December 10, 2021
Toronto venture firm backing women and children’s health technologies taps J&J, Gates- backed group in quest to raise US$100-million fund
The Globe and Mail covers the launch of CBIV’s Women’s and Children’s Health Technology Fund
Annie Theriault & Donna Parr

A Toronto venture capital firm aiming to invest in technologies that address health needs of women and children globally has secured nearly a third of its US$100-million fundraising goal.

Cross-Border Impact Ventures has raised US$30-million for its first fund from non-profit organizations mandated to make a social impact globally, including Grand Challenges Canada, Global Health Investment Corp. (created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and Rally Assets, as well as Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures (J&JIV), Hamilton Community Foundation, and Washington, D.C.- investment firm RockCreek Global Investment Management, led by former World Bank senior executives and others.

The Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency is providing a guarantee for private-sector investors to encourage them to participate in the fund. Cross-Border will have another year to reach its fundraising goal after hitting its first close, which enables it to start investing.

Despite record levels of venture capital raising and investing this year, early stage investment in area affecting women’s and children’s health “is stagnating,” said Jocelyn Mackie, co-chief executive officer of Grand Challenges Canada. “That just amplifies the need” for the fund.

Women’s health “is often thought of as a niche field or something that is kind of cute to invest in,” said Alice Lin Fabiano, global director, social innovation and investment with J&JIV. “But women’s health is population health, and we need to start shining a bright light” on that area.

Cross-Border is led by managing partners Annie ThŽriault and Donna Parr, making it a rare private-capital investment firm to be led by two women.

Ms. Parr previously managed two biotechnology-related funds, GrowthWorks Canadian Fund and Canadian Medical Discoveries Funds, and worked in private-capital management with OMERS, Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board and TD Capital. Ms. ThŽriault has been in the financial services industry for 20 years, handling investments with Northwater Capital Management and Export Development Canada before joining Grand Challenges Canada as chief investment officer in early 2019.

While the top ranks of established venture capital firms in Canada and globally are still dominated by men, an increasing number of women who had been working their way up the ranks to partner level have instead left to start their own funds, said Michelle McBane, managing director of Toronto’s StandUp Ventures, which backs Canadian startups led by women. “It speaks to an evolution in venture capital. So many things are changing so quickly, the whole asset class is being disrupted. This is another aspect of it.”

Cross-Border will aim to invest in medical device, diagnostic and digital health companies in North America, Europe and Israel, as well as companies in emerging markets with technology that could sell globally. The firm is targeting companies with at least $1-million in annual revenue or those developing technology that require regulatory approval and have had at least one product greenlit by health regulators in the U.S. or Europe.

The firm’s goal is to generate “venture capital returns but have real impact,” Ms. Parr said in an interview. That means targeting financial returns of 15 per cent to 20 per cent after fees, but also striving to back startups whose technology can collectively save 500,000 lives and improve the lives of 10 million underserved women and children in emerging markets. Cross-Border has promised to measure, monitor and report on the outcomes it is targeting.

The fund was incubated and spun out from Grand Challenges Canada, which was established 11 years ago by the government of Canada and is largely federally funded. Its goal is to leverage other governments and

funding organizations to finance innovative projects in emerging countries that help improve maternal and newborn health, early childhood development, sexual and reproductive health, global mental health and sanitation. Grand Challenges says it has funded more than 1,300 innovations in more than 105 countries and that its efforts have improved the lives of millions of people.

Ms. Mackie said Grand Challenges Canada had success investing US$10- million in the Global Health Investment Corp.’s inaugural, US$108-million social impact fund last decade. So far, the fund has returned its investment plus another US$10-million in gains, which is being used to fund its US$5- million commitment to the Cross-Border fund, Ms. Mackie said.

Cross-Border was developed in partnership with Ms. ThŽriault after she joined Grand Challenges in 2019, and is more specifically focused on the needs of women and children in developing countries than the Global Health fund, and thus more in line with the government of Canada’s broader objectives, Ms. ThŽriault said.

Original article

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