Venture Capital, Networks and Access

Season 3, Episode 12

In episode 12 of the CitySCOPE podcast, Kate Cooney, Senior Lecturer at the Yale School of Management, talks with Donna Lecky, JD, MBA, Managing Partner, Health Venture Capital, CEO & Co-Founder, Health Venture and Co-Founder & Board Director of HealthHavenHub, Inc.  Donna is also CEO & Founding Member of Women of Color Capital Collective, Inc.  Join us for a wide ranging conversation about Donna’s career path, the founding of Health Venture Capital, Health Venture and HealthHavenHub, the digital health innovation space, and her views on access to capital and the role of networks in successful entrepreneurial outcomes from the venture capital perspective.  Join us!


1. Health Venture here

2. HealthHavenHub here

Episode Transcript: 

Kate Cooney (00:00):  

This is CitySCOPE. 

Eun Sun Cho (00:01):  

A podcast on cities and inclusive economic development from the Yale School of Management. 

Kate Cooney (00:07):

Are we ready? 

Manuel Morales (00:08):

Let’s go.

Kate Cooney (00:24):

Welcome to episode 12 of season 3 of the CitySCOPE podcast. I’m Kate Cooney, senior lecturer at the Yale School of Management. Today, we explore the key role that networks play in shaping access to capital. We’re speaking with Donna Lecky, who brings us her view on these dynamics from the venture capital perspective.

Donna Lecky (00:45):

My name is Donna Marie Lecky and I am the CEO and co-founder of HealthVenture, Managing Director of HealthVenture Capital, and co-founder of the HealthHavenHub.

Kate Cooney (00:55):

Hi, Donna, thanks for joining us today.

Donna Lecky (00:58):

Nice to talk with you, Kate. 

Kate Cooney (01:00):

It’s great to have you with us. So let’s go back to some of your early career. I know you have a background in accounting and law. What were some of your early career ambitions?

Donna Lecky (01:13):

So if you were to listen to my parents, they would tell you that I told them I was going to be a lawyer when I was 7 years old. So that was always my goal, was to be an attorney. When I was in undergraduate school, I decided that if I didn’t go to law school directly, what major would I need to consider in order to be able to sustain myself in the event that I don’t go to law school directly? I’m from Philadelphia originally. I happened to look at the Philadelphia Inquirer and I went to the want ad sections back in the day when they used to have that, in those big old thick papers, and I saw pages and pages and pages and pages of accounting jobs, and I said, “OK, that’s how I’m going to major in.” And so I majored in accounting at Temple University Undergraduate School. And then sure enough, in between the time of undergrad school to law school, my father was actually dying of cancer. And so I had to help out with the family, not only from a support perspective, but also from a financial perspective. So my accounting job actually allowed me to do that. My father passed in ‘86. I was in the fall class at Howard University School of Law in 1987, and I had a professor who used to be an adviser to Bill Clinton on the tax strategy side, and she was a professor of law at Howard, and she suggested that I consider this program at Emory University School of Law, the LLM Taxation Program. I decided to do that. That’s what brought me down to Atlanta, and then from there, many, many, many, many years later, in 2014, I decided to attend the executive MBA program at Yale University School of Management and where I received my MBA from Yale in 2016. And so that was sort of the trajectory still pulling together the accounting, the wall, the finance, the tax. But the in between that time, I practiced as an attorney in law firms, but I also was a consultant for three of the big four accounting firms. And so I’m pulling all of those pieces together, sort of what led me to the work that I’m doing today.

Kate Cooney (03:29):

And were you interested in the policy side? Sounds like your professor at Howard had been applying that very technical and specific tax training into a policy context. Were you also attracted to that and did you end up working in that way?

Donna Lecky (03:45):

So, so interestingly enough, it wasn’t necessarily the policy side. But to be frank with you, you can’t be on the tech side as an attorney or as an accountant if you don’t understand the policy side. By the definition of sort of tax analysis, you have to understand the law as well as you understand the application of the law to toward the numbers and I’m sort of right brain, left brain in that I like both sides of the equation. And so I never really thought about it from the perspective of the policy side of it. Like, for example, I could have taken the trajectory of having my background in law to be the researchers, the one that actually comes up with tax policy and tax strategy. But I found what was much more interesting was understanding the tax policy and how they translate it to a corporate structure, the ability to use tax attributes, the ability to formulate a tax strategy for the overall corporation, the ability to do mergers and acquisitions, but understanding what the tax implications were because I knew what the law said, but I also knew how to apply it from a numbers perspective, because what I learned in my career is that I could speak all day long about two of the tax cases. But when you’re talking to a CEO and a CFO of a corporation that’s not necessarily meaningful to them, they want to see the cake. They don’t want to necessarily hear about all the ingredients that went into and how long it took. They want to understand what that law means for their business today and how that translates to their stakeholders and their shareholders. 

Kate Cooney (05:21):

So that brings us to your executive MBA at the Yale School of Management. Sometimes, you know, people come to SOM as a way to diversify the current career trajectory that they’re on, and sometimes it can be a real pivot moment. What did you anticipate? What were some of your hopes about what this degree would do for you?

Donna Lecky (05:43):

I’m a perpetual learner. I love being challenged. I knew that coming into a program such as Yale would put me in a place where I could be challenged and challenge. One of the reasons why I thought about the program at the age that I was because I was in my early fifties when I decided to go back to school. I looked at it from the perspective of I knew I was interested. I was very, very strong in being a tax general counsel, tax vice president of tax, and senior officer in the tax field. However, I was more interested in really running a business from the CEO, C-suite perspective. And the challenge that you have when you have a really strong tax professional in an organization is because it’s so difficult in some respects to find, they will give you all the bells and whistles, but they really need you to stay in that in that space, in that role because it’s so difficult to find. So you’re, a trajectory of someone who is a chief tax officer is very difficult to then accede to the CFO role or the CEO role, it’s very rare that you see that transition. Typically with a CFO, you’re a treasurer and then you accede to the CFO role. If you are a CEO or COO, you are in sort of operations, you know how to run the business, understand the business. You have expertise, especially in the business. At the time, anyway, I thought, I want to be in the C-suite and I want to be either CEO or CFO. My experience lends itself more to CFO, and as a consequence, I stepped back and I said, “How do I get there?” And if I have my MBA, then when I have the conversation about my next role in the organization or any organization, I don’t want there to be, “Well, you know, you’ve been a tax person” all this, the transition that if I have an MBA, the MBA is going to allow me to overcome that discussion around not having the MBA. So that was a primary reason why I decided to do the MBA because I thought at the time that that’s what I wanted to be in terms of that level of experience in sort of a Fortune 500 company.

Kate Cooney (07:59):

And when you come into the program at the School of Management, there are these verticals that you can join in the executive MBA. Was that a hard decision to make between the different verticals?

