Why this top banker left Goldman Sachs to help fund women who are changing healthcare

Leerink Partners’ Sasha Kelemen.

Sasha Kelemen

At Leerink Partners, Sasha Kelemen runs an investment-banking team unlike any other on Wall Street.
The team is focused on landing deals in women’s health, a historically underfunded space.
For her work, Insider named Kelemen to our list of 30 leaders under 40 transforming healthcare.

Sasha Kelemen pursued a career in investment banking with the goal of providing capital to women.

After graduating from business school at the University of Virginia in 2017, she joined the healthcare team at Goldman Sachs. There, Kelemen held her own at tables full of primarily white men and won major opportunities. 

During her first year, she represented Goldman on an initial public offering. By 2021, she’d been promoted to vice president and chosen by a senior partner to work on the $17 billion sale of Athenahealth to private-equity investors.

Kelemen, 35, credits some of her success at Goldman to the confidence she learned from her scrappy family, who moved to the US from Venezuela when she was 7. Growing up in Florida and then Connecticut, Kelemen played soccer and violin, and she competed with her twin brother for who could win the most money from report cards. They got $20 for each A and $10 for each B. For every C, their parents fined them $30. 

Sasha Kelemen and her husband, Chris, on graduation day at Boston College.

Sasha Kelemen

“Perhaps it’s the immigrant mentality, but living in a new country with a different language and no extended family nearby forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and straddle the line between blending in and finding your own voice along the way,” Kelemen told Insider in an email.

After finishing undergrad at Boston College in 2010, Kelemen spent a handful of years in media, gaining storytelling skills that were surprisingly relevant, later, in the world of investment banking.

“So much of an IPO or a transaction is, can you build a narrative?” she told Insider in an interview.

Insider recently named Kelemen to our list of 30 leaders under 40 transforming healthcare.

Untapped potential in women’s health

Kelemen liked her job at Goldman and planned to stay, but things started to change after she had her first daughter.

During her pregnancy, she read obsessively about women’s health. She was about to become a new mom who’d never so much as changed a diaper, and she was trying to stay healthy during a pandemic while she worked nonstop. But soon, she realized there was untapped business potential in the space.

“There’s something here,” she said. “Why is nobody on Wall Street paying attention?”

Sasha Kelemen.

Sasha Kelemen

When she returned to work in May 2021 after her maternity leave, Kelemen pitched Goldman on letting her work with more women’s-health companies, but was told no. A lot of those startups were still too small for a firm like Goldman, she said.

Simultaneously, she was trying to figure out how to be a working mom — short on time to pump breast milk, pick up her daughter from day care, and care for her when she got sick — with few visible examples of what that could look like.

“There’s no sick days in investment banking,” she said. “Like, how do you do this?”

The bank SVB Leerink, as part of a growth spurt in its healthcare coverage, recruited Kelemen in summer 2021. In a 90-minute meeting, she pitched Barry Blake, SVB’s global cohead of investment banking, on her vision to build a team to land deals in women’s health. She also told him about her family and intentions to grow it.

Blake endorsed both of Kelemen’s plans.

“I wanted to be direct because being a mom and being a banker are two really important parts of my identity,” she said. “I wanted to be somewhere that appreciated that and respected that.”

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs said that the bank’s healthcare team has a diverse composition, which has contributed to its dedicated effort to advise women-led and -centered companies.

Wall Street’s only women’s-health-focused squad

Blake hired Kelemen the following November to run what Kelemen says is the only team of its kind on Wall Street.

As head of women and family healthcare services and technology investment banking, Kelemen now leads a small team of female bankers who advise investors as well as early-stage startups and multibillion-dollar companies, most of which are founded or led by women, on their strategies.

The team is now part of Leerink Partners, after a management buyout in June separated the investment bank from SVB, following its collapse.

As Kelemen has become more established in her career, she’s tested how to show up as the most genuine version of herself at work. Instead of suits, sometimes she’ll wear flower dresses to see private-equity clients. Instead of golf, she’ll invite investors out for pedicures or pickleball. Every day, her calendar is blocked from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. so she can spend time with her kids.

Sasha Kelemen’s family.

Sasha Kelemen

Thanks to the explosion of remote work, Kelemen and her husband, Chris, who’s also in finance, were able to move to a suburb about 45 minutes north of New York City. Today, Kelemen works in the office or travels to see clients up to three days a week, and Chris works away from home up to four days a week. But with few exceptions, they’re always home by the girls’ bedtime. Leerink has made accommodations, too, like ensuring Kelemen has access to pumping rooms in the office, she said.

While she challenges traditional banker stereotypes behind the scenes, Kelemen is also waging a separate but related battle to shift more power and capital into women’s hands.

Investors are still allocating a tiny amount — about 2% of venture dollars — to companies founded solely by women

Investment in women’s-health startups, which, per Kelemen, are founded mostly by women, is picking up some, but it’s still largely focused on reproductive care, which is relevant only for some women over a handful of years.

Making investment in women’s healthcare a self-fulfilling cycle

Part of the problem is that investors are still mostly men, Kelemen said. A big part of her job is explaining the value of women’s-health companies to male investors who haven’t personally experienced something like menopause, childbirth, miscarriages, postpartum depression, pelvic-floor dysfunction, or pain during sex.

Sasha Kelemen with her daughters Olivia and Zoe.

Sasha Kelemen

“Hopefully one day soon, I won’t be getting questions like, ‘Is this market really big enough?'” she said.

More deals in the space will create more data points that investors can point to, which should fuel further investment in a self-fulfilling cycle, Kelemen said.

Last year, Kelemen sold a menopause-treatment startup to a national OB-GYN services company. It was the first deal Kelemen put together from start to finish and the first time her client, the startup’s CEO, Jill Angelo, wasn’t a man. 

Right after the deal was announced, on World Menopause Day, Kelemen hung up the phone and kissed her second daughter, who was about 5 days old, on the head, thinking she might have better access to care one day. Then she started to tear up.

Kelemen added that other than that, she didn’t work during her maternity leave.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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