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Welcoming Our Newest Principal: Stephanie Sutsko

As Q4 rolled right into Q1, and the pace of growth and hiring in Digital Health showed exactly zero signs of slowing, we knew it was time to grow our team again. This is something we’ve done deliberately over the years in response to client demand, and that we take very seriously, seeing as we’re in the business of hiring. As we searched for a senior leader to join our team, we couldn’t have been more thrilled to find Stephanie Sutsko. In her, we found someone with extensive experience leading executive searches for some of the most recognized companies in the world, coupled with a passion for healthcare. We thought she’d be a great addition to our team, and she’s already making a huge impact. She and I traded a few questions in the hopes you can get to know her the way we have. I’d encourage you to reach out and get acquainted.

Tim: You’ve been in search for a while now. What do you love about it?

Stephanie: I love that executive search allows me to be a true consultant and strategic advisor to my clients while having a real impact on both businesses and individuals.  In search, we need to be attuned to our clients’ institutional culture and leadership dynamics, constantly informed about their evolving external landscape, and have a deep understanding of the vision they are trying to achieve. Being able to match these insights with the right talent that will allow the companies to reach and potentially exceed their goals is what motivates me to do my job every day, and being able to attract those leaders and develop them as candidates is deeply fulfilling.

Tim: What’s your personal draw to healthcare?

Stephanie: I started in healthcare right out of college. I spent about a decade in clinical research for the pharmaceutical industry prior to shifting my focus to Executive Search, and the space has always remained near and dear to my heart. At my previous firm, we touched on healthcare, but were generalists in nature, albeit with a technology focus. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for technology and healthcare to come together for the sake of patient care has never been more apparent. It was the right time for me to focus back on an industry that I am extremely passionate about and where there is so much opportunity.

What are you most excited about for 2021?

Stephanie: From a professional standpoint, I am excited to become an integral member of the Aequitas team and to deliver great service to our clients. The overarching mission of our clients is so important; healthcare needs to evolve and our firm can help the companies at the forefront of that evolution achieve the growth they need to succeed through leadership.

Personally, I am excited to see friends and family again. My son was born right before the pandemic began, so many of the people I’m close with have never met him in person. 2020 was tough on all of us, and now that the vaccine rollout is happening, I am eagerly looking forward to some return to normalcy.

Tim: Your bio mentions you are a roller coaster enthusiast. Can you explain? 

Stephanie: Yes I am! Roller coasters are a thing for me. I have tried to go to an amusement park every year for my birthday since I was 18, with the exception of the two years I have been pregnant and last year because of COVID. My five-year old daughter loves every ride she is tall enough to get on, so I have a feeling she’ll be joining me soon. Luckily, Six Flags is open again so I’ll be back at it this year for sure.

The First Annual Digital Health Executive Compensation Study

By: Tim Gordon

We are extremely excited to share the results of our First Annual Digital Health Executive Compensation Study. If I had a dollar for every time we had a conversation with a client or candidate about market compensation for a role, I might already be retired. It’s also the most common call I get from executives looking for guidance in their searches, even when the opportunities aren’t with our clients. Towards the end of 2020, we launched a survey of the market across all functions, focused on executives at the Director level and above. We didn’t just want to get better data to answer the basic questions. We were also curious about the other variables that affect compensation – gender, race, negotiating, etc. We wanted to know how much of a driver compensation is for executives to make career moves. We wanted to understand the impact that Covid had on executive compensation last year. And we wanted to know, at baseline, how people felt. It’s fascinating to see how often (or not) sentiment lines up with reality.

As it turns out, administering the survey was the easy part! After closing the polls in late January, we’ve spent a lot of time pouring over the data, distilling these insights, and making them digestible for you. For our inaugural run, we’re quite pleased with the participation we received, and are now even more excited to run this again in Q4 of this year. Until then, we hope this information helps you make informed career choices, hiring decisions, and plan for the year. 2021 is already shaping up to be the most competitive year for talent in our industry in a decade, so let this be one tool in your kit as you build companies that change the world.

If you don’t see yourself represented in this study, please reach out to me personally, or to compstudy@aqpsearch.com

An Interview With the Co-Founders of Seae Ventures

Interview by Polina Hanin, Principal, Aequitas Partners

In 2019, Tuoyo Louis, Jason Robart and Pete Sally founded Seae Ventures, a fund dedicated to building and investing in early-stage healthcare technology and services companies primarily founded by Women and people who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Prior to starting Seae, Jason was Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Chief Strategy Officer as well as the President and CEO of Zaffre Investments, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCBSMA. He also served as the organization’s Senior Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness and Chief Human Resources Officer. Tuoyo helped found Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ adjacency growth strategy, which included acting as the Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director of Zaffre Investments. Following a successful career on Capitol Hill where he focused on the ACA and the HITECH Act, Pete joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Government Affairs group, and soon thereafter joined the founding team of Zaffre Investments.

After they each left Zaffre over a 12 month period, Pete, Tuoyo and Jason recognized that there was more to be done, and more that they could do, to move the diversity agenda forward, so they regrouped and founded Seae Ventures.

As 2020 opened up the industry’s collective consciousness of underfunded founders, together, they’re building a community of other like-minded investors and founders who push the traditional boundaries of what it means to be an entrepreneur in healthcare.

Polina: What led you to start Seae Ventures?

Tuoyo: A lot of this is born out of frustration. Over the course of a decade, we interacted with a lot of venture funds and I think a few things happened. One, I didn’t see anybody who looked like me at the Managing Partner level. I also didn’t see a lot of women at the Managing Partner level. When you don’t really see a lot of familiar faces, sometimes you question, ‘do I belong? Should I be here?’ And then as you also know, the industry invests billions annually and the majority of those dollars are invested in white, male-founded companies. So I didn’t want to continue to watch that. We don’t pretend to solve the problem, but we’re a part of the solution. And so that is really why we started this fund because we’re passionate about helping people and the rest is history.

Polina: For those not familiar with the fund’s mandate, can you share more about your thesis?

Pete: We are focused on investing primarily in women and people of color, who are developing solutions for healthcare and FinTech. Our goal is to have a meaningful impact on diversity throughout industry — founders, management teams, Boards, etc.

Polina: This past year saw a lot of conversations start around underrepresented or underfunded founders, as well as diversity in teams in general. How much of this wave is a fad / phase or is it actually a long-lasting trend?

JR: 2020 has heightened awareness for some, and for others heightened a call to action to do something. The ultimate question will be how sustained that call to action is, and does it really lead to progress that addresses some of the root causes of what we’ve seen. Clearly the number of political and business leaders who have talked passionately about the need to do something to address racial and gender inequality in the country is certainly there. And that’s great. Private equity and venture capital firms have made those same types of comments, but we haven’t quite seen the words transforming into actual action. Real progress will happen once the investment community incorporates gender and racial equity into its core business operations. To date, the focus on equality has been done off to the side of their strategic business plans. It hasn’t been an integral component of their plans going forward. This approach can lead to broader awareness of the issue, but it’s unlikely to lead to sustained progress.

Tuoyo: To be blunt, there is a little bit of fad. Folks are posting “Black Lives Matter” and so forth, but you look at the Boards, you look at executive teams, you look at the diversity across the organization and it’s just not there. We’re in the early innings here. There are times that I question how genuine organizations are.