Donna Lecky (08:10):

No. I knew exactly where I wanted to be, primarily because even when I was a consultant for KPMG, Ernst and Young, and Deloitte. And before I went to law school, I was with J&J, and then I did the experience with the three of the big four. My clients, pretty much on the consulting side were health care clients in Southeast. I managed Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee and then post the public accounting experience I actually was hired by a client and that client was a health care company. And then after that, the CFO of the health care company became the CEO of another health care company in Cincinnati, and I became his Chief Tax Officer, general tax counsel. So my career has always spanned itself over time in the area of health care. So I was very clear about that.

Kate Cooney (09:02):

That makes sense. So you’re coming to get your business degree, you’re thinking about creating an avenue for yourself where you can move out of this very specialized space, even though you’re at the top of your career, into a broader role, a CFO, a CEO. Were you thinking startup at the time?

Donna Lecky (09:23):

Absolutely not. I was not thinking startup at all. I was not thinking startup at all. I just always just sort of follow that, you know, finish school, you go and work with somebody, make it, you know, create your ground there and do, well, accelerate in the organization that you’re in. And I actually enjoyed it. It was just great experiences for me, and I worked with some again, the top firms in the world. So to me, the notion of starting my own business and the notion of working with entrepreneurs was just not in the scope of things. But the reality of it was, is that I was in fact doing it. I wasn’t an entrepreneur, but all of the skills that I was learning through my trajectory of career, I was really doing a lot of the things that entrepreneurs do and venture capitalists do. When I got to Yale and I started to spend a little bit more time with some of my colleagues and classmates that were in this space or who were thinking about this space. And then when I met my business partner, Sri Muthu, who is, was a classmate of mine, at the time, he was like, “We need to really think about this.” And so that’s how I sort of got into this whole space. I never thought, I never thought that I was going to be an entrepreneur or create and run my own firm, that was never even in process. And quite frankly too, my age had something to do with it. I mean, at the time that I finished the program, I was 54 years old. So I’m supposed to be thinking about this on the back end, sort of phasing out from a corporate perspective and going into teaching, which was always something that I wanted to spend the latter years of my work life in that area.

Kate Cooney (11:14):

So you meet Sri Muthu, you begin to think about the startup realm as a real possibility for you. You were getting pulled into that world. Tell us the origin story of HealthVenture.

Donna Lecky (11:31):

I would have to say that really HeathVenture, which the verticals are HealthVenture Capital, HealthHavenHub, and HealthVenture Advisory was a firm that was born out of the executive MBA program at Yale SOM. We decided in 2015 to sort of test our thesis with respect to digital health care companies and how digitizing health care could make all the difference in terms of reducing health care spend from a GDP’s perspective in the US, it doesn’t seem as if we’re getting the model right. We just thought that this was a way to manage health care costs. And because Sri’s background is in fintech, what we decided to do is look at the fintech model and see how we can translate that over to the health care, health tech model. And that’s how we got into this thought process around a digital health care. And so that was sort of our thesis, and we were able in 2015 to test that out with the professors at Yale, who anyone who would listen to us, we would talk to them about our thesis and we would talk to them about the trajectory of what this meant and why a digital health care made sense. And then we tested it out on our classmates. There were 52 classmates with myself. We had, think of maybe 10 to 12 physicians and also we have a nurse in our class. And so we were able to talk to them about digitizing the specific areas of specialty that they were in and what problems can we solve if we were to digitize it, what applications would make sense that would make your life easier. What do you think is going to reduce costs based on the specialty that you’re in if we were to digitize it? And so we spent a lot of time with them, and that was in 2015. 2016, we actually did our soft launch. And then in 2018, we actually opened up our offices, which essentially was an accelerated incubator for early and seed stage digital health care companies. We were founded in New Haven, Connecticut, but we have affiliate offices in San Francisco, Atlanta, Malaysia, India, and Australia. Based on that, working through that process and spending time with physicians and spending time with health care providers. We really formalized what our model needed to look like in order to be an effective accelerator incubator. So it wasn’t just like if you were a company that you wanted to have a space to be able to support your innovation and grow your innovation with your team. We are a little bit different because we’re not only a global foundry and venture capital firm and a consulting advisory firm, we essentially view ourselves as an innovative center of excellence where we dedicate to scale seed and early stage digital health care startups. And so our mission is that we meaningfully impact health care by launching innovative digital solutions, and that could be in the area of artificial intelligence. It could be in blockchain, it could be in your bread and butter health care practice. We basically start our business on that premise and we built three verticals from there.

Kate Cooney (14:43):

Let’s talk a little more about how these three verticals within HealthVenture fit together. But I also want to ask a bigger question. It sounds like in a way, there’s a piece of what you were doing in those early days that was problem solving with the client, whether it’s the nurse or the physician in your cohort and the institutions behind them that they represented in helping them think about digital solutions that they, hadn’t even occurred to them versus finding those innovators who are already down that path and helping to incubate them. So do you find that you were leading with the advisory and then moved into the accelerator incubator when the space caught up to you? Or how do you see those two different kind of orientations to the space?

Donna Lecky (15:34):

I think the orientation for us initially was to test our thesis and to test our thesis is when we had the conversations with our classmates who were in the health care field, and part of testing that thesis was what gives you pause or what, what keeps you awake at night or what gives you headaches around your current practice? And then from there, looking at, well, if we, based on what they’re saying, they would have their own idea around how they think they thought they could do it better and then what Sri and I would do as we were listening as we talk through, how do you digitize this in a way, if you can? Is there an application that you could sort of think through that would make sense to support what it is that you’re trying to solve for as that position? So it was more what we were doing was listening to what their angst was but also thinking about whether digitizing or creating digital applications made sense for what they were trying to solve for. And if there was enough to say, “Well, we can do this, and we can do this in orthopedic surgery, and this can happen in general health care, a general practitioner and this can happen in if you are a neurosurgeon” because we had all of those people in our class. So it was more for us an opportunity to really talk to the physicians to understand what their challenges and concerns were. But then to take that to more of a business level less than sort of innovation level, but more in a business level to say, “you’ve got the expertise as a physician, you know what is it you have a problem with. They’re a bunch of problems that are out there. Can we digitize these problems and can we create the applications that will essentially not only make your lives easier and make the patients’ lives easier, but reduce the cost in the system?” And so it was us listening say, “Oh, well, we’ve got a source of teams that we could sort of work with and founders and entrepreneurs and we can work with that could help develop our ecosystem.”

Kate Cooney (17:39):

Fast forward to now, you’ll sort of begin with the entrepreneur who has an idea who sees an opportunity.

