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Why Entrepreneurs are a Valuable Asset to Achieve Health Equity

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If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, it’s that a person’s race, zip code and ethnicity can pre-determine what kind of health care they receive. However, for those of us who come from diverse backgrounds, this is a very well-known and lived reality. Like many first-generation Chinese immigrant children, I grew up helping my elders navigate a healthcare system that too often did not consider or respect differences in languages, culture, or medical beliefs. As I experienced firsthand, it is incredibly difficult to first navigate, and then trust the providers who were unaware of how to address cultural differences.

Thankfully, many people who have experienced these difficulties are now the ones developing innovative solutions to make health equity a reality—and they need our support. This is why I’m excited to be working on a new partnership between Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures and Village Capital that seeks to scale innovations rooted in culturally competent care to improve health outcomes for all Americans. This accelerator program will uplift U.S. health startups and social enterprises working to reduce systemic inequities in the healthcare system and assist their product development and preparedness for investor involvement.

Some may say that the private sector doesn’t have a role to play in improving health outcomes for underserved and at-risk populations, but I would challenge this mindset. As the largest and most broadly-based healthcare company in the world, Johnson & Johnson has a critical role to play in helping to eradicate racial and social injustice as a public health threat by eliminating health inequities for people of color. We can influence how people experience healthcare, and part of that is ensuring the best innovations come to fruition.

We are going to need multiple approaches to tackle health inequities, and diverse, social entrepreneurs are well-suited to make the healthcare system more fair. Innovation, paired with grassroots advocacy and policy, can help us undo years upon years of underinvestment and systemic racism.

Entrepreneurs operate from the mindset that the status quo is simply not good enough—and there’s more than enough reasons to feel this way about our U.S. healthcare system. One in 5 Black adults say they were treated unfairly because of their race in the past year when getting health care for themselves or a family member. Members of the LGBTQ community continue to face cultural hurdles and discrimination when searching for medical care. And Asian Americans are more likely to report that their doctors did not listen or involve them in decisions regarding their care as much as they would like.

Innovators think of the world they would like to see, the world so many of us need, and they create products and services that get us there. Many of the innovators taking part in the first accelerator program with Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures and Village Capital are bringing their own lived experiences to their work, hoping to ensure that no one else experiences hardships in accessing culturally competent care.

Our creators are not operating with the system from a distance, but as people who’ve faced their own hurdles and issues in receiving medical advice and care for themselves and their families. Their racial, gender and socioeconomic identities inform the questions they answer through their inventions.

These entrepreneurs will also help change the face of Silicon Valley and the existing funding ecosystem for years to come. For too long, investors have left many women and people of color on the sidelines, however groundbreaking their potential projects may be.

We are overdue for a change in the beliefs of who is worthy of investment.

A research report conducted last year by Village Capital and Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures found that investors gave 57 percent of funding to white male founders, while white women received eight percent, and women of color received anywhere from zero to two percent.

Diverse identities are too often viewed as addressing niche markets rather than invaluable assets that are just as meaningful, if not more so, than other factors such as a founder’s educational degree or school.

Amazing ideas are being neglected. These are ideas that with the proper amount of funding and mentorship can help close the health equity gap for many underserved communities across the country.

Johnson & Johnson has witnessed firsthand the key role accelerator programs play in improving health equity. For example, Health in her Hue, one of last year’s winners, is an app which allows Black women to find culturally competent healthcare workers and build community with one another. We have also been partnering for several years with local emerging market accelerators, where we helped build leadership capabilities with local founders in Africa and Asia, while improving their capacity building needs to restore and strengthen trust between healthcare providers and community members.

There’s no reason we cannot do the same in the United States, especially as our country needs fresh approaches to achieving better inclusivity.

By 2045, the United States will be a majority-minority nation, with more than half of Americans being something other than white. If we do not begin uprooting the barriers that continue to depress good health outcomes and access for Americans of color, we risk becoming a nation that cannot care for most of its population.

This cannot become our new normal.

While the work being done by Village Capital and Johnson & Johnson is important, we know we cannot do the work of addressing health inequities alone. We hope other companies will join us in supporting health-focused entrepreneurs. Grantmaking is still a critical way to assist vulnerable Americans, but it is time for us to tap into new industries and new pathways to achieve justice in the health space. The innovators are here. The products and services are being developed. They just need your support.