Jul 13, 2022 - Business

Mo Cowan to become MassChallenge's first board chair

Mo Cowan, the former U.S. senator, sits at a table with other business and political leaders, discussing the Mass. startup ecosystem.
Mo Cowan, left, joined Axios last month for a discussion on the state's economy and innovation ecosystem. Photo: Daniel Duarte/Axios Events

Former U.S. Sen. Mo Cowan will serve as the first chair of MassChallenge's board of directors, the organization announced Wednesday.

What's happening: MassChallenge told Axios in a statement that the nonprofit sought a leader to support the team as its new CEO, Cait Brumme, takes the helm, and help shape the organization's future.

  • Cowan will hold the position in addition to his role as chief legal and external affairs officer at the Waltham-based health insurance startup Devoted Health.

Why it matters: MassChallenge is an institution within the state's startup ecosystem, helping entrepreneurs turn prototypes and ideas into groundbreaking drugs, fintech apps, renewable energy systems and more.

  • With Cowan leading the board, the organization has one of the city's most well-connected business and political leaders working to advance its efforts to develop startups in cleantech, fintech and health care.

What to know: Cowan led the government affairs consulting group ML Strategies, counseled the law firm Mintz Levin and worked for General Electric before joining Devoted Health in October.

  • He first joined the MassChallenge board two years ago.
  • He told Axios in an interview that the board is focusing on ensuring Brumme and the team have the resources they need to help startups develop.

Of note: Cowan takes over at a time when MassChallenge has expanded its footprint to work with startups not only in Massachusetts, but also in Israel and Switzerland.

What makes a great startup? Cowan said he's personally drawn to companies tackling systemic, structural problems that have gone unaddressed.

  • One example is Goldfinch Bio, a biotech company that's working on new treatments for kidney disease, which he notes has disproportionately affected Black patients and received less medical and research funding than other diseases.
  • "I love the fact that Goldfinch is leaning hard into developing therapeutics as an alternative means for addressing kidney disease, kidney care," he said. "As important as dialysis is, we need alternatives so that people live longer, healthier lives."
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