Office Hours: I am a research director at Institute for the Future and raised a healthcare VC fundFeatured

Hi Elphas! I am Vanessa Mason, research director at the Institute for the Future, a 52 year old nonprofit organization that helps individuals and organizations and communities think systematically about the future. My research explores how we can redesign and reimagine well-being and belonging across business, social, and civic spheres. I write about the future of belonging at to the Institute of the Future, I ran my consultancy, Riveted Partners, working with startups to accelerate digital health innovation. I worked to raise a venture fund, P2Health Ventures, to invest in startups working at the intersection of tech and public health. I got my official start in tech at XX in Health, a community of female digital health innovators at Rock Health, a digital health incubator. I am the creator of Healthy Hustle Habits, my coaching practice to help ambitious women drained from running the hamster wheel of productivity build habits and systems for compassionate productivity so they can increase confidence, feel joyful, and boost creativity without burnout.Ask me anything, especially anything about futures thinking, belonging and inclusion, digital health and entrepreneurship.
Thanks so much for joining us @vanessa!Elphas – please ask @vanessa all your questions before this Thursday. She may not have time to answer them all, so please emoji upvote the ones you're most interested in.
First let me state how boss you are for fundraising as the less than 2% of black women to get funded, so to raise is so monumental. I love the space of healthcare as I'm a consult now in D&I in tech. In thinking about the future of mental health, in a Pre and now even more Post Covid world an increasing trend to see more mental health/wellness services online. How can one create a safe/authentic space of inclusion and belonging? And how can we better understanding "Identity and social affiliation" as you mention in Issue 15/Substack? Again - Congrats on all the success
Thanks so much Ebony! I think we need a few key components for creating safe spaces for belonging. (1) creating space for us to know ourselves and develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness. First Round had an excellent article about this as it relates to founders: (2) prioritize our close relationships so we can build and sustain meaning through those connections. I think the basis for this is modeling vulnerability in those relationships to build trust which Brene Brown does an excellent job diving into (3) ensuring we have physical spaces as well as virtual spaces where we can bump into people who likely share many of our core values but have different approaches to enacting those values in their lives. Eric Klinenberg describes this as "palaces for the people" in his book. Virtual spaces like Elpha can perform this function as well if we treat shared spaces as opportunities for learning. (4) push our systems and not just individuals to ensure belonging expands rather than contracts. These uprisings have shown us that systemic issues require systemic solutions rather individually-targeted interventions.
Vanessa thank you so much for your support. The FRC Article nails as you mentioned - thank you for pointing me to that direction. Love this thought "treat shared spaces as opportunities for learning" and +1 to everything you shared. Thank you so much for this clarity.
Thanks for this opportunity, @vanessa! What is the next step for the digital health industry in your opinion? What are the biggest challenges public health facing right now that can be solved by startups/innovations?
The biggest challenge for public health both before and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is trust. MIT has called this the first infodemic. Without the clarity of the public understanding and trust for the science behind public health, we can't take action. Innovations that analyze data and communicate risk and findings in easy to understand approaches will be instrumental in making public health actionable. This is a space where digital health and public health could align in getting in front of health equity issues associated with data governance and data analytics.
Thanks for your insights, @vanessa! I'd love to hear your perspective on communities and how they contribute to belonging and well-being, entrepreneurial success, and innovation in healthcare. What best practices can communities incorporate and apply to build a better future?
Communities are absolutely essential for all of those things. The first best practice is to understand and tend to the needs of your community. Pay attention to questions and listen deeply to problems and struggles. Move forward with the next best thing that addresses these needs. The second best practice is prioritizing safety of people who usually don't have a voice. Oftentimes, taking a neutral or objective stance serves to protect people in communities who often already have power or influence. Listen to people who don't occupy those positions. The third best practice is to integrate belonging into the fabric of the communities so that it's more of a reflex. Have learning be public and continuous. Have rituals, practices and language that affirms who the community is and how it functions in operations like decision making, leadership, etc.
Thanks so much for sharing these best practices! I'm looking forward to applying them to communities I create, as well as assessing communities and organizations in which I participate to see if these practices are present.
Thank you so much! I am interested in your career path to futures thinking and research (as this is the direction I'm looking to take my career, especially in the healthcare space). Here are two questions: What did this path look like for you? What's one thing you're most excited or intrigued by in the future of health?I'm currently taking the IFTF Coursera course! (It would also be great to have a futures/foresight tag).
Hi Kelly!So glad that you are taking the course and agree that we need a futures tag here. I've written about my career journey here:'m excited about the paradigm shift in health moving from disease and decline to optimization through the microbiome, understanding the interrelationship of planetary health and human health, and learning how to build and sustain relationships that promote health.
Thank you so much! I was just reading about cell-level treatments as well and the paradigm shift is an exciting prospect.
I really enjoyed reading this article of yours: you called out, theres a big difference between the two approaches (abolishing police vs #8cantwait) to deescalating police with the goal of improving the lives, wellbeing, safety and future for Black people. I appreciated your thoughts around the possible positive outcomes of the former. The operational mind in me wants to think through how we get there...Maybe a phased approach for example where we start with #8cantwait (a no-brainer), and then build the infrastructure to support an eventual abolition of the police? I’m not very familiar with public policy, but I’d assume we would have to look at the legal system starting with how police approach crimes, arrest/intake, charge/dismiss, and imprison people - analyzing every step and restructuring along the way. While shifting funding and bolstering social support services to care for deescalated/petty crimes and mental health issues. What are your thoughts on restructuring systemic racism and defunding/abolishing the police? Where do we start? And how can we all support? Feel free to point to other resources too. Thanks for planting this thought starter!
Hi Jenn,I'm still learning about police abolition myself. From what I've read, many of the organizers of #8cantwait envision police abolition as the eventual goal. Like many systemic changes, defunding the police would be complex and is intended to look at all of the aspect of policing that you mention. Camden is one city that has worked to defund their police department. San Francisco has announced that police will no longer answer non-violent calls. Here's a Vox article that explores some options: We should also consider how the state uses policing power in arenas outside the police like social services being used to take children from their parents:
Complex is the best word for it. Thank you, Vanessa. I’ll read into these today, it’s an interesting future to ponder!!!!
Thank you for amazing and impactful work!I'm really passionate about the digital health space as well and am currently cofounding a startup in that sector! My startup is building an AI-enhanced app to help patients and caregivers manage their health conditions (e.g. cancer) and health information easily. A couple of questions for you:1) Have you seen any patterns in startups that have been successful in the digital health space? In particular, are there any go-to-market or monetization strategies that you've seen work really well?2) What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in the digital health space?3) What are the highest impact innovations you think we need in policy, tech, medicine, etc. sectors to improve health outcomes? Thank you so much for your time! :)
The last couple of years have seen several pivots to employers as major customers for commercial success, making this market rather crowded and harder for new entrants to gain a foothold. In light of COVID19, more employers will be taking a closer look at vendors and suppliers to cut expenses, especially those who may enjoy the benefits of a more remote workforce. This will place greater pressure on demonstration of ROI for startups. The biggest challenges continue to be reimbursement, as this limits revenue opportunities, as well as interoperability, which introduces bureaucratic red tape and risk management concerns. One challenge that is not receiving sufficient attention is inclusive design which would make innovation more impactful and less risky. For example, precision medicine could revolutionize the way that we practice medicine, but much of the reference data collected comes from European Americans. The diagnostics built leveraging this data do not work for people of color, blunting the impact of discoveries leveraging advancements in genomics.