Donna Lecky (17:47):

That’s correct. And I think that that ties back into sort of our verticals, which was the second part of your question. Like, how do they all sort of converge? So when you think about HealthVenture Capital and HealthVenture is sort of the holding company, right, way at the top. And then you’ve got HealthVenture Capital, which is the arm that serves as a venture capital firm that that raises capital and supports our portfolio companies in innovation, development, design and scale the entrepreneurs’ innovation. Then you have HealthVenture Advisory. So for those companies that are not in our portfolio and that could be for one reason or another. They may not meet our model or our thesis. They may not be fully in digital health care. They may have a medical device component. We don’t deal with the medical device side of the house. We deal specifically strictly with digital health care that we would advise for those companies. You have sort of the consulting side of the house where we would come in and we would say, look at so where the gaps are, either in their teams or in their innovation and try to figure out how we can support addressing if they, for example, have a physician and a clinician and someone who’s great in operations to be able to scale. But if you’re talking to an investor, you have to have financial projections and a financial model to be able to show that investor that this is what we’re doing. This is something we anticipate generating revenue. These are our expenses. The reason why I have this ask of a million dollars is because this is what we’re trying to do with this money and we expect to be profitable by year 4. When you’re looking at a lot of gaps that physicians typically have, or particularly in health care and digital health care applications, is there just certain pieces that they’re missing, particularly as an early stage company. And so what we do is we, HealthVenture Advisory mitigates, basically supports new companies to address those gaps. So that’s sort of the advisory part of the house. And then you have Health Haven Hub, which is our not for profit arm that supports and provides access to all entrepreneurs in the digital health care space, as well as entrepreneurs of color and women, and provides entrepreneurship education, as well as incubate and accelerate. So to the extent that if we have entrepreneurs of color or entrepreneur women who may not be in digital health care, HealthHavenHub is a place where they can also incubate and accelerate their ideas.

Kate Cooney (20:17):

But you would not necessarily take them into the capital side.

Donna Lecky (20:23):

That’s exactly right. 

Kate Cooney (20:24):

That’s a place where there’s a broader funnel moving folks into the space.

Donna Lecky (20:28):

That’s exactly right. So, so the way the organizations work together is that we at HealthVenture through our global programs like IHaven Leaders, Leaders is a program that focuses on showcasing women in health care and health care technology, the global perspective and we have programs in Bangalore, India, Beijing, China, and cities within the US. We also have Y-Start Bootcamp, pitch competition, and demo days. And that’s how we source our teams that are in digital health care. And then for those entities, we consult for a fee under HealthVenture advisory or we perform due diligence to determine if those entities will become part of our portfolio where we invest and we take an equity stake. Well, for those entrepreneurs that come through HealthHavenHubs, those programs that are associated with entrepreneurs of color or women, they’re in non-digital health care related. We have created an entrepreneurship curriculum to support those students and teams, and we create basically access to education and support raising capital. For those teams, again, the non-digital health care teams and the programs that we run through the educational curriculum, we don’t take an equity stake, and we rely on grants to support the 10 week curriculum for IHaven and leaders and the four week curriculum that supports our Y-Start Bootcamp. We are very clear about that because our goal is to give back to the community. And more importantly, and we’ve gotten so many through grants but, quite frankly, Sri and I have essentially supported financially these programs ourselves because we believe very deeply in the community’s mission that a lot of these entrepreneurs of color and entrepreneurs that are women unfortunately don’t have access to entrepreneurship education. So we spend a lot of time and a lot of effort in addressing that and specific to New Haven, we’re in our seventh cohort of a program called IHaven, which comprises the schools from Quinnipiac, Albertus Magnus, UNH, Gateway, and SCSU, and now Bridgeport, where we have a 10 week curriculum that helps him go soup to nuts on how to our pitch, to pitch deck essentials, what should be in my pitch deck, to my financial model, to little considerations and legal structure, all the way through how do I talk to a VC, venture capital, or an investor and what legal documentation do I need to help me advance what it is that I’m doing? And part of that also obviously would include the digital piece of this, which would be UI, UX, user integration, creating the technology, supporting the creation of the technology, as well as how the technology will be used but tested for evidence based, analyzed for purposes of what it is that the innovation is all about. So with respect to Yale, we co-created a program with the students called the Helix Program. For all these students and entrepreneurs that I mentioned, all of these programs, they use our offices, they use our resources, and they use our team to advance their innovation. And we serve as mentors to these students, and we take zero equity or monies from these students. For example, before COVID, we had our offices on Church Street and essentially the building requirement, before you even got your I.D., we had to pay for each student $75 so that they can get into, so that the building could do a background check. And again, that’s costs that we just absorbed because we just know how important it is to create a true ecosystem in the New Haven area.

Kate Cooney (24:13):

One of the things that that came to mind as you were talking is I remember a few years ago when I first started this podcast, I was talking to a developer down in Philadelphia, Greg Reeves from Mosaic Developers, and he had worked in pharmaceutical industry before moving into real estate. And one of the things that he was talking about was just how diverse the part of the health care industry that he was in was compared to the real estate industry. He was shocked, you know, because he felt like the skill level in the pharmaceutical space was quite high. And he was just surrounded by women and people of color and part of an international group, and then he gets to real estate and it’s just the same old boys white network that probably existed a generation, two generations„ five generations ago. So I’m just interested in thinking about health care and health care entrepreneurs. Do you find that you do have some diversity in terms of entrepreneurs, but that then they run into a kind of older network that is really homogeneously white and male at some point through their entrepreneurial journey?

Donna Lecky (25:33):

