BRIDGE mentoring program spotlight: Lorenna Feliz Santos and Amanda Joseph

At the end of 2020, MATTER announced the launch of BRIDGE: a free mentorship program for entrepreneurs of color. The program aims to help address inequities in the healthcare entrepreneurial community by providing underrepresented founders with the building blocks they need to jumpstart their business journey — whether they’re looking to scale or just getting started. In the first three months of the program, MATTER has connected more than 60 entrepreneurs to experienced healthcare leaders for one-on-one virtual mentoring sessions.

Recently, we caught up with one mentor-mentee pair that had their first session in January 2021 and plans to continue building their relationship in 2021: mentee Lorenna Feliz Santos and mentor Amanda Joseph. Lorenna founded digital diabetes management startup DiaM Life in 2020 after her own experience coordinating care for her two sons, who both live with Type 1 diabetes. The company is currently in the pre-seed stage of fundraising and is preparing to enter into a clinical trial later this year. Amanda Joseph, a MATTER mentor for three years, is an investor at American Family Ventures and a former senior leader in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois’ enterprise network solutions division.

We talked with Lorenna and Amanda to hear each of their perspectives on why they got involved, the value of their experience so far and their advice for a productive mentoring relationship. Below are highlights from the conversation.

What prompted you to get involved in the BRIDGE program?

Lorenna: “I’m a business person — I’ve worked in business management and in technology, but I know zero about healthcare. It’s a whole new space for me. I founded DiaM because I have two children with diabetes, so this business is very personal. And that’s part of the reason why I wanted to better understand the medical arena and the industry.”

Amanda: “I’ve been a mentor with MATTER for a number of years, and I have always found so much value, not just in being able to help the startups because I’m passionate about healthcare innovation, but also because I have personally learned so much about the companies that are going to be coming around in the next five to ten years and changing the whole landscape. By talking to early stage companies, I get a better understanding of the market as well as being able to help the companies grow.

“Also, working in venture capital, I recognize that as a field and in regard to funding, venture capital has historically had very low representation for women and people of color. Increasing that representation is something that our firm prioritizes and working with founders of color through the BRIDGE program is one way of many in which we can help expand where the funding goes.”

How did the matching process and first session go?

Lorenna: “It was a perfect match. Amanda had so much experience to share, both from her work with startups and from her years in the health insurance sector. One thing that was really beneficial was her ability to share her perspective on the insurance provider relationship. She was able to give me information that I didn’t even know existed before. Part of the reason I was so eager to meet with her again after our first session was because I had so many more questions!

“I always considered payers a potential customer group, but I didn’t understand them well enough to include them. I’ve met with doctors and administrators in the hospitals to understand what they’re looking for, but never with insurance companies. Even before moving toward the next stage in my business, which is a clinical trial, Amanda cleared up how important payers are in building that key relationship before I even start because it’s going to help facilitate DiaM’s entry to market.”

Amanda: “I have had three sessions with mentees so far and have been so impressed with the founders in this program. They all lead really, really high quality companies. Specifically, I have been very impressed by Lorenna because she was so accomplished even before starting DiaM. It’s inspiring to hear about her decision to shift industries because of her personal story with diabetes and to see all the progress she’s made to date.

“For our first session, I really wanted it to be about setting the foundation for our relationship. I focused on hearing Lorena’s story and DiaM’s story. We spend a lot of time understanding how she’s brought the business to where it is today. Toward the end of the conversation, we started to talk about go-to-market strategy, selling into providers and thinking about insurance and how DiaM fits in, as well as thinking about other players in the healthcare ecosystem. And that’s where we’ll take a deeper dive in our next conversation.”

What is your greatest takeaway from the program so far?

Lorenna: “I definitely went into our first session with the very naive expectation that we were going to talk about the medical arena very generally. In reality, we were able to hone in on the sore spots in the medical system that are critical for me to understand before I venture into a very heavy clinical trial process in a few months. It was a bit of a wake-up call — I have a medical advisory team and I have an advisory board and we’re constantly talking about all these different aspects, but I don’t have anyone sharing insight from the insurance side of things. These types of encounters are so rich in helping to pinpoint specific topics that sometimes we as startup founders think are very simple — and they’re not.”

Amanda: “I’ve been able to get a great sense of what’s going on in the healthcare startup ecosystem by listening to Lorenna. She was able to share her perspective around the challenges of people with diabetes, what technology is out there in the diabetes management space and what’s missing. It has really informed my opinion about the market in chronic disease management.”

Why would you recommend this program to other founders and healthcare professionals?

Lorenna: “Knowledge is key when you’re building a startup and also growing as an individual. As a leader, it’s so important to always be at the forefront of information. This program gave me the ability to really hear insight from someone experienced and be able to ask questions and engage at a level that’s much more in-depth than a simple back and forth email or quick networking session.”

Amanda: “There’s always a give and get back relationship with these types of programs. For anybody who’s working in the health insurance industry or working for a health system, mentoring is a great way not only to understand where the future of the industry is headed but also to provide your own unique industry knowledge. If you’re a healthcare professional, there are probably insights you can share that will be extremely valuable to startups. And in turn, you’ll come out with a much better perspective of how the healthcare landscape is changing.”

What’s your advice for a successful mentoring session?

Lorenna: “Definitely look them up beforehand. I went on LinkedIn and found out a little bit about Amanda’s history and what she did. I also came in with my questions prepped and clear goals around what I wanted to get out of the session.

“But also, don’t be afraid to let the conversation flow. Don’t be constricted by the questions you’ve prepared. Be open to getting to know one another, building a relationship and digging into who your mentor really is and what value-add they have that might not be apparent on their LinkedIn.”

Amanda: “I also did my research. I think you get a much deeper discussion if you come prepared with thoughtful questions. Take time to get to know the person and their story, because that’s foundational to any type of mentoring relationship. And lastly, think of this experience as a journey — because you can’t accomplish everything in one session. Be open-minded in knowing that this could be something that you do in continuity.”

MATTER is looking to continue to connect underrepresented founders and aspiring entrepreneurs to mentoring opportunities. Want to get involved?

If you are a healthcare entrepreneur of color (and not already a MATTER member) and are interested in participating in this program, fill out this form.

If you are a senior leader or healthcare subject matter expert and are interested in becoming a mentor for this program, fill out this form.