Hi @vanessa I had attended an open house at the Institute for Future in the past. The institute is pretty nifty.My question is related to navigating careers. You’ve taken many paths to be where you are today. How did you decide to choose the path that you did when you were at that decision point? Did you return to further your education in order to make that change? Did you leverage connections through an acquaintance you have/had? Please help those of us who have stepped off the hamster wheel and are “winging it” as we go. Thanks for your time!
Hi Joanna! I don't have a singular answer to your question. I have written about my thinking process in navigating careers before. It definitely evolved with time, largely relying on the opportunities for learning as I made career changes.
Thanks for being here, @Vanessa. I am curious what do you mean by belonging and inclusion - isn't it an inner sensation? As a chemist, I know that compounds that adjusted in order to maintain their connections survived, and those that could not stick together vanished. Look at our bodies: when organs cooperate we stay healthy. But we ourselves do not want to cooperate in order to keep society healthy. It is no wonder that society looks sickly!One can say, that on the spiritual level, evolution left us the free will but we've messed it up and this is the reason we are suffering—because we have evolved into selfish beings that see nothing but their own interest, the exact opposite from the way every element in nature operates. I also feel that we are on the cusp of a huge transition: those who will evolve into connected people will thrive, and this accelerating process puts pressures on everyone and all our societal infrastructure.
Hi Veronika,Belonging can be an inner sensation. It can also be a function of our relationships, the spaces we frequent, and the systems that we build and sustain. I did a walkthrough of how differently many of the social sciences think of belonging here:
Hi, Vanessa. Thank you for your commitment to innovation and your willingness to be available to us. I'm a longtime entrepreneur - after taking my company public I decided to work on tech solutions for K12 schools. I've done that off and on for 10 years. Recently, we expanded our product line into MedTech and attended the Dallas Health Wildcatter's accelerator last fall. Now I'm back to pre-revenue adapting a mental health product we've used in schools and now want to market to parents through their employers as an employee benefit. Do you know of angel groups funding women at the seed stage of a mental health product?
Hi Beth, Congrats on building your product! I don't know angel groups specific to mental health necessarily. I would recommend checking out ReThink Behavioral Innovation's newsletter as they cover news and resources in this space. I've also seen mental health focus on the VC side from What If Ventures:
Hi Vanessa - I have been wanting to learn foresight and backcasting and future studies in general. I signed up for the Coursera program put on by your institute. Do you think this Certificate is a good start for learning Foresight? Should I pay the monthly Coursera fee to get the actual certificate?
Congrats on joining the course! That's a wonderful resource to start learning foresight. The usefulness of the certificate will depend on where you think you will start applying foresight. If in a professional context, I could see how the certificate will be more useful there as a demonstration of mastery. A lot of folks use foresight in other arenas like in their classes or with community groups that they are in.
@vanessa thanks so much for sharing your background. I have been getting feedback that it is time for me to start a coaching/consulting business in my niche but I am concerned and hesitant about the pricing. I see the value, and I'm sure it will help them get to the next level, but I just can't see how my community can pay the standard pricing.
I would encourage you to focus less on pricing and more on the value of your prospective services. How do your services increase revenues, improve operational efficiencies, direct strategy, etc.? You should price based on the impact that you deliver because people are willing and able to pay for value.
Hi @vanessa! Thanks for this opportunity. I'm a big fan of your work (your newsletter is one of the ones I look forward to most in my inbox), and I discovered your work during the specialization I toke of the IFTF with Jane McGonigal. I'm going to leave here one question for you:Any thoughts about the future of blogging (and newsletters and long format content) as a way of belonging and community? Or it's going to be everything around the transient content on social media? I believe that blogs and newsletters and other long content formats can bring context to the questions raised by smaller content on social media.
I see the growth of newsletters as a logic result of the convergence of trends in the creator economy and unbundling of tech platforms. Social media is like the cocktail party of social engagement while newsletters are more like the dinner party. With newsletters, you can sit down, stay a while and go deeper into learning and conversations. They aren't a replacement for social media but rather another channel that we can devote our attention to. In a world of immersive media that might turn into sensory overload, there's a certain kind of relaxed leisure associate with reading the written word rather than audio and video input.
