Rob Coppedge, CEO of Echo Health Ventures, is one of the 100 leading corporate venturing professionals in our 2024 Powerlist.

When Rob Coppedge CEO of Echo Health Ventures, first joined a healthcare venture capital firm through an internship in the mid-90s, he did so for the same reason many people go into their first role – he needed a job.

“I was a socialist history major, so I was the last person you would think would take this job,” he says.

It was when he went to his first annual partners’ meeting, while listening to presentations from portfolio companies, that he realised investing in startups was an effective way to do well, while doing a lot of good – and the rest is history. He ended up working full-time at Capitol Health, where he stayed for the next 13 years, working his way up from associate to partner.

Coppedge began investing for a corporate in 2010 for Cambia Health Solutions, a Portland-headquartered healthcare company. Cambia and Blue Cross North Carolina later merged their CVC units to create a shared investment platform – Echo Health Ventures. Echo has expanded in recent years, adding other corporate partners: Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield and Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee. Coppedge became Echo’s CEO when it was founded in 2016.

We have grown up as an industry. We have real leaders, we have strong process, we have infrastructure, we have proven we can do this. So now we can take on the challenge of connecting our work to truly advancing on this essential innovation agenda

At the time, the name of the game was trying to make financial and corporate VC look the same to startups – convincing everyone that there was no difference between them, because, at the time, corporate VCs were not widely respected.

Now, CVCs have built their track record alongside financial VCs, says Coppedge, and they would do well to lean into their differences, which can be strengths rather than weaknesses.

“What has been great and what is inspiring to me is that now we can say, ‘no, we are different, thank goodness’,” he says.

“As a corporate, we can really bring something valuable, different, powerful. I am really loving the creativity and the empowerment of leaning into the differences. We do not have to compete on being the same. We should compete on our differences, because I think we have the better mousetrap. CVCs are no longer the sleepy jobs where you can claim to be a venture capitalist, but not actually do anything. We are ploughing new ground and pushing the model forward.”

From the mid-90s, there was a clear innovation agenda in US healthcare, focused on improving quality, experience, access and price. But the direction of travel on those metrics leaves a lot to be desired, according to Coppedge.

“If you look across the past 30 years, venture returns have been strong, but the actual movement on those four measures of the innovation agenda has gone backwards.”

“This is why I am so excited about where we find ourselves now. We have grown up as an industry. We have real leaders, we have strong process, we have infrastructure, we have proven we can do this. So now we can take on the challenge of connecting our work to truly advancing on this essential innovation agenda, measuring it and holding all parties accountable.”

 In a healthcare context, where even basic access to services is lacking for many, Coppedge looks forward to backing startups focused on improving outcomes for mental health, maternal health and rural healthcare, as well as seeing effective use cases for generative AI in healthcare.

The first piece of advice he would give to newcomers in the industry is to find their cohort – find out who is building what you want to build and develop a network.

He would also advise CVC practitioners to be transparent from the beginning about the challenges, as well as the opportunities that the unit is likely to face in its market – too many CVCs have fallen by the wayside because of parent companies being painted a rosy picture before being unpleasantly surprised over time.

Finally, do not make the mistake that some CVCs make when they silo themselves away from their corporate, trying to put as much space as possible between them. CVCs should lean into the unique insights they can get as part of a corporate. It also helps with longevity, too, when you are always present in the corporate’s mind and they know you are trying to help in whatever way you can, even if it is indirectly.

Powerlist cover

The Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist represents the 100
individuals spearheading the future of the corporate venturing industry.

These individuals excel in terms of their venturing approach and structure, number and quality of portfolio companies and in their contributions to the corporate venturing profession.

See the full 2024 Powerlist here.