Health-care startup HUED, founded by entrepreneur Kimberly Wilson, announced Monday that it has raised $1.6 million in seed funding, with investors including Female Founders Fund, Serena Williams' VC fund Serena Ventures, Black Founders Matter, Gingerbread Capital and angel investor and health-care leader Halle Tecco.
"I started this company because of my core belief in the preciousness of Black lives and the desire to protect it," Wilson tells CNBC Make It about her platform that works to address racial health disparities. "Building a startup as a Black woman in health care is hard, incredibly hard. And, I think that's why this round announcement is particularly special."
Wilson launched HUED in 2018 after personally receiving improper health care for a fibroid diagnosis in 2017. Her experience of dealing with bias and discrimination in the health-care system, she says, is what compelled her to create a platform like HUED that works to connect Black and Latinx patients with culturally competent health-care providers. She defines "culturally competent" as health-care professionals who "specifically understand the physical, mental and cultural needs" of diverse patients.
"I think that the pandemic, while horrific and tragic, really amplified the disparities that exist within health care that can no longer be ignored," says Wilson. "Essentially, there are not many companies that focus specifically on health equity and addressing [Black and Latinx] populations that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and I think our solution was just very attractive to VCs."
But, even with the pandemic shining a light on these health-care disparities, Wilson says she "won't detract from the fact that being a Black woman founder is extremely hard." Black women have received just 0.34% of U.S. venture capital funding so far this year.
"My journey was not easy to say the least," she explains. "I probably pitched over 100 investors if I'm being honest with you about the process. And so, it's just incredible to have received support from these investors who, from day one, saw the vision and saw our mission."
With HUED's goal to change the lives of 500,000 Black and Latinx patients by 2025 through increased access to quality health care, Wilson says she knew that entering a partnership with the right investors was super important.
"We weren't just trying to accept money from anybody," she says, explaining that the investors in this seed round of funding "have done work either in this [health-care] sector, for communities of color or for women."
"Female Founders Fund has been committed to investing in women and minority founders from day one. That is their North Star," she says. "So, it already made sense to embark on that journey together. And for Serena, who has personally talked about the issues she has had as a Black woman navigating the health-care system, obviously there was a mutual sense of understanding."
With this new round of funding, Wilson says HUED will be able to better scale its platform to improve engagement for physicians and patients, and it will be able to provide anti-racism and implicit bias training to more than 5,000 health-care workers nationwide. Additionally, as the platform grows, Wilson hopes to increase her team from its current head count of five to a total of 10-12 members by the end of this year.
"We are thrilled to back Kimberly and her vision for HUED in making health care more equitable for millions of Black and Latinx patients," says Anu Duggal, founding partner of Female Founders Fund. "She has built exciting traction with a strong team and we believe the HUED model will have a massive impact on health-care outcomes in this country."