Hi Vanessa! Thank you for joining.I'm very interested in the intersection of western medicine + holistic wellness + digital health. Women are increasingly turning to holistic health ($9B U.S. market), like acupuncture for fertility, to complement their western medicine protocol. There has been some movement in the VC world (Wellset, Kensho were seed-funded). I'm curious what you think the appetite from investors is for this sector given the stigma around it may still be woo-woo.
Hi @vanessa thank you for giving your time and advice here. I'm the founder and CEO of Lara Health, building an automation platform for primary providers so nurses and doctors can work more efficiently and have more time to do what they do best: care for their patients. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem primary providers would love to have solved today?
@vanessa, Thank you for doing Office Hours!I'm the founder of Femality Health, a mid-life women's digital health company, providing personalized treatment to women 40+ experiencing menopause. We are looking to raise in the next few months. In your assessment, what is the approach/strategy between B2B and B2C for digital health startups. I've seen quite a few doing both and some focusing on only B2B or only B2C. We are currently B2C at the moment, but would love to hear your perspective on figuring out what approach is better and what 'strategy' to keep in mind if you're looking to be in both one day.
Thanks so much for being here @vanessa! I would love to hear more about your perspective on the future of mental health in particular. Will workplaces be required to provide stronger mental health resources? How will be create more equity to empower clinicians of color and reduce barriers to care for therapy-seekers of color?
Welcome Vanessa! I checked your website, very impressive! Might join once the world becomes more normal. Healthcare is very close to my heart.
Hello... There is a constant debate the wellness vs health industry. How do you define both and what are the correlation, opportunities, etc that you see? What are the opportunities you have come across to get funded in the Middle East?
Hello @Vanessa thank you for the impactful work you have done and continue to do. My name is Jasmine Weiss, I am a pediatrician, 2nd-year fellow in the National Clinician Scholar Program at Yale School of Medicine, and cofounder of Diversifi. Our mission is to spark the next generation of disadvantaged and underrepresented middle school and high school students to pursue healthcare careers through virtual role modeling experiences with healthcare professionals from similar backgrounds. We are in the early stages of development. Do you have any advice regarding early product development, customer acquisition, or monetization strategies for starts at the intersection of health disparities, workforce diversity, and education? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Hi Vanessa! Nice to see you here.
Vanessa, I love this. I am a coach- mindfulness, yoga, and physical health. Currently I launched a fitness startup for beginners who are afraid to exercise, fitfannie. I would love to talk with you more about your experiences and wisdom in the healthcare market. Seeing this post was a gift for me.
Hi Vanessa! How do you think longevity innovation in the biotech industry? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? What are biased insights if you are different? Thank you!!
Good day,This is so inspiring. My doctoral study actually explored the strategies that black women have used to raise venture capital for their tech ventures in the US. I have moved into my own coaching venture here in the Caribbean, working with primarily women to move from side hustle to scalable business. I am at a crossroads now though, as I feel I need more exposure and experiences and I am attempting to navigate a career transition that aligns my love for female entrepreneurship and scaling and creating impact while providing me with a wider breadth of experience. I am also seeking to figure out a funding model that is appropriate for the Caribbean context as the VC industry is fledgling and the socio-cultural context does not particularly support that model. Any insight would be appreciated.Regards,Tamu
There so much to learn about VC alternatives from Zebras Unite ( which is a women-founded and -led cooperative and community of entrepreneurs and investors exploring alternative to Silicon Valley style startup culture and VC investing. I would also take a look at rolling funds, recently launched by AngelList as a way to democratize fundraising for venture funds. I wish they had been around when I tried and ultimately did not succeed in raising a fund myself.
Thank you for that insight. I shall have a look.Best regards,Tamu