Q&A with Rob Coppedge, chief executive, EHV

Mark Ganz, CEO of US-headquartered healthcare provider Cambia Health Solutions, said: “Echo Health Ventures (EHV) is the vehicle in which we find companies. We give them much more than funding. We give them ways in which their product or service can be even more effective and gain traction more quickly. Their innovation can become part of our larger platform for innovation in healthcare.”

As chief executive of EHV, Rob Coppedge leads the company’s efforts to identify, invest in and grow innovative companies that enable and deliver a transformed experience to healthcare consumers nationwide. As part of Echo’s unique partnership with its parents, Coppedge works closely with the senior management teams and board of Cambia Health Solutions and Mosaic Health Solutions, which is the corporate venturing arm of health insurance provider Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCNC), to support collaboration with Echo’s portfolio companies, accelerate Cambia and Mosaic’s strategies and more quickly bring healthcare innovation to national scale.

1. Any highlights from the past year?

In November 2019, we celebrated the third anniversary of our founding, and with that milestone, continue to see the meaningful impact our portfolio companies are having on healthcare transformation. In the first half of 2019, Echo invested in five new companies, with solutions ranging from coordinated care management to population health, to precision health and telegenomics.

We were thrilled to welcome Strive Health, Aledade, Cityblock Health, Dispatch Health and Genome Medical to our investment portfolio. You can learn more about these companies and how we’re partnering to transform healthcare in this blog post.

In December, we announced two new investments, Eleanor Health and Quartet Health, each completed in the second half of 2019. Each of these companies is focused on improving access to, and the quality of, behavioural healthcare for those in need.

In addition to the new companies who joined our portfolio in 2019, Echo or its managed portfolios also participated in important follow-on investments in portfolio companies that continue to inspire and outperform. These investments included Abacus Insights, GNS Healthcare, Upfront Healthcare, Springbuk, FastMed, Life Image, CareMerge and Octave Bioscience.

We have also been pleased to see a deepening of strategic relationships between our portfolio companies and both of our parent companies.

The success in 2019 attracted attention in the market. Portland Business Journal recently published an article “For Cambia’s Echo Health Ventures, 2019 was a banner year”, outlining the year’s progress and successes. Two of Echo’s team members, partner Dusty Lieb and principal Kurt Sheline, were recently recognised at the Global Corporate Venturing industry leadership awards.

Earlier in 2019, a profile on Echo’s investment model was featured in the new book Corporate Venturing: A Survival Guide.

Any examples of corporate acquisitions of portfolio or venture-backed companies?

  • In September 2018, Circulation, an EHV portfolio alumni company that is transforming the patient journey through its cloud-based logistics and exchange platform for the non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) sector, announced that they entered into an agreement to be acquired by LogistiCare Solutions, the nation’s largest provider of NEMT programmes for state governments and managed care organisations. We viewed this acquisition as a significant win, as it allowed for significant acceleration in realising Circulation’s vision of eliminating access to transportation as a barrier to care, and ensuring that all patients are afforded convenient, cost-effective, safe and reliable rides on a national scale.
  • Business unit partnerships and development with portfolio companies Collaboration between Echo’s portfolio companies and its two parent companies is key to overall success in driving innovations to scale. Two recent investments illustrate this model: Eleanor Health, a whole-person wraparound care model focuses on reducing barriers to high-quality and effective addiction treatment and recovery support, and Quartet Health, a healthcare technology and services company on a mission to improve the lives of people with mental health conditions.
    In the latter part of 2019, BCNC continued its tight partnership and co-development efforts with Eleanor Health, as the company begins operation in North Carolina to expand its comprehensive substance abuse treatment services. These proof points set the stage for Echo’s October 2019 investment.
    Quartet Health also announced a partnership with Cambia Health Solutions to help improve the lives of people with mental health conditions. Cambia’s regional health plans and Quartet will work with health care providers to help patients with mental health conditions get the right care at the right time. Quartet previously had launched an innovative mental health collaboration with BCNC in January 2019.

Any examples of product or strategy roadmaps and public leadership position in conferences and associations?

  • Rob Coppedge’s notable speaking engagements from 2019 included panels at Health Evolution Summit, HLTH and the Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit. His article in Xconomy (author page), Partner or Die: How to Succeed Even After the Digital Health Hype Quiets Down, received notable coverage.
  • Team expansion and recent promotions: Echo added 10 new members to its team in 2019, bringing a wealth of experience and expertise as we’ve deepened our support to both our parent companies and portfolio companies.
    These additions were:
    o Richard Popiel, managing director, advisory board
    o Jon Eide, chief operating officer (Durham)
    o Karim Botros, managing partner, Echo health advisers (Durham)
    o Jessica Zeaske, partner, strategic investment (Boston)
    o Omair Ahmed, associate, strategic investment (Boston)
    o David Goad, associate, corporate development (Portland)
    o Pat Lulewicz, assistant controller (Durham)
    o Anahita Nakhjiri, associate, strategic investment (Seattle)
    o Pia Shivdasani, associate principal, Echo health advisers (Portland)
    o David Weir, executive assistant (Portland)

2. What are the plans for the year ahead?

As Echo began 2020, we launched a renewed three-year strategic plan focused on building on the strength of our programme. With the covid-19 crisis, Echo has recently turned to fully supporting our portfolio companies as they take steps to address risks, shore up financial strength and capitalise on emerging opportunities as well as working closely with our parent companies, BCNC and Cambia Health Solutions, in their response initiatives.