Pete: The conversations that we had pre George Floyd included folks who told us to essentially “go pound sand” and then post George Floyd, it was “Hey, let’s talk one more time.” For example, a large publicly-traded company made a commitment to diversity, to diverse managers, to diverse entrepreneurs. And when we talked to them, they said, “Hey, we just wanted to get a statement out there. We don’t really have a strategy, we’re not sure what we’re doing.” So organizations like that, I’m going to track what they’re doing and hold their feet to the fire and check in and say, “Hey, where are you?”

Polina: What are your thoughts on the many funds that are devoting sidecar capital towards underrepresented founders, rather than weaving that funding into a holistic capital deployment strategy?

Pete: If it is something that firms believe they have to set up as a separate initiative or fund to address the issue, that tells me it is a reaction to a point-in-time event and not something that is integral to their overall investment strategy going forward. Otherwise, why would you have to do that? If diversity is how you assess value, then it should be across every investment vehicle that they have. When you set up something separate and distinct from where all of your other money is today, it makes me question how much religion have you really got?

Tuoyo: Every dollar counts. So if it’s a sidecar first, and when you burn through that, are you doubling that commitment? So while some of these large firms are dedicating small amounts of capital, it’s a start. And that’s going to go to an entrepreneur that we hope is going to make good use of that capital.

And even on the venture capital side, there’s some pressure when you’re making some of these decisions, because you have to think about folks coming before you or coming after you. What we’re doing has long-term implications, and I do think about that next wave of venture capital, that next wave of entrepreneurs. So we need to be smart about our strategies, our approach, and how we’re helping others.

Polina: What activities have you seen investors or founders take that are much more integrative?

JR: There are companies that are taking a step back and looking at it holistically. They are evaluating and addressing their own supplier diversity, the composition of their Boards and management teams, or looking at advertising and marketing and community engagement. To ultimately be successful, organizations will need to ask, how does it all tie together? It can’t be one-off initiatives. One-off initiatives will be sustained as long as there is an individual champion in that role. But as soon as that person moves on, if it’s not integrated into the fabric of how they operate as a company, it’s likely to stagnate.

Polina: For those who are just becoming aware of these issues, there are oftentimes defensive reactions like, “I have a Black man on my Board. I have a woman in my C-Suite. My company is diverse.” They’re able to put those pictures up on the website, so onlookers see some people of color. How do you guide leadership within your portfolio companies and others you’re advising to think beyond tokenism?

JR: I don’t want to pretend that we know the inner workings of every single portfolio company. But I do know that if we ask certain questions, we can help leaders think through this. For example, there’s a company that we’re looking at right now that is in the payments space and is a woman-founded company. I asked them to tell me about their current users of the platform. And they gave me an answer that was based on the number of transactions and their value. So I pressed a little bit. Now tell me the makeup of that group. And what came out of it was a realization that they were thinking about users and value from a purely transactional perspective. And what I was trying to get was an understanding of who those users are. What’s the socioeconomic, racial and gender makeup of that group to ensure that the product is serving a diverse population.

Polina: What do you look for and how do you evaluate a senior leadership team before you invest?

Tuoyo: First, we want to work with smart people. Then second, is the vision and understanding the importance of the problem that they’re tackling. For example, we just invested in a company called Hurdle. We’d known Kevin for two years and really developed a great relationship with him. When we were negotiating the deal, there was another fund in the mix, and I sent Kevin a picture of my hooded sweatshirt that said “Henry Health,” [the previous name of the company]. I said, ‘yeah, but do they have this? No, I was there from day one!’ We’re thankful for the time that we got to spend together and get to know each other and we try to spend as much time with the entrepreneurs as we can before making an investment.

JR: We want to work with people who feel really connected to what they’re doing. And who really believe that they can make a difference.

Polina: As Board members, what do you think is the mark of a great relationship between you and the CEO / Founder?

Pete: We see ourselves as an extension of the team. It’s important for us to challenge the entrepreneurs, stretch goals, test some of their assumptions. But it can also stretch into sales, helping to recruit talent. Ultimately, we want the entrepreneurs to win, so that it’s win-win for everybody. We’re pretty hands-on, available around the clock, and we’re going to grind just like they do.

JR: We also want to be a safe space for the leaders and the CEOs who can come out and say “I don’t know what I’m doing here because I’ve never done it before,” as opposed to that fund that requires CEOs and Founders to have definitive, buttoned-up answers for every question or issue. We recently had a conversation with a young CEO who had some challenges with some of his existing investors. It was painful for him but he had the trust in us, and we had the trust in him to have a very open and honest conversation based on our own experiences.

Tuoyo: For some first-time founders, there’s a level of paranoia, like am I getting screwed? So we’ve had a number of those conversations, which I appreciate, because it also lets me know that entrepreneurs trust us. We try to structure terms that are founder-friendly, because this is hard. Raising money is hard. We know it. Building products, finding clients, finding talent, competing, it’s difficult, and you really need help. And, you know, when we posted the announcement about Hurdle, I quoted Muhammad Ali – “You. Me. We.” I say that all the time. You. Me. We. That’s the only way it’s going to get done.

Polina: That brings up the notion of patience. Patience in raising capital, hitting revenue numbers, bringing in talent. All that takes time. And particularly if you are trying to be really conscientious in making right decisions. How do you work with entrepreneurs and other Board members to balance hitting goals with not making rash decisions?

JR: For Type A personalities patience often isn’t a virtue in great abundance – particularly in this space. While we work with our portfolio companies to set aggressive – and achievable – goals, we will also stress the need to resist the temptation to chase revenue as it often can compromise long-term value. We invest in companies in large part because we align with their long-term strategic vision and believe that that vision is a financial winner. So we do whatever we can, within reason, not to make/encourage near-term decisions that run counter to achieving that long-term vision. Having said that, we obviously need to hit certain milestones. But there has to be balance.

Tuoyo: I think it’s hard in this industry to be patient when everyone’s like, go, go, go. Now, now, now. Exit, exit, exit. But I also think healthcare is particularly hard because there’s no such thing as a fast decision in healthcare. So the big thing really is judgment. When you work with many companies, you see a lot of different scenarios, so you’re able to develop judgment and really practice and preach that with the Board and entrepreneurs when to push, when to hold back. But it’s challenging.

Polina: Aequitas just recently published the inaugural Digital Health Executive Compensation Study. And one of the things we uncovered, was that 49% of our survey respondents negotiate their salary. And when they do, 88% of those people will get an average increase of 12%. But, women get 10.6% vs 12.4% with men, and BIPOC people get an average 8.7% increase versus a 12.6% increase for white people. One of the responsibilities of the Board is to evaluate compensation. As your companies mature, how involved are you within the compensation process to make it equitable?

JR: I was blown away when I saw the data. I think that is something that we all anecdotally knew, but to actually see the numbers and to see that negotiation is leading to 30%, 35% more for a certain group is striking. The way you asked the question is a great way to ask it, because historically we see a lot of information on pay equity either at a specific point in time or when a candidate starts. We actually don’t see the progression very often. With Seae, many of the companies are at the seed stage and there’s a less rich data set to take a hard look at. But as the company grows, this data will make me think about the issue differently.

Polina: We talked a lot about making sure that DEI efforts are actually taking hold for the long-term. You’ve positioned this question to us, so I’ll throw it back to you: What do you think that Founders and investors can do differently tomorrow?
Tuoyo: I’ve asked this question before: ‘Why not?’ I think that’s very important. I think we just need to be honest about where we are. I think we need to be honest about asking for help and guidance. I think we need to be receptive to a different perspective, a different approach to business, to talent management, to partnerships.

