Saurabh Bhansali, a strategic consultant on the Humana Health Innovation team, was recognized with a Rising Star Award at last week’s Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit (GCVI).
GCVI selects “stars” who represent the brightest prospects and those who have already been changing the industry. More than 10,000 industry professionals across more than 1,000 corporate venturing units are considered based on their deals, career development, and their role and performance in their unit.
“The secret to Saurabh’s quick impact and success at Humana is his ability to form a strong network of diverse business relationships,” says Busy Burr, head of Humana Health Ventures. “He is known for his smarts, earnest approach and his curiosity. He is more than just the glue of our team – he’s the spark that keeps us on fire!”
We sat down with Saurabh to learn more about his journey and his role at Humana.
When did you join Humana?
It’s been almost a year now, Feb 15, 2016.
What drew you to Humana?
I had a meeting with Busy in late 2015. I saw what Chris (Chris Kay, Chief Innovation Officer) and Busy were building was really about driving change and I was fascinated by it.
Plus, there are only a few companies who can really drive major change in the healthcare ecosystem, and Humana is one of them. Being on a team that’s really focused on – and capable of – driving innovation across the U.S. really piqued my interest.
What’s your favorite thing about your role?
Healthcare makes up 20% of our GDP. It is constantly talked about in news and social media and we are working right at the center of it. People don’t realize just how big of an impact Humana can make. It’s an opportunity that’s really, really rare.
I also feel like I’m constantly learning and being challenged. It’s refreshing to see so many people with a similar mindset working to change healthcare for the better. Being able to talk to smart people who are building businesses every day – not everyone gets to do that.
What’s surprised you most about working at Humana?
I’ve realized how much more I had to learn. People here have some of the deepest knowledge base about healthcare I’ve encountered, given the company’s history and deep roots in the industry. It’s incredibly valuable as we work to identify partnership opportunities and bring about new business models.
Also, for as large an organization as it is, it’s way more open-minded and nimble than I expected. People are ultimately trying to solve the “triple aim”: reducing medical costs, improving medical outcomes and improving the patient experience
How would you describe what Humana Health Ventures does?
We are part of Humana’s Health Innovation team. Health Ventures is based in Palo Alto and spearheads the company’s Outside-In strategy through a disciplined approach to establishing partnerships with the most promising innovators and entrepreneurs. We are building a portfolio of venture investments in leading edge start-up companies with transformational technologies and capabilities.
We have met with more than 250 start-ups, more than 40 venture investors, and a variety of thought leaders in the healthcare community both in Silicon Valley and across the U.S. We have established Humana as a key member of the broader health care innovation community.
Can you share with us an example of an investment or partnership the Health Ventures team has forged?
Our latest investment, Aspire Health, delivers an extra layer of care and support services to our Medicare Advantage members dealing with serious illness. Aspire’s new care delivery model has been incredibly well-received by those members enrolled in their services, helping them avoid unnecessary ER visits, resulting in substantial cost and quality improvements. This has been a great collaboration with Humana at Home. Finding companies like Aspire – that have great potential and also align with Humana’s strategy is key.
How did you get your start in corporate ventures?
I joined the venture community in 2014. I worked for HLM Venture Partners, a traditional venture capital firm, but one that has a large number of healthcare “strategics” (large players in the healthcare ecosystem who are trying to make investments or drive innovation).
Before that, I helped launch Peloton Equity, a healthcare fund based in Greenwich, CT.
Were you always interested in healthcare specifically?
I actually started my career in investment banking. After my undergrad, I headed back to New York and worked on Wall Street. But I’ve always been interested in medicine.
So after I left Bank of America Merrill Lynch, I joined Pfizer’s internal M&A team.
That’s where I really began building my healthcare knowledge base – working with PhD’s, researchers, and key opinion leaders. I got to see how therapies were taken from molecule inception, through different phases of clinical trials, through the regulatory process and finally geographic commercialization.
I decided I wanted to learn the healthcare services and IT side of the business and become a healthcare investor. So I decided to go back to business school.
Where did you go to business school?
I went to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I decided on Wharton because they have the oldest and largest healthcare focused major – a dedicated program called Healthcare Management (HCM).
Each class is very tight knit given the size (about 70 students are selected from an 840-person class), but it’s been around for 35 years, so the alumni network is incredibly vast.
What about for undergrad?
I went to Northwestern for my undergrad and majored in Economics. I grew up in New York, just outside of the city; both of my parents worked in Manhattan. I wanted to leave the northeast, which is a rare thing for people to do given the number of good universities on the east coast.
But I wanted to be part of the Midwest, still near a big city – a school with good academics, great culture, sports, etc.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
I am a New Yorker – born and bred – so I’m a huge Knicks fan (which has sucked for the past 15 years) and a Giants and Yankees fan. Even on West coast, I follow them as much as I can.
I love to play sports too – flag football, basketball and tennis.
My wife, Preethi, and I have gotten very outdoorsy – every weekend is a new adventure in California. We’ve been camping at Yosemite, skiing in Tahoe – we love to explore the beauty of this part of the country.