26 – 100 in alphabetical order: John Banta, Blue Cross Blue Shield Venture Partners

Since June 2014, John Banta has been executive director of BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners (BCBSVP), a $550m corporate venture fund sponsored by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a federation of 36 US health insurance organisations. Since then, he has been on “the continued quest for value-based – or at least more effective and efficient – clinical approaches” in a world of “US federal health policy instability”, as he said in GCV’s year-end survey last year.

Banta said: “2018 was a prolific year for us – our most productive yet by several measures, including projects sourced and assessed, levels of new and follow-on investment, exits and value creation. New investment areas included:

  • Speciality pharmacy – SonarMD, a US-based developer of technology that helps care providers manage patients with chronic health conditions, and Octave Bioscience, a US-based care management service for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Addiction management – Workit, a US-based addiction treatment provider, and Ideal Option, a US-based medication-assisted treatment and behavioural counselling services provider.
  • Social isolation and gaps in care – Wider Circle, a US-based senior mobilisation and socialisation program developer.
  • Musculoskeletal – Physera, a US-based musculoskeletal care treatment access provider.
  • Medical transport – Alacura, a US-based clinical patient transportation manager.

“We developed and launched a unique program to accelerate the national deployment of innovation across our system and have also been afforded a more prominent role in offering advice and advocacy to regulatory entities to drive better health outcomes through innovation. To that end, we have participated by invitation in HHS Patient-centred health forum and the HHS Deputy Secretary’s Investment and Innovation Summit and are co-hosting an Innovation and Policy Forum in collaboration with the BlueCross and BlueShield Association and the Congressional Innovation Caucus on Capitol Hill in the Spring of 2019.”

To date, the unit has had nine successful exits, including one complete and one partial – recap – exit during 2018. Specifically, US-based palliative care provider Aspire Health was sold to health benefits provider Anthem in May last year.

BCBSVP also engages actively with its portfolio companies, Banta said: “We have now created in excess of 140 commercial relationships between our portfolio companies and BlueCross Plans.” The unit has made 43 investments to date, including seven new investments in 2018 and 2019.

Furthermore, Banta added: “We have formed our PhaseOne innovation deployment program, as well as Clinical and Technical Strategy Advisory Groups involving participation from numerous BCS Plans.”

It is not the first time a BCBSA-affiliated person has been selected to receive a GCV award. Banta himself has been featured on the Powerlist for three consecutive years since 2017. Binoy Bhansali, a vice-president at Sandbox Industries, a US-based venture firm that manages BCBSVP, was recognised as a Rising Star this year. Eric Steager, director of corporate development and innovation and managing director of strategic innovation portfolio at Independence Blue Cross (IBC), a healthcare licensee of the BCBSA, was also selected a Rising Star in 2017.

Banta is responsible for maintaining relationships with all stakeholders to ensure the operational success of the fund, and for the generation of an appropriate rate of strategic and financial return.

BCBSVP was launched in 2008 and is currently managing its third fund with $575m in assets under management, including participation of the overwhelming majority of the 36 Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance plans, and nearly doubling the size of the program. Banta explained: “We have invested in a stage-agnostic manner, ranging from de novo startups to minority participation in control investments.”

For his 2017 Powerlist profile, Banta said: “With the healthcare industry continuing to experience unprecedented change, we will continue to focus on supporting leading entrepreneurs driving innovation within a dynamic marketplace.”

It is success supported from the very top. Scott Serota, president and chief executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said: “For the past 10 years Blue Cross Blue Shield Venture Partners has advanced healthcare innovation, supporting entrepreneurs and a marketplace of new ideas. Thanks to John’s outstanding leadership, we continue to have successful outcomes and have seen a growing level of activity in new strategic investments, as well as increased participation from BCBS companies. As Plans collaborate to drive innovation, we look forward to the next 10 years, with Blue Cross Blue Shield taking on an even greater leadership role, advising on regulatory matters and expanding our involvement with global affiliates.”

From 2002 to 2014, Banta was CEO and managing director of IllinoisVentures, an early-stage technology investment firm launched by University of Illinois and focused on companies deriving from Midwest universities and labs. Banta built and led the founding team and continues to serve as the managing principal of the Illinois Emerging Technologies Fund managed by the firm, and of IllinoisVentures Capital Holdings.

Before joining IllinoisVentures, he was the president and chief operating officer of DigitalWork, a Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Dell Ventures portfolio company, having served as head of corporate and business development.

Previously, Banta was a vice-president of corporate services at investment banks UBS and Bear Stearns, and a director of the Investment Management Consultants Association. He earned an MBA in finance and statistics with high honours from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business where he has guest lectured, and a bachelor’s degree in finance from University of Illinois.