Q&A with Rob Coppedge, CEO, Echo Health Ventures

Tunde Sotunde, president and chief executive of US-based health insurance provider Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, said of Rob Coppedge, CEO of the group’s corporate venturing unit Echo Health Ventures: “Not any one of us can transform health care alone. It takes a coalition of the willing. Echo Innovation Alliance allows us to collaborate with more depth and scale across strategic investments that will not only improve the health of our people but will also make a positive difference in the communities that we all live and work.”

Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and a member of the USAble Corporation board of directors, added: “As a health solutions company, we are excited to support those we serve, improving their health and well-being as well as their health care experience.

“Every day, we are committed to finding ways to solve the challenges that our members and health care system face. By joining the Echo Innovation Alliance, we will have access to deep health care industry knowledge and funding, which allows us to have greater speed to bring critical innovations to market for the benefit of members, providers and communities.”


Strategic and leadership measures:

1. How many collaborations with startups has your fund done in the last 12 months?

10 formal collaborations and dozens of informal ones. Over 80% of our portfolio companies have strategic engagements in place with our parent companies.

2. Number of investments you have made in the past year: 17.

3. Number of collaboration engagements with your portfolio companies: 10, dozens since inception.

4. Any contribution to the CVC or VC ecosystem you would like to highlight (for example, public leadership position in conferences and associations:

Echo Health Ventures publishes thought pieces to amplify the role of CVC and VC in these changing times. Another example of a publication is the Global Corporate Venturing report with contributions by Echo Health Ventures. Echo investment professionals shared their insights on the acceleration of virtual care, the exploding need for mental health services and the need to put health care consumers back in the driver seat of their own health, as emerging opportunities post-covid-19. Also with GCV, Echo Health Ventures is working with the Global Healthcare Council to develop a true, global, corporate venturing capital (CVC) healthcare investing community. The group be co-chaired by Rob Coppedge, CEO of Echo Health Ventures, and Bill Taranto, founder of the Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, and will share best practices, thought leadership and build community among health investors.

5. Team member in GCV Rising Stars, Emerging Leaders and other awards:

In 2021, Echo Health Ventures’ Dusty Lieb and Kurt Sheline were both recognised by Global Corporate Venturing for the second year in a row for their excellence and leadership in strategic investing – Dusty as an Emerging leader and Kurt as a top 10 Rising Star. Additionally, in fall 2020, Global Corporate Venturing announced Echo CEO Rob Coppedge as part of the Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist 2020, a compilation of leaders shaping the future of the industry.

6. Team expansion and recent promotions:

Matt Parmett to principal, Lindsey Brown to senior associate, Suzanne McLemore to managing principal.

7. Plans for the year ahead:

Echo Health Ventures invests in health care technology, health care services and digital health companies that are bringing innovative solutions and new capabilities to market, with investments across these companies’ development stages. Echo focuses on investing in companies that personalise healthcare, supporting individuals and families alike, and sees tremendous opportunity ahead as some of the fundamental changes that occurred during the pandemic remain. These include a shift in the location of services from only brick and mortar to virtual or at-home, a focus on public health and equity across the market, and new entrants driving true change in the market. We look forward to reforging the relationships we have maintained, even from a distance, throughout the pandemic.

8. Milestones achieved at your unit:

Two of the biggest milestones in the last year were expanding the investing impact of Echo Health Ventures by launching the Innovation Alliance and continuing to see our portfolio companies gain additional financing scale through private equity rounds and IPOs. In January 2021, we announced the formation of the Echo Innovation Alliance, a powerful strategic investing engine that extends Echo’s proven investment model. Echo and USAble Corporation will collaborate through the newly formed Alliance to invest in transformative companies and drive broader market impact. The depth of the Alliance will bring together forward-thinking health solutions companies with demonstrated experience providing products and services to millions of Americans – increasing Echo’s ability to drive health care innovation to scale, support meaningful health care impact, and expand investment sourcing and industry relationships. The Alliance continues and builds upon Echo’s strategic investing model, which efficiently connects market-driven innovations with the scale of innovative health care enterprises like Cambia, Mosaic (BlueCross North Carolina) and USAble. USAble Corporation serves its parent company, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, by identifying and investing in strategic capabilities and products designed to serve the needs of the businesses and individuals served by Arkansas Blue Cross.

