Darrell Williams


Who is Eighteen Ventures and what do they do?

 Eighteen Ventures is a consulting firm based in the Miami, FL area. We work with startups and small emerging firms nationwide. We help them produce effective business models, raise new technology development seed funding, and connect with early-stage investors as they begin ramp up their business. Our client base includes small firms working on biotech health, medical devices, and health technology/digital health solutions. It is important that these companies prepare a well-defined, realistic business strategy to secure funding in order to produce a novel, problem-solving healthcare or medical solution that can succeed in the marketplace.


How have you found value using PIN?

 Eighteen Ventures is currently working with a Philadelphia-based MedTech startup, seeking $256K seed funding from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program, to develop a wearable patch for African American patients experiencing arterial fibrillation (AFib). The startup needed a physician to consult, and I was able to use PIN and find that physician. This technology is vital because the patient population is small, yet they have a higher risk of stroke and the cost in terms of lost lives as well as the medical cost is detrimental. Finding a cardiologist through PIN enabled us to find an experienced clinician who can work with the startup and show the team how their product concept can be used in a clinical setting.


Do you think healthcare technologies are doing a good job of centering HealthEquity in the development of new solutions?

If we use the Philadelphia-based MedTech startup as an example, most of the members are people of color and they came up with the idea because of heart disease in their families. Hispanic and African American families have a high risk of heart disease so lived experiences lead to innovation that we hope will meet the needs of an underserved patient population. This group of African American patients, our targeted patient population, were not being served well. They represent a small percentage of AFib patients, but they have a higher risk of stroke. Most AFib technology solutions are focused on serving the general AFib population, which is predominantly white. The leading AFib technology solutions are not specifically designed for black patients in mind. Now a group of entrepreneurs, who are people of color, are solving a problem for a community they are familiar with. The physician we found on PIN is a person of color. We now have a team who can champion the needs of people that they understand better than other solution designers. As a person of color, the cardiologist understands the norms of the communities we are trying to reach. In general, I think we, as a society, need to increase the number of black and Hispanic entrepreneurs who can deliver technology solutions that meet the healthcare and medical needs of underserved and poor black, Hispanic communities. Heart disease, a horrible chronic disease, is a good example. By working directly with black cardiologists, our focus is to produce a health technology solution that specifically address the needs of black heart disease patients. This does not mean that non minorities cannot be a part of the solution. However, it is important having more health technology entrepreneurs, who come from communities of color, work with minority physicians and healthcare providers focus on providing novel, useful healthcare, and medical solutions for underserved communities.   

Many investors are not familiar with the value these types of companies offer serving underserved, minority patient populations. There is a tremendous economic payoff by focusing on serving these  communities and patient populations. For example, for the Philadelphia-based startup, we estimated that approximately 60-70% of the African-American AFib patients are using Medicaid while approximately 40% will bill through private healthcare providers.  The key here is that the federal government has made combatting chronic healthcare conditions, like heart disease, a priority, and they are reimbursing to reduce the number of deaths, illnesses and healthcare costs related to chronic conditions.  If I am an investor knowing there is a specific workable solution designed to address the needs of this particular patient population, where there is a predictable revenue source for the company and an opportunity to the capture rapid market share, it would draw my attention.  More importantly, this company will be able to capture market share much quicker, based on our focused commercialization strategy, than going after a larger group of patients from the general AFib patient population.


What drew you into work in healthcare and healthcare innovation?

 Started my first company in Washington, D.C. and it was called the Washington Emerging Technologies Center (WETC). Through two grants earned from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), WETC focused on recruiting entrepreneurs and small firms to participate in the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR). The SBIR program is sponsored by the federal government, with twelve participating agencies, and offers seed funding for the development of new technology solutions. I closed WETC and opened Eighteen Ventures after leaving Washington, D.C. and moving back to Portland, Maine.  Eighteen Ventures, initially, was just going to do the same thing as WETC. By accident, my first client developed a medical device using SBIR seed funding and he was seeking private sector early-stage growth capital. We worked together and prepared a business plan. We mailed the business plan’s two-page executive summary to potential investors and I followed-up with phone calls. The company was able to connect with New York City venture capital firm.  In doing that assignment, I discovered that the healthcare market was large and growing. So, by accident, that is how I got into healthcare and I have been focusing on healthcare ever since and that has been over 12 years now.


How has the COVID-19 pandemic shaped the types of companies and technologies that approach you?

People are beginning to realize how their technology can truly be impactful not only for COVID itself but the long term. I think a lot of people were looking at healthcare opportunities over the last 4-5 years, as a fad and not really taking it seriously. I think COVID-19 really exposed the broad and a long-term opportunities in healthcare that includes medical device development, digital patient monitoring and  telehealth, especially involving behavioral health. Mental health, during the Covid 19 pandemic, has witness a real significant boom in funding and new workable technologies that provide a real benefit to both patients and providers.

This is elementary and a lot of people just gloss over it, but you have to focus the first three questions when starting a new health technology company: What is the healthcare or medical problem that needs solving, what group, i.e., healthcare provider, patients, or organizations, are being most impacted by the problem, and how does a small firm’s proposed solution solve the problem for the impacted group beyond what existing technologies do.  By answering those three questions, you essentially broaden out everything else in terms of a developing a realistic business case because once you clearly define and answer these three questions then you can figure out what will be built, who are the potential buyers/users, what the solution will cost to develop, what price will be charged for the solution, and how the solution will be sold and distributed. Unfortunately, too many people focus on the solution and not the problem. As a result, they try to find a problem that fits the solution, which leads to failure.