NASHVILLE, TN — Meharry Medical College, one of the nation’s oldest and largest historically Black academic health science centers, has announced a new partnership with Heritage Group, a Nashville-based private equity firm focused on investments in the health care industry. The partnership seeks to diversify the entrepreneurial landscape and pave the way for the next generation of minority business owners by providing Meharry students the opportunity to learn more about health care finance.
Leaders at Meharry and Heritage Group believe the partnership is particularly important at this time in the nation’s history when the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated socioeconomic, gender and racial inequities across society, including corporate America. Part of Heritage Group’s broader diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, the partnership will introduce Meharry students to finance, investment and health care entrepreneurship so that they are better equipped to pursue business opportunities that will impact the lives of the people they serve.
“This partnership with Heritage will allow our students to gain deeper knowledge in the financial and health care sectors,” said James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., M.D., president and CEO of Meharry Medical College. “It is proven that when businesses have diverse leadership, they are more likely to consider and address the needs of underserved populations. This is particularly important in health care, where treatments and medicines are currently being formulated without regard to the minority community. We are grateful to Heritage for recognizing this dynamic in our corporate world and for investing its time into ensuring that the health care business leadership of the future looks differently than it does today.”
A Meharry-Heritage Fellowship is the centerpiece of the partnership. Each semester, a student will be chosen from a pool of applicants to work with members of the Heritage team, developing and refining an investment thesis, conducting market research and performing due diligence on potential investments. Fellows will determine their own schedules with Heritage Group and collaborate with portfolio company management teams on strategic and operational initiatives. Heritage Group will provide students with financial knowledge and access to a network of individuals that will enhance their own entrepreneurial endeavors.
Shanice Cheatham, a presidential fellow at Meharry with a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology and a Master of Public Health in health policy and management from Kent State University, is the inaugural Meharry-Heritage Fellow. Cheatham began working with Heritage last year to expand her knowledge in health care finance and build a business model she will use to obtain investor funding for a water-filtration system she invented—Medical Purification Pack. She created the water system after her father’s 2015 battle with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph infection resistant to some antibiotics. The Medical Purification Pack will provide a medical-grade hand washing system—with water standards higher than regular drinking water—to developing nations to decrease the number of post-surgical infections.
“A common challenge among young inventors and entrepreneurs is funding, specifically how to attract investors to raise the funds necessary to make your idea a reality,” said Cheatham. “I’m extremely grateful for the relationships I’ve built at Heritage Group and the constant support and encouragement I’ve received throughout my fellowship. This fellowship has helped me acquire the knowledge and skills needed to continue my mission of decreasing the number of bacterial infections experienced in underdeveloped countries.”
Cheatham has used her experience at Heritage Group to tweak her business model, setting her on a path to target a possible $3 million in federal grants. After her fellowship concludes this month, she plans to continue pursuing her business while training to become a trauma surgeon and creating a global health surgery center for underserved communities.
“We are extremely grateful to be working with Shanice and with Meharry to help diversify the next generation of health care companies,” said Jesse Bland, a partner at Heritage Group. “As our footprint has grown, we have increased our focus on environmental, social and governance issues. We believe the private equity industry has a responsibility to ensure that all entrepreneurs in our country, regardless of background, have a fair and equitable opportunity to realize their business ideas. This goal aligns with Meharry’s mission to advance health equity and empower diverse populations, and we are proud to partner with the College in this endeavor.”