Local Milwaukee startup selected for Northwestern Mutual Black Founder Accelerator program

October 20, 2022

Marlon V.R. Ross

A few years ago, while he was living in Texas, new Milwaukee resident Marlon V.R. Ross, was informed by his doctor that his blood pressure was elevated and that by body mass index (BMI) standards, he was overweight. The doctor, Ross said, told him that he needed to go on a diet.

She never gave him any information about how to lose weight safely and effectively, not even a referral to a dietician, Ross said. “Doctors are quick to prescribe medication, but sometimes not so good with other things.” The average primary care provider has more than 2,000 patients, according to Ross, who added that initially Wellacy Health will primarily market itself to provider practices and health clinics. “The doctor will introduce the patient to the platform,” he said.

Partially as a result of his previous experience, Ross founded Wellacy Health to help doctors and health care providers figuratively “extend the capabilities of their office,” more specifically to “help fix our nation’s broken health care system” by improving care delivery and health outcomes for patients with chronic diseases and eliminating racial disparities in access to quality health care, Ross said. The company is scaling up to launch a new internet-based application for consumers and currently employs three people, having recently relocated from Texas.

On September 27, 2022, Wellacy Health was one of five startup, tech companies to be accepted into the fall 2022 class of the Black Accelerator grant from Northwestern Mutual, in partnership with generator, a venture capital firm. Each startup receives a $100,000 investment, a 12-week business training program, access to venture capital partners and individualized coaching from industry-leading insurance, finance and start-up professionals.

“Northwestern Mutual’s Black Founder Accelerator is designed to tackle the pronounced racial funding gap by giving black entrepreneurs greater access to venture capital and opportunity,” said Abim Kolawole, vice president of financial planning excellence and strategy at Northwestern Mutual. “We are proud to support the growth and resilience of black-founded startups and nurture the positive impact these entrepreneurs will have on future generations.”

Ross said he understands what people in underserved health-care communities are going through, having been raised in poverty on the South Side of Chicago. In 2019, he said a family member died prematurely due in part to complications from diabetes. That experience also contributed to his desire to found his own health care company.

“I had a front-row seat to the devastating effects of poor health care access,” Ross said. He cited results from a recent study which concluded that the racial disparity in the health care system costs the U.S. economy $135-billion per year, $93-billion in excess medical care costs and $42-billion in lost productivity.

Before deciding to relocate his company in Milwaukee, Ross said he visited multiple cities in five states: Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio. “Of all those places, I feel like Milwaukee is making a really concerted effort to find, fund and cultivate a diverse tech ecosystem,” he said. “We think there is great potential for growth in Milwaukee,” he added.