Pete: We’re seeing new communities and ecosystems develop over the last 12 months, new funds that are really pushing the envelope on diversity and trying to make an impact, and that’s super encouraging. So I think finding the right people to connect with, building your own network of folks that are like-minded and who really want to make a difference. There’s no secret sauce to any of this at the end of the day. The word for me that comes out is “hustle.”

JR: For investors, I would say what you need to do tomorrow is question your traditional orthodoxies – how you think about management teams, how you think about opportunity and, and growth. Question the traditional approach because the traditional approach has led to a vastly overlooked segment of the population that from a business perspective, you cannot afford to overlook any longer.

For CEOs and entrepreneurs, be deliberate about who you want to work with from a colleague, investor and customer perspective.

VP BD Case Study

VP, Business Development

Series A

Opioid Addiction

15 Weeks

Our client had been looking to identify a VP of Business Development as their first official sales hire. Given the importance of the hire to their company, they turned to us to run the search, and we made an investment in the company in kind.

In working directly with the Founder & CEO of the organization, we were retained to find a high caliber executive to join their SLT, articulating 6 key criteria they hoped to see. These included deep expertise with health plans and employers, proven success in market development, and creating scalable processes.

We began by kicking the search off with a deep dive with the CEO of the organization and subsequent discussions with senior leadership to gain perspective into the organization and outline the search criteria. We then went through an exhaustive research cycle, which lasted three weeks, at the end of which we presented a calibration slate of five candidates who were all interviewed by our client.

As we completed Stage 2 of our search process, the mandate for our client became clearer. We placed a higher emphasis on individuals who had more experience with payers rather than employers, which became a bigger component of our client’s business model. We also increased focus on individuals who were mission-driven and entrepreneurial, which meant that we started to look at executives who could demonstrate a cultural commitment to the organization, versus simply being able to do the job.

This resulted in a candidate emerging midway through our Stage 3 process who exemplified all the tangible and intangible criteria that we were searching for. This individual was put through a rigorous internal vetting process that included case studies with the senior team and meeting with Board members.

The new VP of Business Development was hired and has had instant impact.

“Having this new addition on our team has been huge during a challenging year, and exciting time for the company. He hit the ground running, has developed a great pipeline, and everyone on the team loves him.” – Client

CGO Case Study

Chief Growth Officer

Series C

Health Services Consulting

15 Weeks

Our client had been looking to identify a Chief Growth Officer to
succeed their SVP of Sales. Given the complexity of the business model and services offered, they turned to us to run the search. We made an investment in the business in kind.

In working directly with the President of the organization, we were retained to find a seasoned growth leader to join their C-suite, articulating 6 key criteria they hoped to see. These included deep expertise in consultative hospital sales, enterprise deal shaping, customer success experience, and KOL status.

In total, the search took 4 months to complete, which while more than our average time of 3 months, was commensurate with the seniority of candidate.

We began by kicking the search off with a deep dive with the President of the organization and a subsequent discussion with the sitting SVP of Sales to gain perspective into the organization and outline the search criteria. We then went through an exhaustive research cycle, which lasted three weeks, at the end of which we presented a calibration slate of five candidates who were all interviewed by our client.

As we completed Stage 2 of our search process, the mandate for our client became clearer. One aspect that added to the complexity of the search was that the company was going through a structural shift, ultimately resulting in our key counterpart becoming the CEO. This added to the nuance of the search, which realigned our criteria, enabling us to top-grade candidates and introduce qualified individuals into the process.

This resulted in a candidate emerging who had a non-traditional CGO background, but who had success as a serial entrepreneur with multiple exits under his belt. His potential to supercharge the organization by impacting product and other company initiatives became readily apparent.

After a thorough vetting process, the new Chief Growth Officer was hired and has become a close thought partner for the CEO.

“Aequitas found me at a time when I wasn’t actively searching for a new position… Their ability and perseverance in unearthing underlying needs created an ideal opportunity for me and I couldn’t be happier.” – Candidate

Take a Seat at The (Virtual) Roundtable!

Highlights from a Series of Candid Discussions with Talent Leaders Across the HealthTech Industry
By: Nina Mermelstein

Zoom fatigue and virtual happy hours – these were all new concepts to my team at Aequitas Partners at the start of 2020. As a close-knit group of colleagues, we were used to spending 8+ hours a day together in our shared office space in NYC, so the transition to a remote workplace was, well… a little rocky. As we were going through our own 2020 growing pains, I knew that many of our clients were likely experiencing similar obstacles ranging from maintaining strong employee engagement in a remote environment to creating effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

I was particularly interested in understanding how the people responsible for talent management and internal hiring across our client base – and the greater healthcare technology industry – were addressing 2020’s barrage of new challenges. This led me to develop the concept for a series of Health Talent Leader Roundtables, or as I candidly refer to it – “group therapy” for Talent Leaders (VP of Talent, Head of People, etc.) across our industry. The roundtables enable small groups of 8-10 peers to come together (virtually of course) to speak openly, share ideas, and build a sense of community during this trying time.

Since June, I’ve hosted three roundtables featuring meaningful discussions on a variety of meaty topics that are top of mind for the participants. While I won’t mention specific names of attendees or their businesses in order to maintain confidentially, I’ve outlined some insights from the discussions that I hope will remind others that we are not alone in tackling these new challenges. The three topics highlighted below cover Mental & Physical Wellness Programs, Employee Engagement, and DEI Strategies.


Creative Ways to Expand Employee Mental & Physical Health Programs

Since all the roundtable participants work at healthcare-oriented businesses, I wasn’t surprised to learn that they were all focused on improving employee access to both physical and mental health services. These leaders expressed concerns about how their teams were coping with the anxieties surrounding COVID-19, changes in workplace environments that might lead to loneliness or new challenges with childcare, as well as the fears and frustrations with current race relations. One Talent Leader described the difficulty in keeping his finger on the pulse of how his fellow employees were managing in a remote setting, emphasizing that the biggest thing keeping him up at night was “making sure that nobody is quietly suffering.” What we did hear though, was some of the creative ways that these leaders have been addressing the wellness needs of their employee-base:

  • Leverage existing clinical personnel: A Head of Talent who works for a business with a behavioral health platform immediately recognized the severity and need for building more robust mental health offerings internally, since their own customer base of employers was expressing increased demand for their solution. Aside from adding supplemental mental health services from an outside vendor, this leader immediately expanded office hours with HR as well as with their internal behavioral health coaches, not to provide actual therapy sessions to their colleagues, but rather to help their teammates develop new tools and skills that would improve their mental wellbeing.
  • Foster employee-led wellness sessions: Some leaders shared examples of employee-led health initiatives such as weekly Zoom yoga and morning meditations. A common theme across all of these businesses was that employee-led “grassroots” efforts, whether they are focused on virtual group workouts or anti-mental health stigma work groups, create more accountability and buy-in from the larger team.
  • Offer workplace/wellness stipends: Another VP of Talent discussed the importance of enabling their employees to make their work environment more livable by offering a stipend to employees (reimbursement managed by an outside vendor) for workspace, fitness and health-related purchases.