I think that when you look at health care, it depends on again, it speaks to the range that health care has. To Greg’s point, what perspective are you coming from, the provider’s perspective, the payers’ perspective, the patient’s perspective, the clinicians’ perspective, the family office perspective, I mean, so there is such a wide range. In terms of health care, when you talk about entrepreneurship and not just entrepreneurship, but when you talk about funds management, those individuals who get to manage funds of those are entrepreneurs or to work in the traditional firm and to be able to source ideas entrepreneurs at the firms should consider in order to invest in, what you find is there is always a significant number of entrepreneurs in the health care ecosystem that range in race or diversity. I think part of the challenge, though, some of the systemic I mean, if you come from a family as an African-American and your parents are physicians and their parents were physicians, and now you’re into the health care sphere, you have a wider network and a broader network and maybe the capital and the resources to be able to say, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” But if you are first generation and you’re looking to pay off your student loans, but you have an interest in innovation or you’ve got a great idea in mind, the first question you have to ask yourself is “So where do I go?” And that’s what I was talking about sort of the IHaven program, Leaders and other programs under HealthHavenHub that we’ve created because that access this is not necessarily apparent that it exists. And so part of this is basically being able to figure out what lens you’re looking at this from, because for someone who still has to work, pay off student loans, has an innovation and has a great idea. Now you got to balance, “OK, how do I pay my bills?” But at the same time, be able to advance this to the next level because this is really something that’s great. And so part of the concern from the perspective of that entrepreneur or the one I just spoke of that’s sort of balancing these things, they tend to squash their idea because they just don’t either have the time or the resources to push it forward. And even if they do, you’re talking about working double, triple or quadruple over time. And so those kind of ideas get lost in the sauce. What if you have an opportunity like do an IHaven program or leadership program? I think what happens is we create normally teams around 8 to 10 to 12 teams and people get encouraged so they find energy from somewhere to be able to say, “OK, well, I’ve got a group of people that are in this ecosystem that are just like me and doing the same things I’m doing, working as hard as I’m working. If they can hang in there, I can hang in there too.” I think that the other entrepreneur that I spoke of that may have some more discretionary income and has the access to physicians to be able to sit down and talk to them about what they did and how they do it and what are some of the issues and what are some of the problems and challenges to advance their thinking around the innovation. I think what tends to happen is they have a bit more of a support system, if you will, and probably a support system from a financial perspective that exists. Now taking it outside of, because we can get into some statistics here, but taking it outside of that, when you look at entrepreneurs that are really trying to advance their innovation, part of the challenge and part of the concern around that is, not only access, but capital. Where can I raise this money? Where is this money coming from? And despite the progress that we’re quote unquote making, when you think about it from the perspective of taking it outside of the physician, the entrepreneur, let’s look at it from funds management side as well as investment side of the house. Women remain on the investment side, highly underrepresented in investment positions and in leadership. So let’s go back to my traditional firm, my JPMorgan Chase, or let’s go back to, go to Goldman Sachs. Women comprise 45% of the workforce at these firms, but they continue to have less representation in the leadership positions, which is roughly around, say, 10 to 14%. And in terms of being an investment partner, that investment partner at those firms are making decisions about who comes in, what companies with entrepreneurs were looking at, which entrepreneurs we’re talking to, what entrepreneurs make the cut? And if you are working with the firms that are, that traditionally hire the same people from out of the Harvard’s, the Yale’s, the UPenn’s, the Stanford’s, the 70 to 80%of them are white males, you’re not getting a broader cross-section of maybe some of the things that other groups are very interested in advancing. Take that to the level of Black and Hispanic employees who are underrepresented across all positions in leadership. There was a study that was done by NVCA, which is National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte. They found that Black and Hispanic employees are underrepresented across all the positions. And that in the firms that participated in their survey, 4% were employees were Black and they comprise 3% of investment positions and 3% of investment partner positions. So it’s great to be an employee, but the 4% could be an administrative assistant. The 3% of the investment position would be a person who was an analyst and then the 3% of investment partner would be the person who makes a decision of whether or not they’re going to invest in a particular innovation or particular innovator. And so when you look at Hispanics with comparable stats are 5% employees accounted for and the overall workforce and then 5% in investment position and only 3% in investment partners. So who’s in these firms and how are they representing? You take that then to the next level and you say, “OK, let’s look at the surveys of wages.” So Goldman Sachs did a survey where white women and white men wages are 15 and 35%, respectively, higher than Black women, and Black women entrepreneurs only receive 0.03% of capital. Let’s take that to the fund management side. So when we think about a survey that was done by the Knight Group and Research Group. They found that in these firms that are owned by women and minorities managed just 1.3% of assets and a $69 trillion asset management business. So I say all that to say if we’re setting the stage for what’s happening in this business as an entrepreneur all the way to funds management, all the way to who’s investing in these companies and why, you have the same profile that’s investing in traditional entrepreneurs, so you’re not getting that diversity. And so how do you come out of that? I don’t know that I have the answer other than to continue to network, to refine your network and support your network. And you just can’t give up. When I say support your network, one of the reasons why IHaven is so important to us and Leaders is so important to us is because IHaven may or may not be digital health care, but at least I’ve got a broad enough network outside of digital health care and outside of health care that I may have a manufacturing VC who’s a colleague who’s interested in a particular innovation, and I can say to the IHaven entrepreneur, “This is not what we do. You’ve got the skills now based on the curriculum to have this conversation with this manufacturing VC.” And so it allows us to be able to support other networks because what’ll happen is that manufacturing VC will come to me and say, “Donna, digital health care, we don’t do it, I think you need to talk to this company.” And so that’s how you have to work that network. It is very hard to raise money, and it is very clear that when you look at again a $69 trillion asset management industry, and you look at the amount of assets that VC firms, it was the NVCA study that I mentioned, they collected information from about 200 firms, and they represented an aggregate total of $150 billion dollars in assets, and these statistics are just really startling because of the fact that you’re not going to be able to, from my perspective, is really advance the entrepreneur of color and some respects women if you don’t open up the funds management piece of this, as well as who those fund managers are investing in. Because what you can do is, you’re going to find yourself in a position, where those entrepreneurs who may not fit into that profile or that mold, they won’t be supported, and they’re just going to give up on their idea and continue to work for other people and not advance their innovation. 

Kate Cooney (35:11):

You know what was interesting is one of the interviews we did for this season with a professor who’s been studying this since the late sixties. He was saying that if you look at the trajectory of entrepreneurs of color just on average and in the aggregate, you’re dealing with all this access to capital and need for capital earlier because you don’t have the friends and family on average at the same levels. But then at a certain point, if you can kind of push through all of that bank access and so forth, there might be a time when you want equity and you’re getting big, you’re over a million, you’re five million. And then all of a sudden, the equity you take on changes your ownership structure such that you’re no longer a Black owned, Black led business because of the way the wealth is structured and who those investors are. So even at the most successful storyline, you succeed yourself right out of being Black owned at that level, which was kind of it was kind of a stunning insight, as I thought about it.

Donna Lecky (36:27):

Yeah, that’s an excellent point. I mean, it’s one of those things when you look at, I think the Bob Johnson’s story is a big one when he sold BET to Viacom. I mean, Black Entertainment Television. But they still call it BET, but it’s not Black owned. I mean, he sold it for billions of dollars. And so, I mean, at the end of the day, I think if you sort of tie this back into health care, there are some very specific needs in diverse communities that health care can support. I think when it comes to people’s health. I think you have a couple of different issues, but I think at the end of the day, I’m not so sure that as a Black woman, I don’t know that I’m necessarily concerned about if the company is a Black company that came up with the innovation or whether or not it’s going to work for my health. In health care, I can see it a little bit differently, in the BET scenario where you would want the people that are in that community to be able to prosper and be supported. What I do understand it’s an excellent point because I do understand exactly what his tie in is. And that is that if at the end of the day you’re so diluted, which is what you’re talking about in terms of your equity stake in the business, even as a founder of, you know, as a Black founder or as a diverse founder, then you know, is that something that you’re willing to give up? I think to me at the end of the day, while that’s a very important and significant point. I think perhaps maybe ways to get around that or to address that is to be just really clear about the equity position that you’re willing to give up. One of those sort of lessons learned from me is I’m really not trying to guilt anyone or any particular group into whether or not they should be given money or not be given money to any other particular group of people, meaning Black and Brown people. I’m more interested in whether or not you are aligned with our mission and our vision, and if you’re aligned with the mission and a vision, you will support it. I don’t want to guilt you into supporting it because history is very clear, right? So we don’t need to go there. I just think what’s really important is, you align yourself with those organizations that are authentically, they want to be in tune of what it is that you’re doing and they want to support what you’re doing because then those organizations, those firms, those corporations, I don’t think that they’re so inclined to say, “OK, I’m going to take 90% of this person’s business, an equity stake in the business” because you’re already aligned and you’re already clear about what it is that the entrepreneur of color is trying to accomplish. So I mean, maybe that’s pie in the sky thinking, but this is my view on it.

