Q&A with John Banta, president and managing director, Blue Venture Fund

John Banta serves as the president and managing director of the Blue Venture Fund, an $830m corporate venturing fund sponsored by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a federation of 36 US health insurance organisations, where he has been since 2014. He is responsible for maintaining relationships with all stakeholders to ensure the operational success of the fund, and for the generation of an appropriate rate of strategic and financial return.

Banta said: “The last decade has been a period of unprecedented change in healthcare. We have been privileged to play a market-leading role in supporting top entrepreneurs driving innovation within that dynamic marketplace, including several that are supporting the response to the global covid-19 pandemic. The recent events highlight the importance of some of the innovation themes in which we have been most active, including shifting the site-of-care to the home, virtual forms of delivery, and all aspects of facilitating and enhancing digital customer experience. We have also recently completed a successful raise of a fourth fund, including participation of the overwhelming majority of the 36 Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance plans, nearly tripling the size of the programme in the last five years.”

During the last year, the Blue Venture Fund team made five new investments including Workit Health, which partners with health plans and employers to help find individuals at risk for substance misuse, aid in prevention, and manage addition via online programmes; Thrive Sciences, which provides a screening diagnostic that detects multiple types of cancer earlier through a blood sample; Verata, which leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to fully automate simple and complex prior-authorisations for both payers and providers; Wellframe, a software platform that partners with health plan care management and customer service departments to increase productivity and efficacy; and Journey Health, which provides evidence-based community-centred care that is designed to meet the needs of pregnant woman and families. The programme facilitated $1.3bn in annual revenue between portfolio companies and limited partners, via over 170 commercial agreements, and completed its first public exit – Phreesia.

It is success supported from the very top. Scott Serota, president and chief executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said: “Blue Cross Blue Shield Venture Partners plays a key role in advancing healthcare innovation while providing invaluable competitive advantages. Thanks to John’s terrific leadership, the funds not only have delivered healthy returns on strategic investments, but they have also established Blue Cross Blue Shield as a highly desirable partner for leading venture firms and entrepreneurs. Current events highlight the importance of innovation in critical areas such as site-of-care and telemedicine, both areas where the fund has and will continue to pave the way.”

From 2002 to 2014, Banta was CEO and managing director of IllinoisVentures, an early-stage technology investment firm launched by University of Illinois and focused on companies deriving from Midwest universities and labs. Before joining IllinoisVentures, he was the president and chief operating officer of DigitalWork, a Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Dell Ventures portfolio company, having served as head of corporate and business development.

Previously, Banta was a vice-president of corporate services at investment bank UBS, and a director of the Investment Management Consultants Association. He earned an MBA in finance and statistics with high honours from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business where he has guest lectured, and a bachelor’s degree in finance from University of Illinois. He is a seven-time CPTC Platform Tennis Series Champion, avid hiker and outdoorsman.

Highlights from past year include:

  • Successful closing of the fourth fund, bringing assets under management to $830m
  • Five new investments, including Workit Health, which partners with health plans and employers to help find individuals at risk for substance misuse, aid in prevention, and manage addition via online programmes; Thrive Sciences, which provides a screening diagnostic that detects multiple types of cancer earlier through a blood sample; Verata, which leverages AI to fully automate simple and complex prior-authorizations for both payers and providers; Wellframe, a software platform that partners with health plan care management and customer service departments to increase productivity and efficacy; and Journey Health, which provides evidence-based community-centred care that is designed to meet the needs of pregnant woman and families.
  • Facilitated $1.3bn in annual revenue between portfolio companies and limited partners, via over 170 commercial agreements
  • Completed our first public exit with Phreesia.

Coming year:

  • Continuing with broad, stage-agnostic healthcare sourcing across multiple themes
  • Multiple portfolio company efforts supporting the repose to the global covid-19 pandemic

What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

Business unit partnerships and development with portfolio companies

  • Team member in GCV Rising Stars – Binoy Bhansali 2018
  • Team expansion and recent promotions – team expanded by five in the last 12 months

Financial KPIs:

  • The number of investments participated in
    • 51 investments I-T-D, including five new investments during 2019
  • The total dollars of investments participated in
    • Over $350m
  • The number of exits participated in
    • 11 exits totalling several billion dollars
  • The number of unique countries invested in
    • Four – US, UK, Canada and India
  • The number of unique sectors invested in
    • All aspects of healthcare
  • The number of unique rounds types (i.e., seed, series A, B, C, etc.) invested in
    • Stage agnostic
  • The total number of co-investors
    • 85