How to Avoid Zoom Fatigue While Maintaining Employee Engagement

At this point, I think we can all relate to the feelings of exhaustion and burnout that result from hours of back-to-back video conference calls. During these roundtable discussions, Talent Leaders have expressed the efforts they are taking to strike the right balance of video calls, which can be incredibly beneficial in creating connectivity between remote colleagues, especially as more people go through completely virtual hiring and onboarding processes:

  • Create an in-office experience virtually: One Talent Leader came up with a creative way to leverage technology to create an in-office experience. Utilizing Slack, they created a “Water Cooler” channel to mimic the in-office casual conversations that staff were used to having around the office. People had the ability to pop in and out of the videoconference on the slack channel at any point in the day to chat with others before getting back to work.
  • Switch up happy hours: Even in a small team, it’s been hard to truly catch up with my colleagues during virtual happy hours and I can only imagine how difficult that can be in larger companies, especially with all those inevitable awkward moments when people begin speaking at the same time. Some Talent Leaders shared thoughts on how to change up virtual happy hours to make sure that they don’t just feel like another obligatory Zoom call after a long day of hard work. One idea was to host a company-wide game each week (e.g. Pictionary, Bingo) led by a different employee. They would circulate the teams and rules of the game ahead of time and everyone joins the video call, but during each team’s turn, the other people turn their cameras off so that it feels like a more intimate group.
  • Encourage voice calls: Another concept that was brought up in the roundtable discussions was encouraging employees to look at their schedule of meetings at the beginning of each week and decide which meetings actually need to be on Zoom versus what can just be accomplished over a phone call. If businesses are supporting employees’ decisions to take meetings on the phone versus video, those one or two breaks from video meetings can help prevent burnout.
  • Set “online” hours: One very geographically distributed company with employees across a variety of time zones came up with a strategy to offer their team more flexibility, especially since many of their staff members are parents. The business established “online” hours for the company between 9:30am to 2pm PST, when everyone is expected to be available for cross-functional video meetings. If someone wants to have a video meeting outside of those hours, you have to check with all the attendees first and staff can comfortably say no to meetings that don’t fall into that timeframe. Another company instituted “no meeting Thursday afternoons” based on feedback from staff that they were feeling burnt out from being on Zoom calls all day long and needed a set time to actually get work done.


Building, Planning, & Implementing Effective DEI strategies

Since all Talent Leaders have been heavily focused on spearheading Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives in their respective organizations, we’ve dedicated the last few roundtables entirely to conversations around DEI. We’ve covered everything from adding more diverse candidates at the top of the funnel to creating inclusive interview processes and measuring the success of your DEI efforts. While all the Talent Leaders were in varying stages of strategizing, planning and implementing their DEI initiatives, participants shared valuable insights on what has worked well and what hasn’t worked as they set out on their DEI missions.

  • Acknowledge your starting point: Talent Leaders agreed that the first step in creating a holistic DEI strategy is recognizing where your company currently stands with DEI. This involves collecting current diversity metrics, creating DEI dashboards to track progress, and transparently acknowledging that current systems lead to bias, racial/gender pay gaps and under-representation of minorities. Several roundtable participants have encouraged their leadership and staff to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test to uncover their unconscious/hidden biases that might distort the objective evaluation and treatment of others based on race, gender, etc. Another Head of Talent hosted internal conversations about “racial microaggressions”- brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group. These candid discussions involved getting staff members comfortable talking about the microaggressions they’ve committed themselves (often unintentionally) and how they can prevent them. Once the diversity data is clearly outlined, there is recognition of existing systemic biases, and people are comfortable transparently talking about these diversity issues, the companies can establish a starting point from which their DEI strategies can be built. From there, businesses can set their objectives including short term and long term goals, as well as their approaches to getting buy-in and rolling out the plan.
  • Make the case to leadership: While there is so much momentum and attention on racial relations right now, many Talent Leaders are seizing this opportunity to get senior leadership’s buy-in on diversity initiatives that might require additional funding, or acceptance that a more inclusive hiring process will take longer than usual. One roundtable participant said, “at the end of the day, leadership will have to see that nobody is going to walk into an office where they are the only person out of a hundred people who looks like them, so there has to be sustained true commitment to building a diverse workforce.” Another Talent Leader described their success in getting the C-suite’s buy-in by sharing data from a recent employee engagement survey. The survey results clearly showed that the company’s Millennial and Gen Z team members are very passionate about DEI and scored the business very low in the “diversity in leadership” category. Once the c-suite saw that score, they recognized the need to make this is a priority and allocated the budget so that the VP of People could take action.
  • Start by Sourcing Diverse Candidates: A key theme that came out of the roundtable DEI discussions was the importance of setting goals that require diversity efforts to happen as the first step in the hiring process. For example, posting a job to one or two diversity job boards and reviewing those applications first before looking at referrals or other standard candidate pools that are more homogeneous. One VP of Talent described his short-term DEI hiring objectives such as sourcing a certain number of diverse candidates (in this case 50 candidates), reviewing under-represented groups first, and only extending an offer when at least one diverse candidate makes it to an on-site finalist interview. Other strategies to help eliminate bias at the front-end of the hiring process include using blind or nameless resumes that go out to hiring teams, just asking applicants to say their level of education rather than their specific universities, and doing the initial interview by phone instead of video.
  • Create an inclusive interview process: Talent Leaders underscored the importance of creating an inclusive interview process by making sure every candidate is being evaluated the same way by providing the interview team with clearly defined areas that should be covered during the interview as well as the specific evaluation criteria. It is also imperative that candidates see diverse interview panels. For example, if a woman is interviewing, you need to make sure that the interview panel is not made up of 4 males so that the candidate can feel more comfortable. In cases where senior leadership teams aren’t diverse, Talent Leaders recommended bringing any diverse company Advisors or Board Members into the interview process that can offer their unique perspectives. In order to continue measuring the progress against inclusive interview and onboarding goals, one Head of People started including a question in the company’s survey to new hires asking, “did you feel a sense of inclusivity in the interview and onboarding process?”


What Now?

As we move into 2021, a year that will likely bring us a host of new obstacles, I’ve felt encouraged by watching this incredible community of bold Talent & People Leaders who having been taking the reigns to set and implement new strategies that are empowering their workforce and driving their respective businesses forward. Every small win made by these Talent and People champions should be recognized as a huge step forward, whether it’s a new employee engagement plan or the rollout of a formal DEI strategy. While it’s important to reflect on progress made during 2020, there is always more work to be done and we’re all likely asking the difficult question of “what now?” Aequitas Partners is here to support Talent and People Leaders across our industry as they answer that key question and determine what’s next on the agenda. Specifically, with the great momentum around diversity, equity, & inclusion efforts, Aequitas Partners is offering two (completely free) resources for these leaders who are spearheading DEI initiatives:

    • Join a Future Health Talent Leader Roundtable Any Health Talent or People Leader is welcome to sign up for the next roundtable discussion which will also center on DEI topics
    • Access the DEI Resource Center a curated collection of DEI-related resources such as tools, templates, job boards/networks, and studies that can be useful in your DEI efforts

An Interview With Ari Brenner, Co-Founder and COO of Stellar Health

By: Steven Berman

Ari Brenner is the Co-Founder and COO of Stellar Health, an NYC-based healthcare technology company empowering providers and practice staff to deliver high quality care through real-time notifications and meaningful incentives, aiding in the shift towards value-based care and helping control healthcare costs.

Steven: How did Stellar come to be? What was the inspiration behind it?

Ari: We were a co-founding team of four. Three of us came together at the beginning, all non-technical. Mike came from Apax Partners, Ben consulted in healthcare at McKinsey before going in-house doing VBC (value-based care) services, I was also from management consulting and VBC tech/services. We were introduced to Octavian, who was a former Googler who subsequently was a technical cofounder of a large e-commerce company. When we met Octavian, he was specifically targeting healthcare for his next venture, and a VC firm put us in touch.

