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Eli Lilly re-ups diversity pledge, pitching in $30M to venture fund for minority-owned healthcare firms

The fight against racial injustice spurred by a series of high-profile shootings of Black men by police earlier this year put Big Pharma and healthcare — industries targeted for their lack of diversity — in the hot seat. Eli Lilly made an early pledge…

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The fight against racial injustice spurred by a series of high-profile shootings of Black men by police earlier this year put Big Pharma and healthcare — industries targeted for their lack of diversity — in the hot seat. Eli Lilly made an early pledge to change its ways and put more back into the community, and now it’s continuing to make good on that commitment.

Lilly will infuse $30 million into the Unseen Capital Health Fund, a venture fund looking to invest in early-stage minority-owned healthcare companies that have been historically “unseen” by the investment community, the pharma said Friday.

Joshua Smiley

“The pandemic has reinforced our understanding that there is unequal treatment and unequal access to healthcare in underserved communities, made worse by a lack of financial investment for the promising ideas that rise up from within these communities,” Lilly CFO Joshua Smiley said in a release.

With Lilly’s investment, Unseen is well on its way to reaching its goal of raising $100 million, which it will dole out to 50 targeted minority-owned businesses. Lilly described the investment as a potential “model” for how Big Pharma players could cooperate with small companies to make meaningful change at the local level.

Spurred in part by the police killing in June of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Lilly was one of a group of drugmakers that pledged to address systemic racial injustice, including a lack of diversity in the biopharma and healthcare industries.

David Ricks

In an October open letter, CEO David Ricks unveiled his company’s plans to join the “Indy Racial Equality Pledge” — a coalition of central Indiana firms that agreed to commit renewed resources to achieving racial equality in their workforces and investing in the community at large.

“Corporations and the civic community must actively join the fight for racial justice,” Ricks wrote. “By using our collective voice and influence, we can be part of the solution — and help create the change we want to see within our own organizations and within our communities.”

As part of that pledge, Ricks outlined plans to increase the company’s workforce from 10% to 13% to more track more in line with national demographics, double the company’s spend with African-American suppliers by the end of 2022, invest $1 million into a capital growth fund for Black-owned businesses and more.

In June, just days after Floyd’s death, the Lilly Foundation pledged $25 million and 25,000 hours of its employees’ time over five years. The company didn’t specify at the time how those funds would be used.

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