Nazie Eftekhari tentatively made a deal in February to sell HealthEZ, the Bloomington-based health benefits company she started 21 years ago. Then a health crisis came along.
This week, nearly six months after the coronavirus outbreak threw the economy into recession and deal-making out the window, Eftekhari finished the sale of her majority stake in HealthEZ to Abry Partners, a Boston private equity firm.
"Most people headed for shelter and they just leaned in," Eftekhari said Wednesday. "We should be a bigger, better, bolder, smarter organizations with these guys in the room with us."
Terms were not disclosed.
Eftekhari will remain in charge of the firm, which she started in 1999 with the goal of making health plan administration simpler and more transparent, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses that operate self-funded plans.
Two of the company's largest clients, Life Time Fitness and Twin Cities Orthopedics/i-Health, have endured a turbulent few months as government-mandated shutdowns disrupted their businesses.
Eftekhari said there will not be any changes to her management team and staff. The company has 70 to 75 employees.
"Since 2012 we have experienced tremendous growth, anywhere from 30% to 50% a year," Eftekhari said. "Here we are in 2020 in a really good position with very strong revenue and very decent profits."
Eftekhari, an Iranian immigrant who came to study at the University of Minnesota in 1978, started her own firm, Araz Group, in 1982. Four years ago, the U named her its Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year.
Eftekhari also has degrees from the London School of Economics and University of Southern California. But she's remained closely connected with the U's medical, business and law schools. Her family has a number of scholarships at the U Law School and Carlson School of Business.
"Iran was a door that the universe closed to me out of its wisdom," Eftekhari said. "Minnesota was the door that the universe opened out of its mercy."
In addition to raising money for her companies, she was also a successful fundraiser for the Walker Art Center and established the Foundation for the Children of Iran to help provide health care services for Iranian children or children of Iranian descent.
Eftekhari gathered early investments in HealthEZ from area businessmen, including Carl Pohlad and Vance Opperman, angel investors and subsequent investors who helped build the company. Eftekhari bought out those HealthEZ investors in 2005.
The new owner, Abry Partners, currently manages over $5 billion of capital across its funds. Its purchase of HealthEZ includes related companies and divisions of the Araz Group including America's PPO, the first preferred provider organization in the nation.
According to Abry's website, it has more than 20 investments in the health care IT services space.
"When I met the Abry team, I knew they would be a good fit for our company, our clients, our members, and our team," Eftekhari said.
Abry's news release said its investment would help HealthEZ provide more services and pursue strategic acquisitions. HealthEZ's growth up to now has been organic.
"There are different skill sets for scaling a business," Eftekhari said. "I wanted different people at my side who could accelerate, turbocharge the growth of the company. Both organic growth, product development growth, and obviously acquisitions."