The three of us in healthcare all had our “why we did it” motivation, and for me specifically I came at this primarily because of passion for healthcare and VBC specifically. An anecdote I’ll share is from my consulting days, where I built experience and passion for VBC. I was consulting for a state (public sector healthcare initiative) and we had convened a grand group of stakeholders (insurance, provider, public sector, patient advocacy, etc.), and we were trying to theoretically work through what VBC should look like across the state system. We would have these big conceptual meetings and talk through things like ‘what is the appropriate amount of funding insurance companies should be providing to doctors to switch them to being VBC providers?’ There was this one practicing provider who sat on the governing board, and he would sit and listen and every once in a while he would exclaim, “this is not my reality, this is not what it’s like to be a doctor today!” That really stuck with me, because so much of the work I did in consulting was so conceptually good, but didn’t reflect the reality of providers who were being asked to make this change. I truly believe the concept of VBC – of holding providers reliable for outcomes – is great, but we haven’t put power in the hands of providers yet to do that, and I picture this doctor’s reaction all the time.

Steven: What was the biggest challenge in getting started?

Ari: A lot of healthcare founders will understand this: when you don’t have a track record with new technology, you need a large incumbent to bet on you and they won’t do it in a hurry. That classic enterprise B2B sales “chicken and egg” dynamic was hard. The first year or so, we had built a great Version 1 of our product, but could only land small pilots.

The positive side of this is, now 3 years in, we’ve had some real breakthroughs and confirmed impact on customer metrics with those incumbents, and recently, the network effects have accelerated. We recently had a potential customer backchannel with a current customer (directly through their network, without us actually making that intro), and we landed the contract given the power of a peer speaking directly about Stellar’s positive impact on their business.

Steven: Now that you’ve scaled how have the challenges changed?

Ari:The challenges that I personally work most closely on relate to implementation and scale, and there are two sides of that for us. The buyers of our services are large enterprise clients like insurance companies, who also have end-users logging into our software application who are healthcare practices of various sizes; and we’re scaling against the needs of both audiences. Regarding the enterprise side, we’re taking in magnitudes of new data constantly, which is required to set up our application and its point-of-care prompts. On the provider side, we are deployed in solo-doc practices in rural areas, as well as large multi-specialty groups of hundreds of doctors in urban areas and we serve them both with the same application. We’re constantly working to ensure everyone has a great experience. Scaling for both audiences, and delivering consistent impact while we do so is the summary of Stellar’s central challenge. The question we’re trying to solve is ‘how do we deliver this value at scale?’ There are many companies in my opinion that truly have great solutions built for VBC, but only are deployed at a small scale, and are not well-matched to the needs of most of the US healthcare landscape. We want to work anywhere – especially where starting sophistication with VBC is low.

Steven: The people you’ve hired have played a big role in how you’ve succeeded, how have you been deliberate about attracting and hiring the right people?

Ari: Our hiring strategy includes sourcing widely. We invest in the upfront pipeline, like by going to non-traditional sources when looking for talent, beyond our immediate network and referrals. We also spend a lot of time on hiring and interviewing, with more and more of my time these days spent thinking of who and how to hire. I think many would be surprised how rigorous our processes are. We give a lot of quantitative and analytical exercises on top of the more traditional fit stuff that startup companies tend to do when hiring. We do this because anywhere you sit in Stellar, there is a lot of analytical thinking taking place. Even our most junior employees need to be excellent analytical thinkers.

Steven: How do you ensure your culture stays aligned with your founding principles as you grow?

Ari: We have thought of culture as a continuous cycle. First, we figure out what we want as the core principles of our culture – theoretically. Second, as we expand, we listen and synthesize what we feel the culture actually is in practice (not theory). As we listen and observe and take in what we believe the culture is in practice, we then again message that out company-wide to ensure it encapsulates what everyone is feeling. Then, we go back to observation to see how culture evolves and do some course correction along the way. Overall, we believe that culture is lived – not told or instructed.

Steven: Providers can get labeled as being stuck in their ways, what has been the most difficult part about working with them?

Ari: I like this question! I do argue with the premise of the question, though. . . I think that providers are not just stuck in their ways, I think there is a second level here and that is they are simply very busy people. Most providers want to treat their patients and make them better, so anything that is knocking on their door and looking for their attention, it’s going to be easy for them to look at it and say “great… something new that is going to make me busier and take away from the time I have to treat patients.”

So a lot of our deployment is getting to an “aha” moment when providers realize, “this is not what I thought it was, this is something that will actually give me more time with my patients.” They’ll see that while there is some limited investment (this isn’t complete magic), quickly our platform gives them time back, and rewards them in the process. Once we get to that “aha” moment, they’re on our side. Our solution is purpose-built for getting to that “aha” as soon as possible. In one recent deployment, we worked with a doctor here in NYC who didn’t have a printer or a computer, until we got them both of those things through our implementation program. Now, that doctor is an ideal user of Stellar, logging in daily to review patient information and update action prompts, earning thousands of dollars while doing it.

Steven: How do you think Covid has changed digital health, and are these changes temporary or permanent?

Ari: I won’t talk about the stuff that is super common like going remote. Speaking more about the digital health space, we certainly saw the effects it had on providers in the tri-state area during March/April/May. It was an emotional and turbulent time, speaking to the personal impact, we had some providers in our network close their offices to go work in a hospital and be on the front lines. Many got Covid, and some are still out ill and recovering to this day.

With that said, though Stellar has adapted in certain ways, nothing has fundamentally shifted. Our lane is preventive care, including secondary prevention for patients diagnosed with chronic disease. Covid is not as much a VBC scenario right now – it’s primarily one where acute response is needed to slow down a massive public health crisis. For that reason, our marching orders have stayed solidly around improving preventive care. It’s stuff we work on with people with chronic diseases, or enabling patients to see doctors virtually, or helping providers support patients get their patients lifesaving medication for chronic disease. We also work a lot on how patients can safely get screened for disease on time, like getting them a home cancer testing kit. That’s been our rallying cry, and in response to Covid, one of the macro trends is actually an uptick in interest for VBC. This is because despite the prominence of the public health crisis, VBC is a way to keep limited hospital and emergency room resources available for the treatment of those with Covid. We believe VBC is becoming more important as we run to catch up with the months of preventive healthcare we lost in shutdown. With that said, depending on how the system evolves in the wake of Covid, I could see eventually tackling Covid (and pandemics generally) through a VBC lens (e.g., PCPs taking accountability for disseminating public health measures like mask-wearing and general hygiene habits).

Steven: Any final comments for those reading?

Ari: These days, I’ve gotten comfort and inspiration from the work I’m doing and the team I’m doing it with. I feel fortunate to be part of a mission-driven company, and I believe in the mission and I wake up -most days, though perhaps not every day – energized about the stuff we’re tackling. There is a constant set of quotes and anecdotes about our implementation work that hit my Slack and email, and each one is a bump of energy. I’m grateful for the team I work with for giving me this energy.

The Rising Star: Hiring for Potential

By: Polina Hanin

You just got funded, your customers are eagerly awaiting implementations and results – your company is finally at a place where you get to hire the people that you’ve always dreamed of hiring. You create your list of requirements for the one individual who will propel your company forward. They. Will. Be. Awesome.

As excited as you are for the future, you know that you needed that person yesterday. The problem is that the person may not exist. Or if they do, it will take you a long time to find them, and then you may not be able to afford them. So you cut your list back, with every item that drops from the “need to have” to the “nice to have” bucket leaving you feeling like you’ve settled for a lesser version of what your company and your team deserve.

