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Best Week, Worst Week: Md. venture capital rebounds; Wen forced out at Planned Parenthood

best-worst-072019Maryland venture capital got good news this week as second-quarter numbers showed a strong comeback from a weak beginning to the year, while Baltimore’s former health commissioner’s tenure as the head of Planned Parenthood ended just a few months after it began.

Business writer Tim Curtis reported Wednesday that Maryland companies funded by venture capital raised $226 million during the year’s second quarter, rebounding strongly from a first quarter that was the state’s worst in two years.

The second quarter, boosted by several large deals, also saw an increase in the number of deals and was especially one of the best quarters for seed-stage transactions in years, according to data from the quarterly PwC/CBInsights MoneyTree report.

The $226 million raised by companies represented a return to form after an $80 million first quarter. That quarter came on the heels of a $1 billion year and five straight quarters of at least $226 million raised. Because Maryland generally has fewer deals than some other states — it ranked 11th nationally with 21 deals and 12th in funding amount during the second quarter — its fundraising totals can be dependent on just a couple of large deals every quarter.

That volatility happens both in Maryland and regionally. Sometimes it represents itself in smaller quarters; other times it means one state in the region, like Maryland this quarter or Virginia last quarter, attracts most of the deals and funding.

The second quarter was helped by two larger deals accounting for 55% of the total raised, along with several midsized deals. Viela Bio, the Gaithersburg-based AstraZeneca spinout, raised $75 million during the second quarter. Another Gaithersburg firm, the manufacturing online marketplace Xometry, raised $50 million.

These are the types of deals that can make the difference between an underwhelming and a stronger quarter. Just as important as the funding, though, can be the number of deals, especially the number of seed deals, which could turn into the big transactions of the future.

Meanwhile, former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen was forced out as president of Planned Parenthood Tuesday in a dispute over the direction of the nation’s largest women’s reproductive rights organization amid growing political and legal challenges to abortion.

Planned Parenthood’s board met in emergency session and approved Wen’s immediate departure just eight months after she took over the post.

The move occurs at one of the most difficult moments in the group’s history. The organization faces growing financial peril from a Trump administration rule that took effect Monday barring federally funded family planning clinics from providing referrals for abortions. It is also under attack by antiabortion lawmakers at the state and federal level and is threatened by the prospect that the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion could be overturned by the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority.

People familiar with Wen’s position said she has been battling over the organization’s direction with new board chair Aimee Cunningham almost since Cunningham arrived in May. Wen had tried to refocus the organization’s mission and image as a health provider offering a wide array of services, including abortions, they said. She replaced a number of the organization’s top officials with people who supported that approach. Those close to Wen said she was opposed by some board members and others who wanted to emphasize the organization’s commitment to abortion rights.

Wen was appointed Planned Parenthood’s president last November, succeeding Cecile Richards, the organization’s high-profile president for the previous dozen years.