Kate Cooney (39:22):

That makes sense. So I wanted to just keep going on this a little bit further. So you’re launching your firm, you’re now working in these capital networks, you’re getting a real on the ground look at how this kind of investment capital raising is done. What have you learned about how the work really happens, not just the textbook learning from your MBA classes? 

Donna Lecky (39:46):

So we raise funds to support our portfolio companies and we manage the funds and we manage the investment of those investors. We also broker and that’s one reasons why I was saying how important it is to support your network because when I send a company over to another firm that may have a broader pool of resources, so for example, we have one firm that I’m often in contact with, that they’re assets under management or close to a billion dollars, while we’re not there yet. And then their focus also would be companies that are specifically in India and because we are a global firm and we have connections and connectivity with the country, we often, particularly globally, there are a number of universities that we work with that have positions that may say, “Let’s connect you guys with HealthVenture because you also want to do that US play.” So we have been able to create a brand for ourselves where in certain countries that we invest a lot of our time such as India again, China, now Dubai, and also in England, and of course, the U.S., it allows us to spend that time to work with those particular companies that are interested in coming over. So we brokered deals as well. And in terms of your question around the textbook piece of this, I think it’s always important to have the fundamentals of anything that you’re trying to do. There are certain basics that schools offer, but there is nothing that really beats the actual experience because I think that when you talk about the challenges around being in this space, you can learn what it is to be a financial analyst, to be able to do due diligence, working at a McKinsey or working at a Goldman Sachs. To learn how to do this from a textbook perspective, and the MBA programs teach you how to do extrapolation and stat sampling and financial modeling and understand the components that go into that recipe. But the flip side of it is not until you’re sitting with the CEO or CFO, and they’re talking about a transaction that they’re looking to acquire a company for $20 billion, and you need to help them figure out how that company should be valued and how you go through a due diligence process to help you get to that number. Because part of that is there’s certain information that they’re required to share as s the acquirer and one being acquired and vice versa. And because that’s the case, then you have to see you have to do your investigative work and you have to be that auditor. And that’s one thing about my accounting background that was just so helpful in this sphere is to be able to dig in and ask the questions, figuring out what you don’t know and asking the questions and getting to the heart of it that allows you to really evaluate whether or not the transaction is a good transaction, whether or not the valuation should be 3 billion versus 6 billion versus 20 billion. And those are the things that until you’re in it, I mean, you can do case studies and the rest of it, but it’s not until you are in it and you’re looking at the financials and you’re looking at the documentation and you’re looking at the 10Ks and the 8Ks and you’re looking at how the stock has ebbed and flowed. It’s not until you get into it that you really understand how this works. I think going through the MBA programs and the textbook piece of this is great. The EMBA program at Yale in particular, was quite interesting because we did have some entrepreneurs that could speak to their experience. This is what happened when I was involved in the transaction that sold Omnicare to CVS, we had a valuation of X, and we had an acquisition price of Y. And being able to reconcile those two until you’re in a position that you actually see that or can talk to people who understand how that works, it’s really a lot of it’s really on the job training.

Kate Cooney (43:52):

I wanted to ask about the connection between the regional economy that you’re embedded in here and the global nodes of your firm and what that means for the companies that you incubate and what you’re learning. So, for example, do you have companies that come out of the New Haven ecosystem that you’ve taken global? And are you primarily working with health care institutions and governments as clients? Can you give us just a sense of how the global and the local interact? 

Donna Lecky (44:27):

I think one of the reasons why a lot of physicians do the EMBA program at Yale and at Harvard and Penn, you have a number of physicians that are going back to school, a number of health care providers that are going back to school because they really want to understand the business aspect of this. Part of this is taking so local community, if you will, and understanding how that translates to a global society and how those innovations are important and impactful for not just a community that you serve or that you’re in, but potentially globally. And what I’ve been able to see over the course of the last four to five years is that a number of the innovations that I see, I may see the same innovation that I see in Bangalore, India, that I’ve seen in Beijing, China or Hong Kong, that I see in Dubai, that I’ve seen in the U.S. and they may be just at varying stages of the same innovation. And part of this is connecting the dots, connecting these teams. Everybody wants to be sort of the first to market. But innovators are becoming smarter than that because they’re saying, “OK, how can we combine? If you’ve got this piece of this and I’ve got the technology and you’ve got the knowhow and you’ve got the operational team, does it make sense to look at something? Look at this in a different way? Because the innovation that we’re talking about is going to be able to be expansive and explosive in all places within the world. Part of this also is a recognition that a number of these physicians and our students are from different parts of the world. So part of what they’re also trying to solve is probably an issue that impacts their own region. Right. So that’s why the global nature of this is really important because if I can benefit from a digital app that supports me as a patient that has diabetes or a maternal app that say, for example, “I’m in Africa and I live in a village that is 100 miles from where the hospital was, and I just delivered my child and I have the phone, and now I’m going back to the village with the baby. But now my feet are swelling up. There may be an issue of me having sepsis, but to be able to take the metrics of my fever and pictures and the rest of it and get that connected to the hospital, that’s 100 miles away.” Those are the kinds of innovations that really make a difference from a digital health care perspective. And so I think that the regional and the global nature of this and we could, we actually develop something called Y-Start Global, and that is to do this, to bridge those gaps. Because first of all, there’s just enough money for everybody and it just really frustrates me at times because this is, “I got to be the first market.” Yeah, but you’re being first to market, really, if your authentic goal is to really help people in health care, there are other teams that can help support you guys getting there faster. There’s enough wealth that’s available for everybody to support pushing that innovation through. Part of the reason why we started Y-Start global was to bring those teams together, bring the team specifically in the US, who are, to the US, who are interested in coming to the US and expanding their market, understanding this market better, which is sort of the curriculum that we offer for this particular cohort. And then in addition to speak to it on the other side, meaning that to be able to take those U.S. companies that are really trying to understand more things about Third World countries as an example to see how they can support from a health care perspective, it works both ways.