Your advisors tell you to hire for potential rather than the ideal candidate. And so the amorphous hunt begins that seeks to answer, “can they hit the ground running” and “can they figure it out?”

Before you go down the path of hiring for potential, let us agree on two basic principles:

  • Perfect candidates don’t exist. Sounds weird coming from an executive search firm, right? Wrong. Every one of our searches starts out with a job description and a scorecard that tops out with a perfect score of 15. Across the dozens and dozens of searches we’ve run, there has yet to be a single candidate that has received a 15.
  • When you’re hiring at a startup, every person you hire is being hired for potential. You’re running a company that is in an ever-changing market, doing things that have never been done before, so even if the individual has held the same role at another organization successfully, by the time they join you, everything is different.

Coming to grips with these two principles will enable you to get out of your own way when evaluating candidates for the role.


What is Potential Anyway?

Potential is “possibility.” In the context of hiring, it’s typically connoted as the unrealized ability to deliver future success.

Want vs. Need
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need” – The Rolling Stones

Mick must have been clairvoyant because this literally happens more often than you’d think, and most recently on a Chief Growth Officer search we completed. The requirements for the role were all outlined, the goals that the individual would need to hit were set, and we went to market. We found a number of great candidates along the way, and one of them had everything except the #1 criteria necessary for the role. So, after one interview, the client and the candidate mutually parted ways. Fast-forward three months, and that person was hired for the job. So what happened?

We talked about “want” versus “need.” One of the first questions we ask is about the goals for the role, and we make sure they aren’t just numbers and deadlines – that they have context. While many goals are intertwined where one will beget the other (i.e. more customers will get you to an improved product and a better product will lead to more customers), there is usually an order of operations. So before you set out on your next executive search, take the time to understand your true needs versus your wants. That will help you look for what truly matters and therefore bring in someone who will be transformational to your business in ways you didn’t think were possible. In this case, our client landed an incredibly impressive executive, who just happened to be an outside-the-box candidate against some of the initial needs.

Uncertainty vs. Risk

In all its forms, potential is a calculated risk to hire someone who does not have every last drop of past experience to demonstrate their ability to perform a certain role. Given that no perfect candidate exists, every time an individual takes on a new opportunity, there are going to be unknowns. Those unknowns, where the results, outcomes and/or probabilities are unclear to you cause uncertainties. Your role as a leader is to turn uncertainty into a risk – where you know potential outcomes, and the probabilities of those outcomes. A calculated risk.

Let’s look at an example where you’re trying to hire your first VP of Sales into your company that currently has $2M in revenue from health systems. You have 2 sales people you’ve just hired, but all the revenue to date has come from you. You need someone to establish processes, train people and shepherd the entire deal from start to finish.

  • Noel: Worked at a large organization selling to hospitals, generating $10M in revenue for the Midwest region, growing at a 20% rate and having 5 individual contributors report up to him. While Noel has had a lot of success, he did not have to set up the process from scratch and has a variety of resources available to him.
  • Suzette: Worked at a small organization selling to payers and led the start and close of the company’s first three enterprise deals. Suzette was the first sales employee in the organization, does not have anyone reporting to her, and largely has had to figure things out on her own. She is just now preparing to make a few additions to her team.

So which is better for your company? This is a common scenario that entrepreneurs will find themselves in; will past experience dictate future success? Noel is steady, having success at a mid-stage organization. He is where you will be in a year or two, but he didn’t help his current employer get there. Is that risk or uncertainty? Suzette on the other hand has grown her current business, though with a customer that doesn’t mirror yours. But if she can do it for one organization, can she do it for another? How do you differentiate between the risk and uncertainty of hiring Suzette?


How Do You Screen For Potential?

When you’re interviewing candidates, you’re trying to remove as much uncertainty as possible. When the future of the company you’ve built is on the line, that becomes exceedingly difficult.

Before you can go anywhere, you’ve got to figure out your table stakes (i.e. if you’re hiring someone to fly a plane, it’s not going to be someone who is unlicensed). Once you have that, the fun conversations begin that help you narrow in your field of vision.

Look for growth at the same company. Title jumping between companies is easy – you leave one organization for the promise of a fancy title at the next. Getting increases in responsibility within one company demonstrates a few things: they are trusted, they earned it, and they are being given good work that reflects what they are capable of.

Look for risk taking. People who are high achievers never rest on their laurels. They go all-in and take calculated risks on things that can pay off in a big way. When you’re in an interview setting and you happen upon this scenario, dig in: What information did they have? What did they need to learn? What did the market look like? Who was on the team? Who did they need to convince? How did they do it? What actions did they take? What was the result?

Look for the “so what?” It seems quite simple, but look for results. How many times have you interviewed someone who only talks in verbs? What they led, managed, created, launched, reconfigured, and on and on only to break from the conversation and not really know what you learned. It’s really easy to be enamored by verbs, so have the discipline to ask “so what?” There’s a difference between a VP of Sales who generated $5M of revenue at a 10% growth rate versus $1M at a 100% growth rate. Depending on your own goals, one of these individuals would be better suited for your company than the other.

Look for trust. What was that person entrusted with and by whom? It’s not just about whom they reported to, but who reported to them and relied on them. For instance, a VP of Sales who consistently had to give presentations to the Board of Directors is someone who was trusted by the CEO to deliver the nuance behind the numbers, while the Board of Directors trusted the expertise of the individual to deliver the message on a quarterly basis.

As humans, we all function off of pattern recognition. That pattern goes beyond a resume and a 30-minute introductory call. If you’re on the fence on someone, why wouldn’t you try to get to know them?


How Do You Cultivate Potential?

Not all high-potential people come as a result of an external hire. Remember how we said that perfect candidates don’t exist? OK well, that wasn’t exactly accurate. They can actually be created.

A study done by Harvard Business Review a decade ago demonstrated that just because an employee is a high performer does not mean that they are engaged. One in four intends to leave within a year and one in three doesn’t put all their effort into the job. Why such a lack of commitment? The study suggests a mismatch between expectations and the reality of many alternatives. And unlike marriage vow renewals that doom the relationship, continuous recommitment between you and your employees, particularly those that can transform your business, is imperative for retention.

Making sure that expectations align with the individual’s ability to make a difference is one way to keep your high potential talent in your organization. The other is to continue to reinvest in them. In another study done by Korn Ferry in 2019, the organization found that only four Fortune 500 CEOs are Black. Among the myriad of factors that compound to that number, one of them is that Black leaders have not been given the opportunities to advance into senior P&L roles. In fact, fewer than 10% of senior P&L leaders are Black. What happened?

According to the report, one of the factors in the wide gap was a lack of proactively assigned stretch opportunities that would enable the executives to demonstrate their abilities. 50% of the people surveyed stated that they continuously sought out these stretch assignments to demonstrate their potential. A high potential individual, particularly one who knows their value, would never passively wait for an opportunity to come along. So if they see that there is no way to advance inside their current company, they’re going to look elsewhere.

So what can be done? Organizations need to be proactive in creating their own ideal candidates. Giving your team opportunities to stretch into roles and supporting them along the way enables you to reduce the uncertainty of the unknown, while at the same time reengaging your high performers to your mission.

AQP Book Club | Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World

By: Jessica Horn and Emily Bak

Part 1 | History Repeats Itself

We knew that selecting a book about the Spanish Flu for the second installment of our book-club series in the midst of a current global pandemic was going to be unsettling. What we could not have possibly braced ourselves for was just how scary it was to read about a time, more than a century ago, that so closely mirrors what we’re living through today. Curious to learn more about how our past would relate to our present, “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed The World,” written by Laura Spinney, left us spooked and wondering what could have been learned to avoid similar mistakes today.

