March 2023
Vol 9 | Issue 597

Q&A with Ben Freeberg of Oncology Ventures

Founder, Managing Partner

Principal Series:

Oncology Ventures is a Seed stage VC fund investing in data, IT and infrastructure cancer start-ups. We don’t touch drugs, medical devices or therapeutics. Think pick-and-shovel approach to cancer innovation.

I am well-positioned to launch this cancer focused fund as I have invested in healthcare start-ups (VP at Optum Ventures, $1B AUM), built a cancer start-up (Growth at Thyme Care, backed by A16Z and Bessemer VP) and lived it (I am now 5 years cancer free).

We are now zeroing in on our first close of a $30M fund. Happy to share more detail on our fund model and investment theses within oncology as you see fit.

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Why is now the time to invest in cancer start-ups?

Cancer spend in the US is $210B, growing at 12% per year. Costs are too high and outcomes are poor.

42% of cancer patients lose their life savings within two years of diagnosis. Cancer is large employers’ top driver of healthcare costs. And oncology is the number one disease spend category for most health insurance companies.

Regulatory tailwinds (launch of the Enhancing Oncology Model) and national funding (Biden's Cancer Moonshot) are helping to push oncology innovation forward.

We know that 3rd party, data, IT and infrastructure start-ups are best suited to tackle that spend and improve outcomes.

But, there is a large gap that exists between innovation in cancer care and the ability to commercialize and implement that technology.

Oncology Ventures will invest in and support those companies to help truly impact cancer care.

In order to be successful, you are going to have to see everything in the space to ensure you have access to the winners. How are you going to see every early stage oncology deal?

For the past two years, I have been getting 5-10 e-mails or texts a week from VCs or entrepreneurs saying "I saw the words cancer and data in this deck, so naturally I thought of you."

We have 165 cancer start-ups in our pipeline that we have met with or are setting up meetings with through warm introductions. We were introduced to 103 of those start-ups within the first four weeks of Oncology Ventures' launch.

This fund is the culmination of years of brand building and work in the space to establish ourselves as the go-to-partner for early stage cancer start-ups.

We will supplement that consistent outreach with a proactive, thesis-based approach. We have 16 investment themes within oncology care that we will continue to refine as we seek our more opportunities in the space.

How will you get access into the best deals?

For our first investment, Oncology Ventures had the round created just for us. Founders have found us so helpful, through our laser focus and understanding of the space, assisting with business model development and introductions to key oncology stakeholders, that we have created a unique wedge into the cap table.

For our first deal, we set up an SPV and were oversubscribed within 36 hours. Investors in us include the CEO of OneOncology, CEO of Healthcare Foundry, Lance Armstrong, Founding Medical Director of The Oncology Institute and Managing Director of UnitedHealthcare's Accelerator.

Two quotes from founders who we have met with help to drive home this point:

"It normally takes us at least five meetings with VCs to have the thought-provoking partnership discussion we just had during this intro meeting.”

“We aren’t raising for another 6 months. But, given your operational experience and network, we would be happy to have you invest today at the prior round’s terms.”

Ben Freeberg of Oncology Ventures

Ben has invested in healthcare technology start-ups as a key decision maker at two venture capital funds (Vice President of Optum Ventures, where he worked closely with key UnitedHealthcare and Optum stakeholders, and 1st employee at Alpha Partners, where he is currently a Venture Partner).

He helped build a value-based cancer technology start-up (health plan partnerships and operations at Thyme Care).

He lived it as a cancer patient, and he is now five years cancer free.

Contact Ben: