Implications of a record six months for digital health funding

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNews"The reality of today’s funding environment for digital health entrepreneurs is that it’s traditional tech investors who have the lion’s share of the money, while most long-time healthcare investors are on the ropes, contending with fleeing LPs and at least the perception of disappointing returns," pharmaceutical company executive David Shaywitz writes in his most recent (must-read) column for Forbes.

At the Health 2.0 conference earlier this year in Boston I heard another person familiar with the digital health investor community say much the same thing: Tech investors are pricing out traditional healthcare VCs.

Shaywitz hits on another investment trend I've heard others make in recent months: "Tech investors, in general, are not always comfortable with physicians, and seem much more at home with engineers and developers. These investors also tend to gravitate to businesses selling directly to consumers rather than dealing with the sordid complexities of our current healthcare system," he writes.

This week San Francisco-based digital health incubator Rock Health released its 2012 Mid-Year Funding Report, which found that the aggregate amount of investment in digital health companies so far in 2012 has nearly doubled the amount of dollars that flowed into the space this time last year. Currently, the investment dollars for deals that were $2 million or more in 2012 have totaled $675 million, according to Rock Health. At the end of June 2011 the figure stood at just $390 million. Rock Health concludes that this year investors are on track to create a record year of digital health funding.

Already 68 digital health companies have raised $2 million or more in 2012, and 23 of those companies have a consumer-facing business model. This group raised $250 million so far in 2012. Rock Health points out that the amount of funding pouring into B2B companies has ticked up slightly over last year, too.

"The more technology investors I speak with," Shaywitz writes, "the more I worry there’s something elemental about medicine that many don’t seem to understand – and worse, they don’t always know what they don’t know."

Rock Health's report also found that Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area dominates digital health investing: Digital health companies in the area raised more money than startups in any other part of the country. More than $180 million in digital health investment deals flowed into the Bay Area this year.

Rock Health pointed to four venture capital firms as the most active VCs in digital health in 2012. The list appears to be in alphabetical order and includes a mix of firms: Aberdare Ventures, which describes itself as healthcare-focused; Khosla Ventures, which is often described as an investor in greentech and other technology firms; Merck, a pharma company; and Qualcomm, which has been an early pioneer in wireless health, but has long been a technology company.

While there is much to celebrate in the numbers featured in the Rock Health report, Shaywitz's column should give us pause.

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