Why hasn’t this epic event infecting one in three people on earth (500 million people at the time), with casualties surpassing World War I and World War II – and possibly both combined (anywhere between 50-100 million deaths from 1918-1920) – been emphasized more in our approach to this pandemic? Measures taken such as school and church closures, suspension of public gatherings, and social distancing were put into effect during the Spanish flu, but later on in the pandemic and after many casualties. After knowing that these control measures worked, how could we have not acted faster when it would have resulted in saved lives? It’s infuriating! Spinney acknowledges this by dedicating a whole section of her book to reasons why pandemics are often forgotten. “Two world wars, the rise and fall of communism, perhaps some of the more spectacular episodes of decolonization,” are the events that we see when looking back at the twentieth century. While the impact of these events is more concrete, the Spanish flu was truly the most dramatic event of them all. Spinney asks, “…who wants to rehearse the details of a pandemic? A war has a victor, but a pandemic has only vanquished.”

While we don’t want to belabor how shameful it is that we didn’t learn from our mistakes sooner, we do want to highlight parallels we’ve found to be most striking because the learnings from this book have allowed us to understand our own experience better. Further, after digesting the book together, our feelings of frustration evolved into ones of hope. We realized that we see innovations in healthcare every day through the work that we do, and rather than focus on what we could have done differently, we look to the promise of the future. Covid-19 has highlighted a lot of gaps in our system and drawn attention to companies that have been striving to fill them, even before this all began. When we inevitably face another pandemic somewhere in the (hopefully very distant) future, innovations and changes in our industry will prepare us to meet those challenges.

Part 2 | Parallels Between 1918 and 2020:

Topic 1918 2020
Social Determinants of Health
  • Highest death rates are in impoverished populations, mostly made up of ethnic minorities and immigrants. This population lived in crowded conditions, with bad diets and poor access to healthcare, and were said to be
    more susceptible to illness because they lacked drive and self-discipline, and were already prone to these diseases
  • According to the CDC, racial and ethnic minority groups have an increased risk of severe illness due to Covid-1.9
  • Hispanics or Latinos have a rate of .4 times, and Non-Hispanic American Indians and African Americans have a rate of about 5 times that of non-Hispanic white people
Government Preparedness
  • Cities were “totally unprepared for the tidal wave of sickness that now overtook it” (pg.50)
  • Doctors were overwhelmed with patients that would show up at their homes
  • Lack of food, attacks on bakeries and warehouses
  • Hospitals are overwhelmed as they experience a lack of resources, equipment and beds
  • Lack of testing
  • Government offers PPP Loans to small businesses to help them retain their employees
  • Grocery stores are also experiencing shortages of items likes toilet paper and hand sanitizer
Behavioral Health
  • Both mandatory and voluntary structure was put in place to contain the disease
  • Sense of fatigue among the population as people weren’t able to live their normal lives
  • Restrictions felt difficult to understand and follow
  • Isolation and other factors have contributed to more awareness and conversation around mental health
  • More companies are implementing mental health initiatives, and mental health resources are becoming more readily available
Controlling the Spread
  • Methods used to prevent the spread included using a handkerchief to cover one’s face and opening windows at night
  • There would be a severe punishment if one broke quarantine or sanitary regulations (pg.101)
  • States have shut down,store have closed,there are limits to how large groups can be in a public setting,masks are required in public,and people are forced to socially distance
  • A study conducted in 2007 using data from 1918 recognized that some of the tactics being used today such as “banning mass gatherings and imposing the wearing of masks collectively cut the death toll in some American
    cities by up to 50 percent” (pg.205)

Part 3 | A Closer Look

Social Determinants of Health

Sadly, this public health emergency, just like the Spanish flu, has brought to light that populations living in low-income areas without access to safe living conditions, healthy food, and proper healthcare, are at higher risk of Covid-related illness and death. For example, Black people account for 24% of Covid-19 deaths, even though they make up 13% of the population. In the wake of Covid-19, companies like Cityblock Health have really emerged as leaders in addressing the needs of complex populations through technology and personalized care. This value-based care company meets patients where they are by opening clinics in low-income urban communities.

Solera Health, a company that builds programs to improve health and well-being, understands the key to better health is through community. They raised a substantial Series C round in 2019 enabling them to expand their offerings and majorly focus on addressing behavioral and social determinants of health like food insecurity, tailored food programs, and social isolation, specifically for individuals managing diabetes. It is clear to us how, by approaching healthcare holistically, we can help to reduce the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 – and all future pandemics – on underserved populations. In a post Covid-19 era, it’s promising that companies like these will limit the barriers that inhibit access to care, and hopefully remove them completely.

Telemedicine

The pace of telemedicine adoption has skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic, as patients and providers alike have had no choice but to find ways to engage virtually. What acted as a major roadblock before, reimbursement policies for virtual care in the wake of Covid-19 have changed and allowed for telemedicine companies to finally see their solutions surge in adoption and engagement. Changes in policies have broadened access to care by the sheer fact that doctors can now provide treatment across state lines and at the same reimbursement rate as an in-person visit, removing an obstacle that prevailed in the past. Take Boulder Care as an example of a company that existed pre-Covid: a platform tackling opioid addiction completely virtually. They recognized the need for people to receive Medicated Assisted Treatment from the comfort of their homes and were already partnering with innovative health plans who understood that gap. Upon the arrival of Covid-19, Boulder’s solution has become even more of a necessary resource for people who can’t physically go into these treatment facilities.

Another example of a company that saw a major opportunity in this new climate is Curve Health. Curve offers a virtual hospital solution to limit avoidable ED visits by facilitating remote care and its reimbursement while creating a data bridge between healthcare systems and SNFs. With some of the most vulnerable to Covid-19 residing within the SNF population, Curve’s technology helps to reduce the strain and destructive effects the virus has had on these facilities. Now that people have been forced to realize the benefits of telemedicine and have seen the immediate impact this technology can offer patients requiring high touch care, it’s likely the demand for at-home treatment will continue to rise and hopefully remain prevalent.

Behavioral Health

The time we’re living in now is terrifying. What once seemed like mundane tasks, whether it was going to the grocery store or grabbing a cup of coffee in the morning, are now inundated with the risk of infection and the unknown severity associated with contracting the virus itself. Even if our own physical health has not been affected, the constant fear and guilt that people we love could get sick because of our actions is constantly in the back of our minds. Not only is there a fear of getting sick, but the economic impact from the pandemic has touched us all, whether we’re one of millions of people who have lost their jobs, have faced salary reductions, or are experiencing a lag in business growth. On top of everything, we’re quarantined and cannot rely on friends or colleagues for support and comfort in the ways we’re accustomed to. This feeling of isolation and loneliness all leads to huge amounts of stress and trauma that can stay with us for years to come. It has become clearer now than ever before how our mental wellbeing directly impacts our overall health. It’s not just a comorbidity, but a full-blown illness like any other chronic disease.

Companies like AbleTo and Quartet, leading providers of virtual mental health treatment, have already been scaling, but continue to grow to meet the larger demand of patient needs during this time. Newer teletherapy solutions like Alma Health are flourishing as not only is there a greater demand for therapy, but also a greater need for that therapy to be virtual. Employers recognize the importance of supporting their employees and adopting solutions like Eden Health to keep employees healthy, happy, and motivated.

Furthermore, in light of discussions around racial inequalities, it’s important to acknowledge some of the amazing companies and organizations that are building new behavioral health resources or partnering with existing organizations to address the specific needs of diverse populations. The Loveland Foundation, which is raising a therapy fund for black women and girls, has partnered with well-known virtual behavioral health provider, Talkspace. Another example is Henry Health, a provider of “culturally intentional” mental health treatment, aiming to increase the life expectancy of black men by 10 years through their services.

After even the first few pages of reading “Pale Rider,” we were eager to write and expose the similarities between the world we live in now and the world 100 years ago. Despite feeling discouraged initially, we have come to believe that Covid-19 will act as a catalyst to fully realize a forever-changed healthcare world because of the innovations in technologies we are forced to adopt during this pandemic. Virtual care and telemedicine in conjunction with heightened awareness around mental health and breaking down barriers to care access – the next pandemic doesn’t stand a chance!

Why We Do What We Do: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

By: Tim Gordon

2020 has not been the year that anyone expected. At most, it has destroyed lives, families, companies, industries, futures, and dare I say, hope. At least, it has changed the way almost everyone thinks about everything. It’s a lot for 5 months. It pales in comparison to the suffering that many BIPOC communities, and specifically the Black community, have faced for decades, so the last 5 months have felt like a planetary revolt to me. Mother Nature finally got tired of waiting for us to figure this all out on our own, and said ‘enough.’ The national outcry, and subsequent protests of the murder of George Floyd had a visible impact on our team. At the same time, quarantine had forced us into these perceived personal “bubbles,” where watching these events unfold on TV and social media seemed like a bizarre, detached experience – a continuation of the disaster flick that Covid unleashed on us. It took more than a moment for me to realize that this is happening. With that realization, we talked about it. First, about how it made us all feel, and second, about what we were going to do about it.

I’ll admit, having grown up comfortably in the suburbs – not spoiled, but not wanting for anything I needed – while also going to high school in West Philadelphia, I struggled with this issue. I never fully understood what I was supposed to do about racism, besides not be racist. Be nice to people, treat them fairly, respectfully. At the same time, when I saw successful people of color, I frequently thought to myself, ‘they undoubtedly had to work harder and overcome more than I would have to find myself in the same place’ – and not because I’m so awesome. Was that racist? Or was that an acknowledgement of the stacked deck that I inherently knew existed. Either way, what could I actually do about it? That uncertainty about what action to take or what real impact I could even have, made entering into our open team discussions about the state of race relations in our country both exciting, and extremely uncomfortable.

As we unpacked our personal perspectives on this, and then transitioned into what we can and want to do about it as a company, that trepidation has given way to energy. The more we talked about it as a team, the more I realized that there are things that we can actually do to make a difference. As an executive search firm, we have the opportunity to elevate people of color, women, and other marginalized communities, by displaying for our clients all of their glory and competency.  If we can change the composition of leadership for the better in the organizations we partner with, we can make a tangible difference. I don’t want to overstate this, and we are coming to this endeavor with humility, open hearts, and open minds. We have a lot to learn, and know that the things we do will not change the world. But they might change the world for a family and therefore a generation. We find ourselves in a unique position where our day-to-day work demands that we expose talented people to opportunity, and in doing so, also fine tune our own expertise, that, when shared with the next generation of talent, has the potential to change their trajectory. We can change the way we execute on, and deliver our work, and we can be deliberate in elevating and exposing talent of color to opportunity. We can also leverage our expertise to give back to marginalized communities, volunteering our time and know-how to prepare individuals earlier in their careers for the road ahead.

Search, Invest, Give Back. Those are the 3 pillars that we’ve built our company around, and so create a framework for injecting DEI efforts into our core infrastructure. ‘Aequitas’ is Latin for Integrity and Equity. Up until now, that provided a nice dual meaning for how we approach our work, and our willingness to take equity in our clients for doing it. As we enter our 7th year of operation, that Equity translation holds new meaning, and requires that we turn inward to dissect how we do things.

Search

We created an additional layer of transparency with our clients at key milestones in the search process to show them (and us) how we’re doing, and will be setting clear metrics internally around diversity and inclusion targets for each of our engagements. We refactored elements of our database to make research efforts more effective as we aim to hit these targets, while ensuring that search cycles remain on track, and that we can approach each search with the same sense of urgency that we always have. We’re also being deliberate in seeking out diversity in our networking conversations, understanding that if referrals don’t come from a new place, the results won’t change. Our scorecards are being reworked to measure “Culture Add” as opposed to “Culture Fit,” as we’ve come to recognize that this is a distinction with a critical difference. On one hand, diversity among the leadership of our clients is excellent, with multiple female Founders, and CEOs of color – sometimes both. This is exciting. Diversity among our placed leadership, however, is not where it needs to be. We are working internally to determine if this is due to our unrecognized biases, a particular skill set, how our process is structured, the industry as a whole, or some measure of all of those things. As we unpack the drivers and underlying issues, we hope to see a shift in the diversity of our candidate slates, and resultantly, the executives our clients hire. We’ll have more to share on this as we continue to develop a longer-term roadmap as a team, but we’re already implementing a number of best practices.

Invest

We are not a traditional active investor, in that we don’t write checks to fund companies. We’re willing to convert our search fees into equity, and we’re approaching our 10th portfolio company in that fashion. We are working on some exciting things related to DEI and traditional investing, but those are further off, so in the near term, we’re thinking about investing in different ways. We have held a number of Virtual Roundtables on DEI, attended by top talent leaders from healthcare companies across the country. They have been fascinating, and we – as well as the participants – have learned a great deal in a short time. We want to continue to democratize knowledge in that way so that we can all get better. We have also launched a private Slack community for those talent leaders to share resources in service of their respective DEI goals and initiatives. Similarly, we launched The Health Talent Exchange as a way to create more visibility for people from all walks of life into a robust, active job market. We are engaging with a handful of academic institutions that have respected healthcare programs to find ways to support the next generation of entrepreneurs, with a specific focus on underrepresented communities. So while this may not be invested capital, it is an investment of time, money and expertise that builds some momentum.

Give Back

Our team has gotten a great deal of joy from donating our time to a handful of local organizations in NYC, largely with underserved youth. As a core component of our business however, we have not been engaged enough, nor have we looked creatively at how to make sure that our volunteerism doesn’t just impact a point in time, but rather has sustained, long term impact. We are talking internally about organizations that will allow us to bring some of our expertise to young leaders from underrepresented communities to help them gain an edge earlier in their careers. We are also restructuring our content going forward to include more diverse voices, and considering ways to convert work with clients of color into an investment into the cause. We are being thoughtful in sharing specifics, as these things take time to do responsibly, and I want what we choose to do to be sustainable, lest this be a couple of pages of virtue signaling, without much to back it up.

Integrity and equity within a process can and does lead to the feeling of integrity within every client and candidate we work with. We may not be tweeting about it, we hope our actions speak for us. We will fumble along the way, probably put our feet in our mouths, and be humbled throughout the process. But real change is necessary, and we know it won’t be easy. We have come to understand that, while well-intended, our objective focus on competencies and accomplishments doesn’t get the full picture. There are a litany reasons why we don’t see more leaders of color, and none of them have anything to do with competency. So we’re digging deeper into the data, changing the way we think about research and where we source talent from, and structuring our processes accordingly.

At the end of the day, we help people rise to positions of leadership, and what better way for us to contribute to this cause, than to tap into that unique ability to help executives from marginalized communities rise to leadership.  Will it end racism in our country?  No.  But it’s a start.  And it’s a real tangible thing that makes us part of the solution.