Community Breaking Down Barriers in Healthcare and Venture Capital

by the editorial team at Citi | September 22, 2021

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The journey to get here was never assured.

Erica Plybeah, the founder of a technology startup called MedHaul, veered from her career path and staked her retirement savings in order to launch her company.

Based in Plybeah’s hometown of Memphis, TN, MedHaul’s mission is to make it easy for people with special needs to get to the doctor. MedHaul has built a technology platform to help healthcare providers find and book rides for vulnerable patients and those with special needs so they can reach their medical appointments and receive care.

It solves for a challenge that is bigger, and more detrimental, than many realize. Millions of people miss medical appointments due to transportation issues, and healthcare providers lose millions of dollars due to no-show patients. In fact, transportation is a leading social determinant of health (SDOH) — meaning a lack of access to transportation to medical care may worsen a person’s health outlook. 

It was Plybeah’s struggle to help her mom get her grandmother, a diabetic, to and from her doctor visits that led her to launch MedHaul. “It was just honestly a nightmare for our family,” she says of the experience. “I thought that there had to be an easier way to find and book this transportation.”

As a Black woman whose company is based in Tennessee — well outside the tech industry’s perceived centers of activity — Plybeah faced obstacles in securing seed funding to scale MedHaul. “Most tech founders in the ecosystem tend to have a certain profile, and I didn't match that profile,” says Plybeah. “I wasn't based in a certain location, didn't go to a certain school... You go into investors’ offices, and this is the first time they’ve ever even seen a black female founder, let alone have never invested in one.”

In seeking out investments from venture capital (VC) firms, she says she had to navigate what she calls quadruple due diligence.

“It’s a term that a lot of us founders use, which explains the extra level of scrutiny that black founders typically have to go through,” she says. “Additional paperwork, additional meetings to figure out if our company is a good fit for the fund… Founders know what goes on in rooms because we talk to other founders.” (According to Project Diane, of all VC investment raised from 2009 to 2018, 0.06% went to Black women-led firms.)

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In seeking out investments from venture capital (VC) firms, she says she had to navigate what she calls quadruple due diligence.
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A breakthrough moment came when Plybeah crossed paths — digitally at first — with Rashmi Pendse.

“Erica and I met at a conference that was being held online due to COVID,” says Pendse, a Senior Vice President with the Citi Impact Fund, a $200 million VC fund launched in January 2020 aimed at investing in so-called double-bottom-line startups: private companies that are seeking be profitable and achieve social or environmental good.

“During that conference,” Pendse continues, “I happened to look at who had checked me out on LinkedIn. Erica had viewed my profile, so I viewed her profile and saw that she was leading a startup involved in bringing folks transportation to healthcare. I messaged her.” They got to talking, and Pendse learned MedHaul was seeking seed-stage funding. The Citi Impact Fund soon became an investor in MedHaul.

“I think I basically LinkedIn stalked her,” Pendse laughs.

Their connection came as Citi was enacting broad and groundbreaking commitments to help address inequalities that have perpetuated the racial wealth gap. Citi’s $1 billion Action for Racial Equity initiative, launched in September 2020, cuts across a host of issues including those related to housing, banking and business. The Citi Impact Fund received a $50 million infusion to specifically support Black founders as a means to help correct the lopsided landscape of VC investment.

“From the beginning, the Citi Impact Fund had a mission of supporting minority and women entrepreneurs,” Pendse notes, “but in conjunction with Citi's broader Action for Racial Equity initiative, this was seen as another way that the Impact Fund could further those goals.” And funding is only part of the commitment: “When the Citi Impact Fund invests in startups, we really are trying to bring all of Citi's resources to bear and support that founder.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has at once laid bare and worsened inequalities in access to healthcare. “If we're going to have a more cohesive society and country, it’s really important that we address those gaps,” Pendse says. “It’s exciting to watch Erica be part of that change.”

With Citi as a supporter, MedHaul has expanded its footprint outside Tennessee. Plybeah says MedHaul recently surpassed 8,500 rides facilitated. “To see that growth is really exciting,” Pendse says. “I'm just so happy to see Erica shine.”

Don’t miss the video above for more on MedHaul and the Citi Impact Fund.