We are assessing what we need to prepare for and how, including:

  • As our parents redouble their focus on serving their impacted and at-risk members and communities, the Echo team is actively supporting these initiatives and committed to finding additional ways to contribute to these enterprise priorities;
  • In the near-term, customers of our portfolio companies, especially health plans and systems, will re-stack priorities to deal with the public health crisis – this will impact sales cycles for some companies and present opportunities for others;
  • In the mid-term, value-based care agreements will be subject to the realities of the public health crisis, and some of our portfolio companies may need to alter or accelerate funding requests;
  • In the mid- to long-term, consumers will be challenged with the consequences of an economic slowdown or recession, which would challenge portfolio companies to re-evaluate their approach to consumer engagement and, possibly, alter or accelerate funding requests;
  • The local and federal government response to the public health crisis is still fluid, but may impact the fundamentals and resiliency of our portfolio companies;
  • The public health crisis is having a substantial effect on public capital markets, which will have direct and indirect impact on the availability of debt and equity options for our portfolio companies.

3. Could you mention some milestones achieved at your unit so far?

In just three years from founding Echo, we have had:

  • two IPOs: Phreesia and Livongo Health;
  • one exit;
  • 20 new investments; and
  • commitment to building a team with diverse voices has resulted in a dynamic team of 27 people with a wide variety of professional and personal backgrounds.

4. Please mention some pain points and opportunities you’ve encountered in corporate venturing.

Corporate investors have many intrinsic advantages – including unique market and subject matter expertise, freedom from the traditional 10-year fund model and the ability to bring high-impact strategic value at critical times in the early stages of a company’s development. More importantly, we have the ability to not just take more informed risk on truly innovative new ideas, but to also give these “flyers” unique advantages – including access to pilots and testing grounds – as their models are refined and the businesses seek traction.

However, as a group, corporate investors can be perceived as having a spotty history and some baggage, including a reputation for being slow. Many are burdened by the reputation that they are just “corporate development” – leveraging buying power and an investment toolbox to make cheaper acquisitions – and that entrepreneurs run unnecessary risks by engaging with them. Particularly in healthcare, a different, long-term perspective is essential to shaping the future of the industry. The corporate investor industry must rethink how we structure ourselves, our objectives, our incentives and our commitments to be better strategic partners to our portfolio companies.

Ultimately, corporate venture capital needs to position itself to deliver on the promise of being truly strategic, not just corporate, investors, to invest in and build solutions that can scale and successfully transform the healthcare system.

One of Echo’s key success factors has been strong executive leadership support from each of its parent entities. Echo’s investment committee comprises both CEOs and CFOs from Cambia and BCNC. Additionally, our board is made up of board members from both Cambia’s and BCNC’s board of directors.

Echo’s success is largely dependent on having the buy-in and support from top-level leadership at each parent, which ultimately helps drive partnerships and successes across all levels of each entity. Echo must continue to be focused on maintaining these core relationships in order to build a portfolio of companies that are in line with parent strategies.

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

We believe that strategic value goes well beyond the contract. Enabling partnership and collaboration between portfolio companies and our parent companies – even between portfolio companies themselves – is critical for success. At Echo, we draw bold lines between our strategic investment program and any procurement or corporate development effort. Our goal is investing to build and grow tomorrow’s great companies that are built for long-term sustainability, not for quick flips.

6. For colour, what did you do prior to CVC?

Coppedge has more than 20 years of experience in healthcare venture capital and business building. Before founding Echo, he served as president of Cambia Health Solutions’ diversified business unit, Direct Health Solutions. In this role, he oversaw Cambia’s wholly-owned operating companies – including cost and quality transparency service HealthSparq and ancillary benefits provider LifeMap – as well as its venture and private equity investing activities.

Coppedge joined Cambia in 2010 to launch and build the company’s diversification and corporate venture investment efforts. Under Coppedge’s leadership, Cambia invested in nearly 20 companies.

In 2015, Coppedge cofounded the Cambia Grove – an innovation hub focused on catalysing and supporting the Pacific Northwest’s emerging health care economic cluster. At the Cambia Grove, innovators and entrepreneurs work closely with regional stakeholders to find solutions to pressing health care challenges.

Before joining Cambia, Coppedge was the founding partner of Faultline Ventures, where he worked with numerous early-stage companies and strategic investors. Previously, he was a partner at Capitol Health Partners, a Washington DC and New York City-based venture capital firm specialising in early-stage health services and healthcare information technology.

Active in industry and community organisations, Coppedge serves on the boards of several healthcare companies and is a founder and former director of the Nashville-based largest network of young health care executives, Leadership Health Care.

Coppedge also serves on the board of directors at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Cambia Health Foundation, and is a member of the Health Executives Network, Young President’s Organisation and Fellow of the American Leadership Forum. He was previously on the board of directors at Life Science Washington (formerly Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association).

Coppedge is a graduate of Georgetown University with a degree in history and is a Chartered Financial Analyst, charter holder. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and three children. In his spare time, he enjoys trying new restaurants in the Portland epicurean scene and throughout the country. A foodie at heart, his dedication to researching the hot spots for new cuisines and experiences is why his colleagues always let Rob make the dinner reservation.

 

In May this year, GCV interviewed Echo’s COO Jon Eide and partner Dusty Lieb about the balance between pursuing more attractive valuations while dealing with differing expectations from its healthtech portfolio during the covid-19 health crisis.