Minnesota health care, led by insurer Bright Health, has driven the venture-capital investments and headlines for the last two years.

In fact, in 2019, Bright Health pulled in $635 million alone, on top of $200 million in 2018, according to PitchBook, which tracks private investments and other financial metrics.

The Big 10 Minnesota venture-capital (VC) recipients last year, led by Bright Health, pulled in $929 million, a record, including $79 million for Nuvaira and $17.2 million for No. 10 Spineology.

Those 10 companies alone raised more than the previous record, 2018, when fledgling Minnesota companies raised $786 million in venture capital, according to PitchBook.

Bright Health has raised more than $1 billion since its founding in 2015.

Med-tech companies in Minnesota, the traditional VC sweet spot for 40-plus years, has raised at least $356 million in private funding in 2019, led by Nuvaira. The Plymouth-based med-tech company, which announced a $79 million equity financing round in February, is engaged in key tests of its lung denervation therapy for COPD and asthma.

Previously, Medical Alley Association calculated that nearly 100 early-stage Minnesota health care companies in insurance, med-tech, health data and biotech raised at least $1.12 billion in 2019, representing an increase of more than 60% over 2018’s total.

It also was a banner year nationally.

In 2020, venture-capital firms, including Twin Cities-based Rally Ventures, the most active in Minnesota, and female-led Sofia Fund, deployed $136.5 billion in U.S. companies, surpassing the $130 billion mark for the second consecutive year, according to the January-released PitchBook-National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) Venture Monitor.

“Despite uncertainties about the sustainability of the unprecedented activity seen in 2018, [2019] kept pace,” said CEO John Gabbert of PitchBook. “In 2019, we [also] saw the highest exit value ever tracked, record capital deployed to female-founded startups and the most late-stage deals ever closed.’’

CEO Bobby Franklin of NVCA said in a statement: “While there are lingering uncertainties surrounding global macroeconomic trends, U.S. public policies, and the 2020 election … the flood of exit dollars [after sales] back to limited partners, robust fundraising environment, and large amounts of dry powder available at many venture firms should allow the industry to sustain this new level of investment activity in 2020.”

The Star Tribune has published several stories about Bright Health and other local recipients of the big VC haul last year.

Last week, I learned one of our local venture-capital funds had “sunk” to a new level.

And it’s important.

Last month, Gov. Tim Walz was inspecting sewer-and-water pipes in Minneapolis with a public-works engineer to highlight the need to upgrade aging infrastructure throughout Minnesota. Spring rains can fill the empty stormwater tunnel Walz visited in a hurry.

Meanwhile, CEO Cathy Connett and her partners at Sofia Fund, which focuses on female-led companies, were part of a $2.6 million raise by Seattle’s StormSensor. That firm maps underground water movements with coordinated sensors, replacing stormwater and wastewater spot checks and providing real-time analytics, such as alerts for managing during extreme weather, as well as long-term municipal planning.

Many cities, amid climate change, are struggling with torrential rains and rising water levels.

StormSensor is working with eight or nine cities so far, from Seattle to Jersey City, N.J.

“Water infrastructure is 80-plus years old,” Connett said. “In the first part of this decade … urbanized areas increased in size by 22%. Add to that the effect of climate change and more intense storms and you get more flooding, and then mix in sewage. … The current technology is pretty much … send somebody down to take a look. That can be dangerous. It’s a manpower issue. And also a safety issue at times of flooding.

“This allows you to put lots of sensors in and get real-time data. You don’t have to send workers down. This is a traffic-control system for sewers. The managers can see where problems are developing and where repairs are needed. And it helps them plan for capital investment.”

The several-year-old Sofia Fund has invested millions in early-stage, female-led growth companies that operate principally in information technology, clean technology, health and wellness.


Neal St. Anthony, a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984, can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.