Maria Velissaris: Strengthening Investment in Women’s Health
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Maria Velissaris, the founding partner of SteelSky Ventures. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me today, Maria! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through SteelSky Ventures?
Maria: Glad to be with you, Spiffy! SteelSky Ventures is a Black female-founded venture capital fund investing in companies that improve access, care, and outcomes in women’s health. Our portfolio companies—the companies in which we invest—serve women and girls across their lives, providing everything from period underwear to mental healthcare for families. We invest across the spectrum of healthcare (think medical devices, digital health, and more), and we’re backed by leading organizations like The American Hospital Association, Blue Shield of California, Eli Lilly, and Bank of America.
Spiffy: That’s amazing! What motivated you to tackle this challenge?
Maria: When I joined an angel investing network several years ago, I saw that female founders were receiving less than 2% of all venture capital dollars. Many of these entrepreneurs were innovating in women’s healthcare, an area that remains overlooked and underserved by most investors. That’s why I founded SteelSky Ventures: I wanted to invest in talented entrepreneurs who were well positioned to transform women’s healthcare and who needed financial support to bring their visions to life.
Spiffy: Wonderful! How would you say SteelSky Ventures is working towards a more equitable world?
Maria: Health equity is core to our work at SteelSky, and 100% of our portfolio companies impact underrepresented communities. For example, our portfolio company Twentyeight Health is a telemedicine and medication delivery platform that is expanding access to reproductive healthcare. Twentyeight Health is available in Spanish and is the only platform specifically focused on the 42 million women who are under- or uninsured, many of whom live in rural areas where healthcare is difficult to access.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone. What impact does that make on your community?
Maria: SteelSky made history when we closed our first fund earlier this year. With $73 million in assets under management, we are now the largest women’s health venture capital fund in the world. This milestone proves our thesis: that women’s health is an area with huge growth potential (women are half the population, after all)! Our portfolio has grown to 16 companies, and we’re continuing to actively invest in innovative women’s health solutions, with positive ripple effects for women everywhere.
Spiffy: Tell me about an inspiring startup that your organization has helped to advance its impact.
Maria: The most meaningful experience of my career to date was a project between two of our portfolio companies: Ruby Love, a period underwear company, and Zipline, a drone delivery company. Together, we delivered period underwear via drone to more than 2,000 girls in Ghana and Rwanda. With access to menstrual supplies and menstrual health education, these girls will no longer have to drop out of school and can become productive members of their communities and increase the financial stability of their families.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Maria—it’s been an honor!
Maria Velissaris is a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist. She is the founding partner of SteelSky Ventures, the world’s largest venture capital fund focused on women’s healthcare. Under Maria’s leadership, SteelSky has grown its portfolio to 16 companies and championed innovation in markets that have previously been overlooked and underserved. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 25, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.