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Autism Impact Fund raises $60M first fund and expands scope

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects millions of people worldwide. Whether in childhood or later in life, these individuals and their families need better detection, treatment and support solutions to help them live with autism. But until recently, this was not an area that startups and investors were involved in.

The Autism Impact Fund (AIF) was launched in 2021 as a pioneer of the fund. Three years ago, the son of Chris Male, co-founder and managing partner of the fund, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With Male and others working together, the goal is to become “an investment and innovation arm for the autism community,” Male told TechCrunch.

Since then, startups in the neurodiversity space have gained momentum, as has AIF, which recently closed its first fund at $60 million. As the first fund of its kind, exceeding its objectives will never be easy, especially in an extremely difficult environment. (The original goal was $50 million.)

AIF is a venture capital fund, not a charity, and Male has been vocal about this. “We have great partnerships with nonprofits and foundations, and we’re very intentional about driving returns. […] Our goal is to deliver really strong returns while revolutionizing autism and everything in this space through a venture capital model. “

AIF’s limited partners include Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Emergence Capital Partners’ Brian Jacobs and ARCH Venture Partners co-founder and managing director Bao Bob Nelsen, who is also a member of AIF’s advisory board. Male didn’t want to tell their personal stories for them, but AIF’s individual supporters often have a personal connection to autism.

However, institutional limited partners such as investment firms Fairfield-Maxwell and Ferd also support AIF, “which is obviously very helpful in helping us reach this scale,” Male said. It’s another sign of change. “Operators coming into this space are no longer just family members who want to help; they’re people who want to help.” It’s really cool that really experienced business operators see an opportunity to affect large-scale change. “

Broad product portfolio

Some VC funds wait until it is completely over before deploying capital, but not AIF. Because it needs to prove itself and its thesis, it invests from the first close. It has 12 startups in its portfolio and will start raising a second fund in the next six to nine months, with inbound interest already reported from Male.

Companies in AIF’s portfolio have raised follow-on funding from other investors, which is a strong sign of validation. For example, CVS Health Ventures led a $40 million Series D extension investment in healthcare startup Cortica in October. Other signals are more difficult to measure, but still important. Male told TechCrunch that AIF was able to secure oversubscribed deals even if its checks weren’t the biggest, and there was a sense that “it was a sign of market and community recognition that this was a proven, well-run entity.” .

AIF’s first fund still has the resources to make a “few” more deals as well as follow-on investments. After several “power bets,” its portfolio gave it the impetus to double down.And, Male added, “There’s a good chance we’ll exit within the next six months; so, pretty soon, because we [starting deploying] 2021. “

AIF’s portfolio is already quite diverse, although its website divides companies into two categories: life sciences and data and technology-enabled services. It also extends beyond the United States, with German-based consultancy Auticon (which describes itself as an “autism-focused company”) and British telemedicine platform Healios. But now it’s going to diversify further, not because there’s not enough deal flow or problems to address autism alone.

Male said AIF’s decision to expand its scope had to do with autism itself.

The definition of autism is so vague and broad that there really is no [biologically precise] Understand exactly what is happening, so in order to help individuals and families we must expand our horizons. It’s behavioral and mental health, all of that, but it’s also the broader health care issues that are on camera. The current social cost is in the trillions of dollars and will reach $15 trillion if incidence rates rise at current rates.lack of employment and presence [un]Being able to work is one factor. But society seems to be sleepwalking into this incredible crisis with no plan in place.

Awareness continues to grow

Male said the fund will now allow itself to invest in “behavioral health data-driven platforms, innovative healthcare solutions, and value-based care frameworks” and that artificial intelligence “cannot be ignored.” It will also continue to invest in addressing autism comorbidities, such as gastrointestinal problems. Then there’s the “independence bucket,” whether that’s employment, financial independence or housing.

Independence appearing on the list is a reminder that autism is a problem that needs to be solved, and there are business opportunities for startups that focus on more than just children.

Neurodiverse employment network Mentra is an adult-focused startup backed by Sam Altman and others, but not the AIF. There’s nothing to complain about: Mentra has partnered with AIF-backed Auticon, and Male calls the work they’re doing “incredible.”

That AIF isn’t one of Mentra’s investors is arguably a good sign: the space is getting too big to find the same venture capital on all capital tables. It’s global, too, with health tech Genial Care raising $10 million to help autistic children and their families in Brazil.

When asked if there has been any recent momentum for company creation in this space, Male’s reaction was to laugh. He explained that compared to five years ago, “it’s been really interesting to see the momentum and the shift.” With the investment side also getting busier, there’s likely more to come.

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