9. Pain points and opportunities you have encountered in corporate venturing:

Today’s successful companies understand the importance of enterprise relationships and channel access. They have hired health care experts, partnered effectively, and have even co-developed their models alongside legacy players. Many raised venture capital from strategic corporate investors who have helped them refine their product, accelerate channel access, and get past the risk of “death by pilot”. These “Digital Health Survivors” have taken a road that is unfortunately less travelled.

The other road is cluttered with well-intentioned point solutions still looking for “product-market fit” and “sales traction.” These companies are facing numerous challenges, and raising capital is very difficult for them (or will soon be). Most have failed to craft meaningful channel partnerships or leverage scaled partners to find early, credible proof points. Surprisingly, many highly respected venture capital firms have invested in these companies; venture capitalists that do not have a reputation for overlooking product-market fit problems, sales traction hiccups, or lack of credible proof points in other industries. “Innovative Incumbents” have a few things in common. First, many of them are on a similar mission, in pursuit of the “triple aim” of improved affordability, outcomes, and experience. They also have risk-tolerant, innovation-embracing boards and management teams, strong balance sheets, and the ability to attract top talent.

Most importantly, these Innovative Incumbents are differentiated by their commitment to becoming good partners with the “Digital Health Survivors”. They have realised that winning in the future means bringing together better solutions and consumer experiences than their competitors. We have seen them add new technology and nimble operating models to their existing business with a focus on bringing enhanced value propositions to market at scale. They have created teams and set aside budget to make these partnerships successful, and many are creating technological, data and operational APIs to drive efficiency in standing up partnerships with innovators.

10. What do you think all corporations could do better to make it a stronger industry?

Echo is proud to be a part of GCV’s Global Healthcare Council, which was launched to provide leadership towards developing a true, global, corporate venturing capital (CVC) healthcare investing community. Our goal in participating is to be able to share best practices, advance thought-leadership, build talent and create a community of healthcare investors to drive deals and accelerate ecosystem development and scale.

11. For colour, what did you do prior to your venture role or in your spare time?

Before founding Echo, I served as the president of Cambia Health Solutions’ diversified business unit (Direct Health Solutions). In this role, I oversaw Cambia’s wholly-owned operating companies (including cost and quality transparency market leader HealthSparq; ancillary benefits provider LifeMap, as well as its venture and private equity investing activities.

I joined Cambia in 2010 to launch and build the company’s diversification and corporate venture investment efforts. Under my leadership, Cambia invested in nearly 20 companies. In 2015, I co-founded Cambia Grove – an innovation hub focused on catalyzing and supporting the Pacific Northwest’s emerging health care economic cluster.

At Cambia Grove, innovators and entrepreneurs work closely with regional stakeholders to find solutions to pressing health care challenges. Before joining Cambia, I was the founding partner of Faultline Ventures, where he worked with numerous early-stage companies and strategic investors.

Previously, I was a partner at Capitol Health Partners, a Washington DC, and New York City-based venture capital firm specialising in early-stage health services and health care information technology.

Active in industry and community organisations, I serve on the boards of several healthcare companies and am a founder and former director of the Nashville-based largest network of young health care executives, Leadership Health Care. I also serve on the board of directors at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Cambia Health Foundation and am a member of the Health Executives Network, Young President’s Organisation and fellow of the American Leadership Forum. I was formerly on the board of directors at Life Science Washington (formerly Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association). I am a graduate of Georgetown University with a degree in history and a Chartered Financial Analyst, charter holder.

I live in Portland, Oregon with my wife and three children. In my spare time, I enjoy trying new restaurants in the Portland epicurean scene and throughout the country. A foodie at heart, my dedication to researching the hot spots for new cuisines and experiences is why my colleagues always let me make the dinner reservation.