August 16, 2022

When we talk about equality as it relates to women’s empowerment these days, it is often in the context of Women’s Rights Initiative committees and abstract steps. In this article, I’m excited to share my conversations with two women who are driving change with equity in the form of real dollars and decisions. April Koh is the co-founder of Spring Health, a mental health platform and twice the rhino, which ranks itself among the female-led startups that accounted for 2.3% of all startup funds in 2020. Ita Ekpoudom is a partner in GingerBread Capital, Inc. Venture capital invested in Spring Health.

Koh and Ekpoudom are health tech movers and shakers, playing complementary roles that keep this ecosystem strong. I met up with these two powerful organizations separately to ask some common questions about what it means to be a health technology leader. I spoke with April on Zoom at 5:30 p.m. Friday while eating a Hi-Chew and wearing an oversized black Foie gras shirt. Etta zooms in from her home office after her jury duty is over. I am grateful to both of you for taking time out from their busy schedules to share some thoughts with you and me.

What are your greatest leadership skills?

April: I am very curious, which includes knowing the details of my institutions and also the overall trends related to the health technology industry. I’m a good writer, and I rely on written communications like emails and memos to make sure everyone on my team stays on the same page.

Most of all, I value integrity. I like to set high standards of values ​​for myself and the entire company.

eta: One of the things I think about a lot is how to be an empathetic leader. My greatest strength is my ability to bring different parties together, find common ground, and move people forward. I think this is rooted in knowing what it means to be “someone else” in the room, as a black person and as a woman. I know what it feels like to not see or hear you.

How do you promote women and underrepresented minorities?

April: First of all – I am one. I have been approached by many young Asian women and told that they are inspiring to start their own business because you are ‘like me’.

I track diversity metrics with my leadership team. We are very diverse as a company in general. About a year ago, we shifted focus from the gaze meter to the entire company and began paying more attention to the leadership team. The concern for representation at the leadership level made us responsible.

Etta: We invest in women. We put actual dollars into their companies. Then we open the doors. You need capital and access and that’s what we’re putting on the table.

Even though we are 51% of the population, women as a category are underrepresented in adventure. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the work you do every day removes these inequalities. When you’re allied personally and professionally, it’s good to be in it.

What is the feasibility study for financing women?

April: Girls run the world. From anecdotal evidence, I see women executives performing at a very high level, and I think that’s because they had to overcome more barriers. The fact that they got where they are is an indication that they are top notch.

Ultimately, the issue of women’s financing is about equality – there is no way to overcome sexism if the power is not in balance. In a capitalist context, power, through thick and thin, relates to wealth, construction, and leadership of successful businesses.

ETA: Nobody asks “what is the feasibility study for financing a man”. When we ask, “What is the feasibility study for majority underrepresented funding in our society,” it comes from the idea that if you are not part of the societal norm (“the straight white man”), you are less than, or less likely to succeed. And I don’t think that’s the case.

So to answer your question: First of all: why not? Second, because women build high-growth companies. They solve big and bold problems. I am in the field of major corporate finance. This is not a charity. I am in the business of making money. When you look at a company like Spring Health, you see an example of a company that not only made money, but did so by helping people regain a sense of hope and confidence in themselves, which translates to being able to bring their best in their personal and professional interactions. This is good for business.

Why invested in April Koh?

ETA: When April introduced Spring Health, it framed mental health support as a feature that companies could use as a selling point to attract and retain employees. What COVID has shown is that it’s okay to be unwell. The next step is to be able to say, “I need help.” We need to meet people wherever they are. Mental health is rising from the shadows into public discourse and into business. All companies are groups of people (employees), and mental health can affect the bottom line.

It is interesting to watch the evolution of the mental health space. When we look at business, a lot of it has to do with external relationships and interactions with others. Few stressed the importance of our relationship with ourselves. When it comes to talking about mental health, this was something I talked about behind closed doors. It’s great to see that change.

What is the first thing you look for in a good investment?

April: It’s interesting, when I started as an angel investor, I made a list of criteria for the founders and their businesses that could be considered good investments – good selling skills, refinement, experience, and attractiveness. Then I realized when I was looking for financing, I didn’t meet any of those metrics. Now, I look for the traits I possess: curiosity, desire to learn, willingness to try new approaches, persistence and flexibility, to name a few.

ETA: Take a look at the founding team and what product/service are they building and why? Is there a large enough market that can be addressed? Have they reached product compatibility with the market? I am also looking for the ability to attract talent, a wide and diverse pool of the best minds. Too many people of the same type will not help the company succeed. Finally, I’m looking for companies that at GingerBread we can add value.

How does the narrative about women in leadership change?

APRIL: The media is becoming more self-aware, and perhaps people in general are also interested in the scrutiny that women face. There is a lot of awareness about the tone with which people describe women leaders.

Eta: We’re glad to see that there’s more conversation about foundations and the types of companies they’re starting. We’re starting to see unicorn acquisitions and IPOs like April. We are seeing a shift in the narrative. It’s no longer a question of “Can women be a successful founder”.

Also, I hope the notion of “we can’t find any” about women entrepreneurs has gone away. Now, it’s about moving women through oppression. It’s great to see more positive travels.

conclusion: Learn more about Spring Health over here and GingerBread Capital over here.

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