Another JPM week rolls around and in comes the rainy weather to SF. It’s getting to be quite a pattern.
Each year I look forward to it and dread it. It’s a week of seeing colleagues, meeting lots of new people, and learning about new start-ups in the healthcare/life sciences space. And yet at the end of going from event to event, fitting in coffee meetings and hoping to sneak in some real work, I am exhausted.
So now that I have had a few recovery days, here’s how the week seemed to me.
Progress is always exciting. Seeing companies that I first met a few years ago, now growing and bringing new projects and products forward always generates energy. Also excitement-generating is the progression in therapies, starting with small molecules, then biologics and now cell-based therapies. Additionally, new modes like digital therapies have entered the space.
Some of the highest energy was associated with the incubator events I attended. IndieBio opened its door for visitors on Monday. The place was packed with companies that had participated in IndieBio previously, those starting soon or hoping to apply in the future, as well as a good mix of industry participants. UC Davis Venture Catalyst threw the BIG (Biotech Innovation Gallery) event. Ten startups presented their companies and spent the day in one-on-one meetings with interested investors. Again, a packed event with folks from big pharma, investment firms and plenty of other startups. I also attended Nex3’s event which featured a group discussion of how startups in the digital-side of the healthcare space fit in and compete with the large giants like Google, IBM and Microsoft that have stepped into the ring.
My consternation came in 2 forms – personal perceptions and an observational incident. On the personal side, I went to a number of events that presented panels of speakers. This included an ARM briefing, China Medtech, a WuXi event, and an event sponsored by Morgan Lewis. Yet, with the exception of the last one, which was focused on women founders, the majority of the panelists were men, and almost all white men. Really? With the wide variety of investors, founders and researchers out there, how can these panels be reflective of the industry? Or if they are reflective of someone’s perception of the industry, this view needs to evolve, so that we showcase the full breadth of talents and move away from the hierarchies of the past.
The second dismay was not mine personally, but brought home a message that is not uncommon in the start-up world. A founder of a startup asked a panel of investors and CEOs how it could be that the investment sphere wasn’t jazzed on his company, even though its focus addressed a key national health issue, the opioid crisis. The answer given I think came as shocker for the founder. In a nutshell – if you’ve gone out there and given it your best shot to present the company and after a decent period you have no takers, no true interest, it’s time to move on to something else. Whether this advice is right or wrong isn’t my point. It’s the difficulty of hearing an opinion about your work/your dream that isn’t what you want to hear. My mom always said, “be careful what you ask for . . . .”
The In-between goings-on
Many events made up the remainder of the week. Women’s receptions, law firm receptions, including the WSGR party at MoMA that had a line so long to get in, some folks gave up, but once in was a great space to meet folks, despite the crowds.
Now that’s all over and I am somewhat back to a normal reality. Still, there is a lot to follow up on: New companies to see where they fit in the landscape, the progression of international politics (and national policy) and its effects on cross-border work, and potential collaborations from folks newly met during the past week. My feet are still recovering from the 25+ miles I walked across SF in the 5 days. Overall – I’d say it was a good week.