Kate Cooney (48:00):

One of the case studies we do in a class I teach on urban regional economic development looks at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the entrepreneurial ecosystem as described in the case is there’s a nice connection to UPMC, and UPMC will take an innovation like digital medical records and test it out first, you know, and then help broker those global markets. And we read so much about all the mergers and acquisitions happening in these big health care systems. The Brigham’s of the world or the Yale Hospitals of the world have gobbled up into their own network. Do you find that working with those networks has been fruitful?

Donna Lecky (48:51):

Oh, absolutely. I mean, for example, already being in the Yale ecosystem, it’s not difficult for me to pick up the phone and talk to the President of Yale New Haven Hospital or to be able to get access to our team to help me think to certain things or to bring certain innovations or certain teams to her. And she’s got her network that can help advance our network. So I think being a part of that is really important. But I think even if you’re not part of that system, and that’s one of the reasons why you have to have a program like an IHaven or an Y-Start Global and Y-Start boot camp and the rest of it and other programs that other organizations and other companies offer is because of the fact that it allows you to be able to sort of tap into these ecosystems. I think part of the challenge is from a health care perspective, with some of the massive systems that you’ve mentioned is, I think, a couple of things. One, I think that they need to sort of step out of their own way and they’re really starting to do that a lot more, but step out of their own way and not look at what is the flavor of the day, but really try to think about where do we see ourselves 20 years from now and working backwards as opposed to trying to solve for an issue. That solution may not be sustainable. And so I would encourage those larger systems to really have sort of an entrepreneurial think tank, if you will, so that they really think that we’re spending time and having a team that really can do the due diligence that can really identify or partner with a firm like mine to really identify what problems the system is trying to solve and really looking for those companies that can help solve those problems in a meaningful way, and that is again sustainable. Because at the end of the day, most entrepreneurs, I wouldn’t say most, I would say a good percentage of them want to get acquired. They want to have an exit strategy. They’re looking to go on to their next entrepreneurial venture. Some just, “I want to create my business and hold onto to my business for the rest of my life and want it to be a legacy for my children, et cetera, et cetera.” Part of what we do is, we don’t do the latter. We’re more interested because we are accepting cash and investments and creating equity stakes that we don’t do the latter. We have to do the former and that is to create opportunity and equity and advancement for our investors, as well as supporting the companies in order to do that. But I think that going back to the systems, if they were to really be a bit more comprehensive in their thinking about doing it, we’re starting to see a lot more of that today. You look at the CVS’s of the world, they’ve got their entrepreneurship programs, you’ve got Yale, from a perspective, I’m not sure with respect to Yale New Haven Hospital, but I know Yale has so many entrepreneurship programs. I think that there’s that they’re starting to really, really think about that, health care can’t be 21% or 25% of whatever number is today of our GDP and be leaders in health care and not really try to address that issue, not try to address the waste issue. And the entrepreneurs are the ones that can help them do that right?

Kate Cooney (52:09):

As we come to the end, there’s three things that we could hit on. One would be thinking about who your competitors are in the digital product ideation and launch space and what you see as your competitive advantage. The other would be, you know, a story or two about some companies you’ve incubated. And then I wanted to go to the last one, which is thinking 20 to 50 years in the future and kind of related to that just coming back to like the moment, this push toward really transformational change in terms of a more inclusive economy. Pushing past this slow two steps forward, five steps back progress we’re making on some of these issues and the vision for where we could be in 50 years.

Donna Lecky (52:57):

I going to try to hit those, but I’m going to, but I might have to say, “Kate, can you remind me what number two was?” So when we talk about sort of our competitors, you know, they’re companies, they’re much larger in scale and have many, many, many more resources. And there are, quite frankly, a number of other competitors in the space. But our competitive advantage is that we not only can ideate and launch, but we can advise on all operational aspects of the business from a VC or an investor perspective and get companies investor ready so that they can have companies that can invest in them, and we also for the portfolio companies and for some of the companies that we advise on, for portfolio companies, we require being a voting board member, but also a non-voting board member. And then from the board advisor perspective, there are companies that we sit on as a board advisor for companies that are part of our portfolio, the companies that we advise on. I think I fail to mention that we actually can ideate, design, develop the app. That’s one piece of this that our competitors would say we’re competing with them in terms of digital product and ideation and launching. However, what makes us more competitive is if we decide to invest in those companies and we take the seat as a board and a board advisor, our goal is to grow the company to a successful exit, and we’re committed to that success. And we also serve as that team for an early stage company that looks at that critical inflection points for the entrepreneur. We’re evaluating their ability to raise capital, we’re evaluating their team, we’re evaluating their ability to scale and have success. We’re looking at the source of talent that they have and their level of expertise or lack thereof and where they have those gaps. Our competitive advantages we help de-risk that by sitting in as a CTO, Chief Technology Officer or a CFO, Chief Financial Officer to help with their financial modeling. We can sit in and we can support them on the operational side. We can help create and develop their technology. So those are the things that when you just looking at us from a pure digital product valuation firm, they’re stopping their start is, what do you want to do? This is how we can be an advisor on how you can do it. We can help support you getting it done. Now it’s time for you to scale and go to market. That’s a whole other thing. We’re with you from the beginning, all the way to exit. So that’s a huge, I think, distinctive advantage that we have. So then when we go and we talk to VCs, which is another component that those other firms don’t necessarily support, our investment strategy is built on three pillars. One is the early stage company. That’s where our focus is and looking at where they have the gaps and where they have the strengths, looking and partnering with key collaborations and making sure that those entrepreneurs are building and that we’re bridging the right relationships that they need and then also really being in a position to drive their digital health solutions. So when I think about our advantage, the major five things that we solve for is really analyzing the market, doing stringent due diligence, looking at business model failure, whether they failed before. What are the issues? Is it customer acquisition, is that efficient capital deployment? Again, gaps in management team, coaching their management team. I’ll give you an example of one team that we coached and we’ve been advising on since their inception, which was in 2017, and they’re doing very, very well today. And this is a physician that actually came out of the Yale SOM program. But what they’ve come to realize, the founders did, was the person who was the CEO, he’s also a physician. As we coached him, came to the conclusion that, you know, I’m not the best CEO and that spoke volumes around his understanding, like he was CEO for two years, but they weren’t making, there was no traction. As soon as he stepped down, there was immediate traction. They’re doing very well, but it took a lot for him to get to the point of understanding through our coaching that you serve in this role. You shouldn’t serve in that role. But if you’re the founder, you just kind of want to, you want to hold on to your innovation and what we had to get him to recognize is that you’re not giving up anything, you are actually gaining. And when he recognized that, that’s when he decided to step down as CEO and their business is taking off. The other thing we solve for is we look at cash burn. We identify the key milestones and create the budget and we help them manage the cash flow. And also the product design. So I think from a competitive perspective, those are the things that give us our, our competitive advantage because we’re there from start to finish, or soup to nuts, as I like to say, to help that innovator move to the next level. And oftentimes what has happened is once those companies have decided to exit, we typically are asked to come back in in some capacity to support them on their next innovation. 

