After receiving a fibroids diagnosis in 2017, then-Brooklyn resident Kimberly Wilson was in and out of the hospital over a period of six months. During that time, she saw four different doctors, all white men, who either dismissed her pain altogether or said her only option was to undergo surgery. One, she remembered, even told her to take Advil after a stint in urgent care.
After a period of searching, she finally got the support she needed—hundreds of miles away in Baltimore.
“I had to travel over 200 miles away from home just to find a provider who understood my physical, my mental and my emotional well-being, and really cared about me beyond the four block, white walls of a doctor’s office…” Wilson told Technical.ly. “I really felt like, wow, why did it take having to search after a Black doctor in order to be treated in the way that I deserved?”
It led Wilson, who is now based in Fairmount Heights, Maryland, to start HUED in 2018. It’s a digital health company focused on improving quality of care for Black and Latinx patients. In the company’s app, patients can look for a doctor through the HUED directory, with the ability to search not only by insurance provider, region and specialty, but also by race, ethnicity and language. The 17-person team is headquartered in Downtown DC with a largely remote team.
In creating the company, though, Wilson said she realized there was more work to be done. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers also needed to be trained to better serve patients. So, she added a digital curriculum that trains healthcare workers on antiracist practices, implicit bias and providing culturally sensitive care.
“If we’ve learned anything over this past year, it’s…not that we don’t want to trust the healthcare system, but that we have to speak up and be advocates for ourselves in order to get the healthcare that we need and deserve,” Wilson said.
The healthtech company just received a huge boost: a $1.6 million funding round, led by the Female Founders Fund, with participation from Serena Williams‘ fund Serena Ventures, Osage Venture Fund, Northwestern Mutual, Black Founders Matter, Gingerbread Capital and Halle Tecco.
Osage Ventures Principal Emily Foote told Technical.ly that the Philadelphia venture capital firm chose to invest in HUED because she was impressed at how Wilson was looking to solve a problem—especially considering it was one that Wilson herself had experienced.
“Kimberly has understood the pain point in her life,” Foote said. “She knows that problem well, she’s attempting to solve it, she has a really compelling business model and encouraging traction. Those are all the reasons to make the investment. Not just because she’s a Black female, but she’s lived the pain—this just happens to be in healthcare and is related to gender and race.”
Wilson, who was the first-ever entrepreneur in residence for Female Founders Fund, said that, from her perspective, the company spoke to Williams due to her own experiences in the American healthcare system. In 2018, the tennis icon opened up about mistreatment following the birth of her child.
“If we’re thinking about her as a woman and as a Black woman who has also equally spoken out about experiences that she has faced as a Black woman, it obviously resonated with her in some way as we think about health equity,” Wilson said.
With the new funding, Wilson said HUED will be adding five new team members and continue the focus on its product, with additional research and development efforts. But when it comes to venture capital funding, of which Black women only received .27% of the dollars invested in 2018-2019 according to Project Diane, she implores startup founders not to get discouraged. Especially, she said, when founders, and specifically Black founders, can build multimillion and billion dollar companies without any venture capital.
“We didn’t start the company to say, hey, we’re going to raise an institutional round,” Wilson said. “We started the company to say, hey, we want to change lives and what can we do to get us from point A to point B? And we did it without any institutional capital. We just put our heads to the ground and figured it out — how we were going to be scrappy and do the work. I always say, if you do the work, the money will come.”