Startups, Health IT

A Q&A with Lisa Suennen on her new role as a managing director with GE Ventures

Lisa Suennen shares her views on healthcare investment priorities and joining a corporate venture investor.


Lisa Suennen, GE Ventures managing director

This week marked Lisa Suennen’s return to the venture capital grind as a managing director with corporate venture investment firm GE Ventures. Before she started her business consultancy, Venture Valkyrie, Suennen worked for Psilos Group for 16 years where she focused on health IT, healthcare services, medtech and digital health.

In addition to blogging for Venture Valkyrie and doing the Tech Tonics podcast, this fall she launched CSweetener —a matchmaker service to pair women healthcare entrepreneurs with male and female mentors. The goals of the initiative, which is also backed by GE Ventures and Grand Rounds among others, are to increase the number of women in the C-suite and improve the success of women-led startups.

In this slightly edited Q&A, we checked in with Suennen to get her perspective on her new role and she offered these emailed responses.

MedCity: What does this move to GE Ventures mean for you?

Suennen: I am so excited to join the healthcare investment team at GE Ventures This means I am back in the investment world directly, which I really wanted. I will no longer be providing consulting services to clients, though I will keep several of my advisory roles going (such as American Heart Association and NASA Translational Research Institute) and of course I will continue to publish the Venture Valkyrie blog and the Tech Tonics podcast.

MedCity: Was it a difficult decision to not be your own boss anymore and go back on the front lines of venture capital? 

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Suennen: Yes and no. I have been missing the front lines for some time and also the sense of esprit de corps that comes from working with a great team day in and day out.  These were more than enough reason to be excited by the opportunity.  I have never worked for a big company and I haven’t really had a boss in 20 years so it will be different but totally worth it given the people and the platform. Plus, I really like my boss, Rowan Chapman — the head of healthcare investing.  And for what it’s worth, and to me, it’s worth a lot, this is a company that greatly values the diversity of all types – gender, ethnicity, points of view—that’s what makes a great working environment and it’s hard not to be attracted to it.

MedCity: What will be some of your responsibilities at GE Ventures?

Suennen: I will be investing in companies from early to late stage. GE is interested in exactly the things in which I am interested – healthcare IT, healthcare services, medical devices, and where these things converge in digital health. I will also do some work with the New Business Creation team which creates de novo startups in the healthcare space. Lots of interesting projects to do here.

MedCity: You mentioned that you will continue to post on your blog Venture Valkyrie and run the Tech Tonics podcast but will you have to tamp down your opinion in your new role ?

Suennen: At this point in my career, I am pretty much who I am. I wouldn’t want to work somewhere where they felt I needed to change my personality or style and GE has shown no signs of that at all. I have known many of the people in my new group for a long time so they know what they are getting into!  I think they view my extra-curricular activities as a positive; hopefully, they will see the rest as a positive after working with me for a while.

MedCity: Do you think corporate VCs, particularly in healthcare, get a bad rap or is it well deserved?

Suennen: I think that in all matters and groups, 50 percent of people are better than average and 50 percent are worse. I have seen some excellent, high-quality venture work out of many corporate VCs, GE included. And I have seen some poorly thought out, poorly executed corporate venture programs too. Corporate VCs have, by and large, become far more sophisticated and are a major force in healthcare, investing around 25 percent to 30 percent of the money last year.  They are obviously here to stay and the ones that understand how to work in partnership with entrepreneurs and independent venture funds deserve great respect. Failure to do this deserves a bad rap.

MedCity: Are there certain areas of healthcare where GE Ventures has not invested that you think it should? 

Suennen: Not that I have seen. They are quite open to investing in the areas adjacent to and outside the core business and appear to be welcoming of new ideas generally.  There are probably some areas of digital diagnostics and therapeutics that present a new opportunity.

MedCity: How do you think VCs in healthcare will manage given the change of administration under President-elect Donald Trump?

Suennen: Whenever there is change, there is an investment opportunity.  The question is the investment horizon and what changes occur over the long haul, as investments are with you for a long time.  I’m sure there will be a bit of sitting on the sidelines but in the end, everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees that healthcare needs to benefit from higher quality and lower cost.  Hopefully, this will keep the ball rolling.

MedCity: What are some of the challenges in VC health investment that are the most pressing?

Suennen: Helping health systems move into a value-based world on the administrative and clinical level and helping physicians and other clinicians thrive in that environment. Improving patient experience all around, and especially when it comes to avoidance of medical errors. Making it profitable and accessible to stay healthy rather than enter the system when you are already very ill. Figuring out business models that help mental health and key social determinants of health become mainstream opportunities.  We also need to figure out the right balance between technology and services. If anyone believes we can take the people and human touch out of healthcare, they are sorely mistaken. We need to make healthcare more efficient but avoid technology for technology’s sake.  I know it sounds heretical!