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Venture Studio

Eshelman Innovation Partners with the HBCU Founders Initiative to Serve Underrepresented Populations

Bob Dieterle writing on a whiteboard while collaborating with two Eshelman Innovation team members

Eshelman Innovation (formerly Eshelman Institute for Innovation), within the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, is partnering with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Founders Initiative (HBCUFI) to create PowerUp, a program that will identify and support innovators as they try to solve health equity challenges in underrepresented communities across North Carolina. 

PowerUp aims to connect top talent with investment and advisory support to launch innovative digital health startups that will provide health care solutions to communities. 

The key partner in this program, the HBCU Founders Initiative, is a non-profit organization that supports HBCU students, alumni and faculty along their entrepreneurial journey.  

The Humana Foundation is helping support the PowerUp program with a Health Equity Innovation Fund grant of $750,000 over three years. This pilot will utilize the Humana Foundation’s grant to focus on mental health and food security.

“We believe that underrepresented communities have the solutions to solve their health equity challenges in unique scalable ways but lack the needed infrastructure and capital,” said Bob Dieterle, Managing Director of Eshelman Innovation Venture Studio (formerly First In Venture Studio). “Over the next three years, we will work within these communities to identify, test, and/or launch new scalable digital health-advantaged startups utilizing the HBCUFI’s Venture Sprint model.”

Through funding from the Humana Foundation, PowerUp will spend the next five months sourcing 10 digital health concepts from faculty and graduate students at North Carolina HBCUs, beginning with North Carolina A&T, nonprofits as well as Community Health Centers that address nutrition and health disparities impacting the Black community. Over a period of two months, PowerUp will select two concepts best positioned to become venture-backable businesses. 

“We’re committed to expanding the scope of healthy resources for underserved populations while eliminating the barriers that keep them from reaching their full health potential,” said Tiffany Benjamin, CEO, Humana Foundation. “The Foundation’s support of the PowerUp program is our inaugural Health Equity Innovation Fund investment and will advance innovative solutions through entrepreneurs who are vested in the communities they strive to uplift.” 

“The most impactful innovation is driven by entrepreneurs with a firsthand understanding of the problem they are trying to solve,” said Dieterle. “PowerUp aims to catalyze social and economic impact by investing in innovators who are focused on improving health outcomes for their own communities. This program will be an economic driver for the state and beyond.”  

Within three years, PowerUp plans to deliver at least six validated venture concepts from diverse communities, at least six diverse founders to lead and three venture-based startups. These startups will be eligible to receive funding from the HBCU Founders Fund, a $40 million accelerator fund and venture studio investing in the most promising startups where at least one of the founders is a HBCU student, alumni or faculty member. 

“We are excited to create a pathway that helps ensure that solutions to the most vexing problems facing society do not die on the vine due to a lack of technical and financial support,” said Marlon Evans, president of the HBCU Founders Initiative and partner at the HBCU Founders Fund.

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