Successful fundraiser Black Opal shares insights for other first-time funds

The health tech-focused firm, founded by Tara Bishop and Eileen Tanghal, has raised $58m from an impressive list of institutions, including Eli Lilly, Bank of America, JPMorgan Asset Management and Henry Ford Health.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and if people offer to lend a hand, accept it.

That’s one piece of advice Eileen Tanghal and Tara Bishop would share with other first-time fundraisers, along with making sure you have a solid track record and compelling investment strategy.

The founders of Black Opal Ventures just closed on $58 million for their debut fund, which invests at the intersection of healthcare and technology. Bishop and Tanghal have set their sights on raising another $15 million before holding a final close at the end of this year.

Photo of Black Opal Ventures founders Tara Bishop and Eileen Tanghal.
Black Opal Ventures founders Tara Bishop (left) and Eileen Tanghal

Their New York-based firm’s fundraising success is even more impressive given the quality of their LPs. Most first-time funds rely on friends and family because it is so difficult to attract institutional investors to a new fund. About 90 percent of Black Opal’s backers are institutions. They include anchor investor Eli Lilly, as well as Bank of America, Atlantic Health System Venture Studio, JPMorgan Asset Management’s Project Spark, New Summit Investments, Illumen Capital, Henry Ford Health, Women of the World Endowment and Global Corporate Venturing.

“The number of people who have been so supportive of us is really overwhelming,” Tanghal told Venture Capital Journal. “When we started, we were amazed by the number of people who came out of the woodwork and said, ‘That’s great. I want to help you.’ My advice would be: Don’t think that people don’t want to help you. They do.”

Tanghal said her message is particularly important for women who are new to venture capital. “I have met other women who have said they were too timid to ask me how I did it and what advice I would give them,” she said. “They are worried that you might not give them your time, so they don’t ask.”

Of course, simply asking for help doesn’t guarantee fundraising success. The key factors that worked in Black Opal’s favor were the long history of its founders and their strategy.

Personal history

“Having a history of knowing each other for three decades – really our entire adult lives – builds a level of trust in the partnership that is really critical for any fund,” Bishop said.

She and Tanghal met when they were engineering students at MIT. They pursued different career paths, but the college roommates remained close friends through the years.

Bishop went into medicine, earning her medical degree from Cornell University in 2002. She remains connected to the university as an associate professor of health policy at Weill Cornell Medical College. Before making the leap into VC, Bishop served as chief clinical officer at Surest (formerly Bind Benefits) and was medical director for McKinsey & Co.

Tanghal’s background is in investing and company building. After MIT, she worked on the founding engineering team of a VC-backed start-up (PDF Solutions) for nearly three years before getting her MBA from London Business School. She then went into venture capital, serving as an investment associate at Amadeus Capital Partners and as investment director for Kennet Partners before taking a position as global head of Applied Ventures, the VC arm of Applied Materials. Most recently, she served as a senior partner and managing director for In-Q-Tel, the venture firm arm of the Central Intelligence Agency.

About four years ago, Tanghal and Bishop reunited in Switzerland with some other friends from college. “We started talking about our careers and the impact we wanted to have after decades in our industries,” Bishop wrote on LinkedIn. “After that trip, I got a call from [Tanghal], who was seeing technology and healthcare intersect in her investing space. She seeded the idea of a new venture capital firm investing in healthcare and technology and bringing more women into the industry.”

‘Trailingblazing force’

The duo started making angel investments from their personal wealth in 2019, with thoughts of raising a fund sometime in the future. In a bit of serendipity, they were approached the following year by Eli Lilly Ventures, which had started an emerging manager and impact fund.

Tanghal and Bishop started fundraising in February 2022 and held a first close on $39.4 million in April. By November 3, their fund had swelled to $58 million from 47 investors, according to an SEC filing. They are now seeking another $15 million, per a November 6 regulatory filing, and aiming for a final close on up to $75 million by the end of this year.

“As investors, we see Black Opal Ventures as a trailblazing force in the health-tech sector,” Brad Robling, VP global head of Lilly Ventures – Investing, said in a statement. “As a female-led venture capital firm, Black Opal Ventures not only adds diversity and inclusivity to the industry but also brings a fresh perspective and an innovative approach to healthcare technology.”

Black Opal has already made nine investments from its debut fund. It participated in a $20 million Series B in May for Hyro, which provides conversational AI for healthcare and other industries; a $14 million Series A in September 2022 for Optellum, which is developing an imaging biomarker to detect lung cancer; and a $25.9 million Series B in August 2022 for Empatica, which offers a health-monitoring platform that includes wearable medical technology for real-time data collection, according to Crunchbase.

“We really focus on companies that have distinctive technology or that are that are utilizing distinctive technology but are also very applicable to healthcare and life sciences,” Bishop said.

The firm focuses on four primary areas: diagnosis and prevention, delivery of care, personalized treatment and the use of AI and data in healthcare. It invests from seed through Series B, with check sizes ranging from $250,000 to $2 million.

“It is a really incredible time to be investing in this space,” Bishop noted. “Having worked in healthcare for so long, that’s what really excites me about the fund and this opportunity.”