Kate Cooney (58:00):

Do you have any animating examples of companies that you’ve incubated?

Donna Lecky (58:04):

So a few companies that we incubated would be a company called Total Mama, and Total Mama is a company that really uses artificial intelligence that supports women in their journey from pre-pregnancy through the first two years of pregnancy. Because oftentimes when you see a lot of the material that’s out there for women who are pregnant and maybe for the first time or even the second and third time, the information is very generic, it’s very high level. And even if it delves into some specifics, the specifics aren’t necessarily based on using artificial intelligence. To have that information more customized to you as the individual that has specific needs and specific questions. And so based on your responses to the questions that we lay out for you through this app, as well as the questions that the key obstetrician out of Oxford University is, has created and really looking at those responses and using technology to help really formulate the content that’s needed for you to be able to really thrive during the pregnancy, but also at the same time, have a community of people, not just physicians and clinicians and nurse practitioners and the rest of it, but people who are similarly situated through your pregnancy process. For example, when I was pregnant, I had gestational diabetes or acquired gestational diabetes. Well, not every woman does. So I just don’t want generic information about what it is to be pregnant. I had a specific issue that resulted from my pregnancy. And so what do I do to, now you know that, what do I do to combat that? Once I delivered the child and there’s a propensity of me getting it down the road and all of those kinds of things. So the artificial intelligence helped support that content that is specific and design to you. And the reason why that for this particular app, we took it through two years, and it’s called Total Mama, because it is designed to not only deal with the things that you do with respect to pregnancy, but there is when we did our user surveys, one of the things that was very, very apparent to this user analysis and evidence based analysis that we did was a lot of the women came back and said everybody’s focused on the baby. But what about me? So you get into things like postpartum, you get into things like mental health. Mental health is an issue that’s so difficult to even address from any aspect. But if you’re a new mom, what do you mean you have mental health issues? What do you mean that you have? But what do you mean? You just get over it? You just got to work through it. And being able to have a community and content that specifically addresses you. We have another company called Mind Nest, and Mind Nest was a company that one of the physicians and clinicians who is responsible for psychiatry for individuals who are on the spectrum, and that essentially there are a lot of modules and support and education and information for the children. But what he did was he created a module specifically training for the parents of children who on the spectrum so that when you get out of that clinical environment, when everything’s wonderful and great and the child is listening to the physician, what happens when you go to the grocery store, you go to the movie theater and you’re with your child as a parent. Now I’m equipped with the tools to be able to diffuse a situation or manage a situation just like I were in the clinical setting. This was an innovation that we did a number of clinical studies on in Portugal and England and actually brought this innovation to Dr. K in Nanjing, China. She runs the Nanjing Brain Hospital, and one of the challenges that you have and again, as entrepreneurs and as VCs, you’ve got to be careful about the markets that you enter because you want to make sure that you hold on to your intellectual property and that it doesn’t get acquired inappropriately. But we’ve been in discussions with them. They’re very interested, but we got to work out the IP issue, and until we work that out, we’re not going to move forward, but those are just examples of some of the companies that are part of our portfolio that we’ve been able to support. And not only from a local and regional perspective, but from a global perspective.

Kate Cooney (01:02:29):

Some of these apps can be sold direct to consumer. Just thinking about that first example that you gave, and so would the exit then be to an institutional buyer like a health care system who or an insurance company who might be interested in the cost saving?

Donna Lecky (01:02:44):

Absolutely. So you would take, for example, a Mind Nest that would be of interest to clinical psychiatry department at a medical school or an academic institution could be supported by way of case studies, could be supported by way of analysis for analyzing the families and the parents. And it can also be sold to the B2C, the business to consumer market. You could also look at it from the B2B perspective, business to business, where as part of your employee benefits, there are a lot of verticals where there’s opportunities to work with not only again the payor, the provider, the hospital facility or health care system, but also the patient slash consumer.

Kate Cooney (01:03:27):

Yeah, and it’s very it’s a very sophisticated amount of work on the business side. It’s not as simple as creating an algorithm in an app, and that’s it. I mean, you’re managing some, all of these important research informed A.I. and so forth that require, it seems like from those examples, a lot of ongoing expertise and support as well.

Donna Lecky (01:03:51):

That’s exactly right. And then going back to the original pieces of what we do, when you’re talking about an early stage company or pre-seed and seed stage company, it’s even more challenging to get an investor geeked up about investing in the company. That’s why the team is so important, the credibility around the team is so important, and your secret sauce, whatever that is, is so important because, I mean whoever thought that Airbnb would be what it is or that or that Uber and Lyft, you know, a company that has absolutely no inventory whatsoever but really had the algorithmic play is what it really boiled down to and using consumers and their assets to support their business model. I mean, who would have thought. Part of this is as an entrepreneur is really, really thinking through maybe four or five critical things that are important to the business? Maybe this ties into your last question, but understanding so what are you solving for? Why and how? And what do you think your solution is to that issue? I was on the phone today, earlier with someone who went through our bootcamp. She doesn’t do what we do, but one of the judges is listening and is very interested in her product and so they connected with her. She connected with us, not only is it courtesy, but we require that if you participate in our program that if you are contacted by any of, just keep us in the loop. So she kept me in the loop, and I asked her, I said, “Based on what you have, what other problems does your solution solve outside of ensure tech?” And she was able to rattle off three or four things. And so being able to really understand what your solution is doing, really how broad that solution is, really being clear about your team. It’s great to be able to hire family and want to hire family, and want green people in the mix. But the family doesn’t have the requisite skillset that you need, then bring family in when you are an already established business and maybe they can serve a role in that particular point in time. But if you’re really trying to get off the ground, one of the things that an investor looks at is how credible the team is. It’s really important because they recognize that you’re an early stage company. That team is critical to the success of whether or not that innovation gets moved forward or not. And it also speaks to the branding. For example, Total Mama, and we have one of the top physicians in the world who is an OB-GYN then that makes a big difference in terms of who’s interested in investing in the company. Once you’ve looked at that, those financial projections, these seasoned investors recognize that if you’re early stage company, that those projections in some respects are swag, because you don’t know if, by definition, if it’s a new innovation you don’t know, you can point to maybe your competition. But the reason why you are in the market is because your competition isn’t doing what it is you’re doing. And that’s the delta that you have to be able to value, but it’s difficult to do that. So part of that is really just understanding what your secret sauce is, how you relay that secret sauce to the markets, what your market strategy is and being able to have that discussion with investors. And so those are, to me, some of the key components that I’m looking at to determine whether or not I would invest in a company and just how diligent and how committed the team is to advancing the innovation.

