coming from Fund II, with consumer-focused healthcare startups taking center stage over other companies that want to sell services to hospitals or insurance companies. The firm's thesis formed around backing companies that use technology to reimagine the patient's experience of healthcare was successful enough in Fund I to earn a vote of confidence in Fund II, Chou O'Keefe said.
"We haven't seen our strategy shifted, it's more that the time to market has really shortened," Chou O'Keefe said.
In practice, the consumerization of healthcare Chou O'Keefe wants to back varies widely. It can look like Dawnlight, a startup that makes remote monitoring products that track fall risks, among other specialties. It can also look like Lightship, a startup that runs decentralized clinical trials that are easy for participants and researchers to use. All these startups, however, share the unique challenge of marketing to regular patients instead of working directly with hospitals, doctors, or insurance companies.
"The make-or-break of digital health is the commercial side of the business," Chou O'Keefe said. "That's something that is so critical, and when I started Define the lack of sector-focused early-stage players was a window of opportunity for us because these entrepreneurs need help to build. It takes a village to change healthcare for all of us."
Chou O'Keefe is betting that founders want to build for their own communities
Chou O'Keefe will write checks from $1 million all the way up to $15 million, depending on the company's needs. As a former Livongo board member and current Hims board member, she said Define can lead funding rounds that require the active board support, but ultimately leaves that decision to the entrepreneur.
"Entrepreneurs recognize the oil from water here," Chou O'Keefe said. "There are people that can partner with you and build these companies with you, but the lessons learned from tech don't apply in the healthcare space."
Her investment strategy is in part a bet on authentic founders, she said.
She is particularly interested in supporting the entrepreneurs that are building solutions for their own communities because that perspective can be a differentiating factor that contributes to a company's success.
Of Define's 12 portfolio companies, four are founded and led by women, one of the many communities Chou O'Keefe feels has been left out of high-level healthcare business decisions in the past.
"It's important we have women founders and CEOs in this space because we make the decisions, and it's really the right business decision as well," Chou O'Keefe said.
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