In my role leading Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures (JJIV), an impact investment fund within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, I see a lot of investment pitches. Having been an entrepreneur myself, it’s inspiring to see the wide range of new technologies and approaches from other innovators in the healthcare impact space.
But there is an interesting disconnect with many startups regarding the concept of health equity, which is the strategic focus of our fund.
When speaking with someone about our health equity impact mission, they often respond enthusiastically: “I know a company that is the perfect fit for you!” But after reviewing the pitch deck, it’s clear that the company doesn’t meet our investment criteria for impact. In fact, they frequently don’t address health equity at all.
So, why does this happen?
There’s a fundamental difference between companies that passively believe their products or services can be used by everyone (equality) versus those that are actively providing solutions for historically underserved populations (equity). Unfortunately, these terms are often used interchangeably.
The problem with mislabeling is not about definitions or semantics. The issue is that this can lead to investments and resources that are not aligned with the significant healthcare challenges and needs globally. This can then further perpetuate the imbalance of investments and resources relative to the greatest needs in healthcare globally. Although companies based on health equality can achieve positive outcomes for some patients, that strategy alone is not enough to reach the goal of universal health coverage for all. If that approach worked to “trickle down” to everyone, then half the world’s population would not still lack access to essential healthcare.
That’s why we focus on companies that prioritize the healthcare of marginalized and under-resourced communities. Take for example our recent investment in Mamotest. The company was founded with a mission to democratize access to quality breast cancer diagnoses and treatment through an innovative technology platform intentionally designed to address the needs of lower-income women and rural settings in Mexico and Argentina.
We also recently invested in Founders Factory Africa, a unique venture development company specifically focused on supporting early-stage entrepreneurs in Africa. Our goal with this investment is to both launch new startup companies as well as help scale existing ones that are directly addressing the unmet healthcare needs of underserved populations in Africa.
Centering our investment strategy on health equity allows us to take direct action to tackle specific disparities and barriers to access in healthcare. Continue reading for more reflections on health equity, as well as upcoming events we’re looking forward to in the next few months.
Global Director, Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures
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