Maria Toler Velissaris is an Atlanta-based entrepreneur and founder of the world’s largest venture capital fund focused on women’s healthcare. Velissaris started SteelSky as a way to uplift women-owned businesses. Her VC firm focuses on investing in fertility companies, maternal health companies, digital health, ePharmacy, and so on.
“I understand the mortality rates overall for the U.S. are the worst in the developed world, she added. “But for people of colour it’s even worse,” Velissaris told Wake Forest Magazine. “There were some big opportunities to make change and impact, but also big opportunities to make a lot of money by investing in these companies that can serve these big markets.”
The firm recently raised $72 million in total assets, becoming the world’s largest venture capital fund focused on women’s healthcare. So far, her firm has invested in more than 20 women-led companies.
The fund has healthcare strategic partners like the American Hospital Association (AHA), Blue Shield of California, MultiCare Hospital System, Henry Ford Hospital System and Essential Access Health, according to Becauseofthemwecan.
Forbes names her SteelSky Ventures a top venture capital fund to watch. She was also honored by the Stern School of Business, where she obtained her MBA, with its 2020 Business Alumni Changemaker award.
Velissaris said she was inspired to become an entrepreneur at an early age while following her father, a military veteran, around the world. She lived in Germany and Belgium before settling in Northern Virginia in Fairfax when she was 9.
From an early age, she knew she had a ‘thing’ for doing creative things. She made lemonade stands, garage cleaning businesses, and babysitting clubs. She was also inspired by her grandmother Mary T. Christian, who was the first Black person on the Hampton City School Board in Virginia. She was also the first Black person since Reconstruction elected to represent Hampton in the state legislature.
When Velissaris was a junior in college, she started a student storage company called Wakeboxes which was later renamed Collegeboxes. Following the acquisition of Collegeboxes by Uhaul, she founded SteelSky after uncovering a gap in funding for founders focused on women’s healthcare.
“I saw a lot of angel investors that were women wanted to invest in beauty or retail or food, but I saw this amazing group of founders that were innovating in women’s health care,” she said. “They were overlooked because a lot of people don’t understand health care. I thought that these companies could be groundbreaking, scalable and have a great impact.”