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Where Mentorship and Innovation Meet: Inside JLABS @ NYC

Johnson & Johnson Innovation recently opened its latest health sciences incubator, JLABS @ NYC—a 30,000-square-foot facility housed at the New York Genome Center in SoHo. In addition to hosting about 30 healthcare start-ups, JLABS @ NYC also aims to create a wealth of opportunities for mentorship and growth for Johnson & Johnson employees.

What does that look like on the ground? We caught up with Kate Merton, Head of JLABS @ NYC at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, to find out.

"We Start By Looking at the Best of the Best"

Six years after launching in 2012, JLABS today has expanded to 13 locations around the world and granted $6.1 million in awards via QuickFire Challenges. What's more, the 480-plus companies within its ecosystem have together secured $11.6 billion in financing so far.

"We start by looking at the best of the best in terms of entrepreneurs and companies," Kate said. Once selected, each company gets an approximate two-year residency.

JLABS @ NYC, however, is unique in that it presents an opportunity to join forces with a robust local ecosystem of partners, including nine local medical centers and research institutions. It also helps that the Big Apple is home to the largest bioscience workforce in the country.

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"My joke is that JLABS residents are like 'foster children' for me," Kate said with a grin. "Sometimes, we wind up 'adopting' them, so to speak. By that, I mean we identify a potential synergy and may make the decision to form a financial relationship with the company." This is just one of the ways we're continuing to innovate in order to shape the future of health and make impact at scale with our no-strings-attached model.

So, what kinds of exciting projects are percolating right now at JLABS @ NYC?

There's Envisagenics, a predictive analytics company and the brainchild of Dr. Maria Luisa Pineda, for example. Dr. Pineda's company provides a platform that aims to prioritize drug targets that are considered biologically relevant and technically feasible to reach clinical trials, meaning new drug development could become significantly faster. And that makes a huge difference, considering the cost of researching and developing a successful drug today is estimated to be $2.6 billion.

Like some of the other companies in our portfolio, Envisagenics became a resident by winning one of our QuickFire Challenges. Each of these challenges is designed with an aim to create specific solutions—for instance, enabling digital surgery through advanced robotics or designing the lab coat of the future—that Johnson & Johnson Innovation can take to the next level.

"We’re Channeling and Harnessing Innovation Internally"

Mentorship is one of the cornerstones of our workplace culture at Johnson & Johnson. You see that every day in the new JLABS facility in New York City.

"We pair each of our JLABS residents with a relevant subject matter expert (a JPAL) from Johnson & Johnson who can provide them with ongoing entrepreneurial support, guidance, feedback and mentorship," Kate explained.

Another opportunity is the pairing of some of the companies to participants in our Talent Accelerator Program (TAP), a four- to five-month program for emerging leaders. It's just one of the ways that Johnson & Johnson can expose internal colleagues to entrepreneurial experiences external to the Company. This kind of experience can fast-track professional development and prepare team members for leadership opportunities.

Plus, because of our unequaled resources and size—Johnson & Johnson is the largest broadly based healthcare company in the world—we're uniquely positioned to provide these start-ups with subject matter experts in nearly any field related to health tech. Kate observed, "No matter what kind of expertise you need, from immunology to AI to robotics, we will do our best to provide it."

And, going forward, Kate hopes to expand the program. Specifically, she wants to find ways for junior-level employees at Johnson & Johnson to work with JLABS in a capacity that she describes as "peer coaches." It would be a way to make entrepreneurial thinking and experience a foundational component of building a career with us.

"We have so many smart cookies at Johnson & Johnson who can offer JLABS entrepreneurs different expertise and perspectives, while at the same time learning, growing and developing in their own careers," she said.

That also aligns with Kate's overall vision of JLABS as a "servant leader" within Johnson & Johnson. "Obviously, at JLABS, we’re leaders in identifying external innovation," she said. "But ultimately, we’re also channeling and harnessing innovation internally in order to serve as a resource across all of Johnson & Johnson."

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