Kate Cooney (01:07:19):

Well, as we end on one of the questions that we’ve been asking as we go through this season of the podcast is thinking about you know, that statistic, 41% of Black owned, Black led businesses closed in the early months of the pandemic and thinking about the current moment, the kind of societal introspection we’ve been through over the past year of seeing statistics like that of, thinking about George Floyd’s murder, observing it, reckoning with it. There are a lot of initiatives underway and a lot of posturing and performing about a desire to do things differently. Do you see things happening that are encouraging or that make you excited? And then if you were to think like 20 or 50 years into the future, what would it look like if we had really accomplished some transformational changes such that we had a much more equitable playing field? And what are like one or two or three things that we would have done between now and then to create that future?

Donna Lecky (01:08:29):

They are all great questions, and I think that’s a podcast for an entire, I mean, that one question. Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. But I would say this. When you look at, for example, Goldman Sachs that has a new program that they just launched. I think it’s 10 billion over 10 years with one million Black women, Black businesses, Black entrepreneurs or JPMorgan Chase and their initiatives, and that there is a recognition that there’s been too few resources that have been made available to not only entrepreneurs of color, not only resources from the perspective of education and access, but also from the perspective of just flat out capital. It’s one thing to have an initiative, but I don’t even like the word. My view is it has to be a change of the way in which we do things. Because initiative to me sounds sort of temporary as opposed to changing the way that we do things is sustainable. My fear is that we have to or we continue to wait on an event like the Civil Rights Act or the George Floyd situation, or to be able to do something that’s meaningful in society, that sort of rights the wrongs of economic and systemic racism and how that has impacted Black people. If you look at what’s happened between the 1960s to today, we’ve, the Black and brown communities, I’ll speak to the Black community, we’ve lost traction. We’ve lost the financial wealth. If you go back to what I was saying about the wages between white women and white men compared to Black women, they’re 15 to 35% higher, respectively. And so part of this challenge is really evaluating whether or not these are programs or whether or not we are really creating sustainable and meaningful ways to close that wealth gap and to create access and opportunity and to allow people of color to be in roles and in positions to effectively do exactly that, and that’s to change the wealth gap. I give you an example of one of the things that I did when I was talking to one of the foundations that supports gearing up and working with and creating the right curriculum for asset managers who’ve been in the field for a very long time, but also who maybe need additional support to be able to know how to do this and do this well and be successful in doing it. And when you look at their statistics, I think they’re in a twenty fifth of twenty sixth cohort. When you look at the number of people who they brought in their cohort, which is a very, very, very select process, the number of Black and brown investment entrepreneurs and fund managers, let’s just say the fund managers, is like, you know, less than 5%, less than 3%. And so what I did was I wrote in and I said, “Why don’t you do something radically different? For the next 5 to 10 years, you have 3% of your fund management population are white people and make the 97% the people that have been ignored traditionally throughout your program?” I heard are crickets. But they got my point. They understood exactly what I was saying. To me, those are quicker ways to address the wealth gap issue by creating more deserving opportunities in a more meaningful way. I think things like while the top firms, traditional firms, typically hire out of the Harvard’s and Stanford’s, et cetera, et cetera, partner with historically Black colleges and universities to create a curriculum and a program and a pipeline for those students to see directly into their programs, starting off as interns and then growing within the organization and really mentoring and coaching those individuals to be a part of that. The Big Four accounting firms are still solving for the issue of why is it that they have few Black partners? Why is it that, why is it that auditors stay for two and a half years and they don’t, they leave it? It’s because the environment is not conducive to great opportunities, working with great clients, getting, being supported while you in those environments. And until we really delve internally to the diversity and inclusion and I hate those words, but when we really look at the people who are in the leadership roles and making sure that they’re really tied to how this is supposed to really be from a perspective of equity and fairness, by way of assignment, by way of compensation, by way of wages and the rest of it. I just, I don’t think it’s going to happen. And I’ll give another example. When I was with one of the Big Four accounting firms, they will remain nameless. I was on the committee that had to do with diversity, getting Black folks to stay in and not only come into the companies and the firm but also to stay there and also to make partner and as well as women. And I said we ought to do is take the partners, pair the partners with the female or the person of color associate and that partner’s bonus and success within the partnership is directly tied to the success of that person that they’re mentoring and coaching. So if that person leaves, well maybe they don’t get a bonus that year, if that person gets promoted, then maybe they get a higher bonus that year. But when you start to make those radical changes around how this should be viewed and how it’s directly tied into your income or your ability to move up in the organization, I think you’ll get a very different result. And so what do I see 20 to 50 years from now? Unless we start to make those radical changes and in some respects, we’re going to have to, Kate, because the reality of it is the projections by what 2035, 2050, whatever is, within that timeframe that you just provided, the demographics of how we look in terms of American, in terms of the world is going to change. I mean, this is becoming a darker America, it’s becoming a brown America. And so, you know, we really need to think about what does the economy or what will the economy look like if we don’t start making those changes and putting these individuals and roles of leadership to help thrust our economy and our businesses to the next level? So unless we really make those radical changes and really think about this a bit more creatively, I’m not so sure that we just won’t create another sort of, you have a certain number of people who have wealth and a certain number of people who are that labor pool and essentially be in a situation where that’s the best that we get out of that. And I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful and I’m desirous of a better solution and that’s to create the sustainable opportunities for people to create more of a level playing field that’s sincere and authentic.

Kate Cooney (01:15:26):

Thank you so much, Donna. Thanks for being with us and thank you for all the really incredible work that that you do.

Donna Lecky (01:15:33):

Thank you, Kate. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing because you’re, what you’re doing, your platform gets the word out and that’s really, really important. So thank you for the work that you’re doing as well.

Kate Cooney (01:15:46):

Tune in next time where we feature an interview with Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Professor of Practice at the Brown School of Engineering and founder and director of the Venture Capital Inclusion Lab. See you then!

Manuel Morales (01:16:04):

This podcast was created by Kate Cooney in collaboration with James Johnson-Piett and the students of the Spring 2021 Lab.

Eun Sun Cho (01:16:12):

All engineering and production by Ryan McAvoy and Kate Cooney.

Kate Cooney (01:16:16):

Special thanks to Rhona Ceppos for administrative support and to Ryan Carpenter for assistance with Zoom.

Eun Sun Cho (01:16:23):

Music from the album City Trees, composed and performed by the artist K-Dub.

Manuel Morales (01:16:28):

For more information and show notes, visit our website at

Eun Sun Cho (01:16:34):

Thank you for listening.