Observations from JPMorgan Week

The week of January 11th I had the opportunity to attend the Biotech Showcase in San Francisco during what is commonly called “JPMorgan week”. JPMorgan week is a cluster of life science investing conferences held simultaneously in San Francisco each January. It has become a must-attend week for entrepreneurs and investors involved in life science. It was a fascinating week and I saw many exciting companies and met many interesting people. This month I want to share three observations from JPMorgan week.

As you are aware January has been very bad for U.S. stock markets, and the beginning of the month was extremely bad for the Chinese stock market. In San Francisco I was prepared to have investors tell me that they were going to wait till the markets stabilized before they made more investments. I had several meetings scheduled with Chinese investors and anticipated even greater caution from them. But in fact none of the investors I met with were concerned with the condition of the markets. It gave me confidence that while there may be issues with slowing global growth, the drops in the markets we are seeing in January are not signs of a fundamental problem like back in 2007.

My second observation was that many of the life science startups have some connection to university research. While a number of the companies are actually university spinouts (which we track in Startup.Directory) many other startups which are not technically universities spinouts have some affiliation with one or more U.S. universities. These startups work with universities in a variety of ways including conducting contract research and clinical trials. I think this is a testament to the strength and depth of the U.S. university research community and I’m not sure if university research staff gets sufficient credit for the role they play in supporting startup company innovation.

Finally I was generally impressed by the breadth of innovation represented by the 300 or so companies presenting at Biotech Showcase. Furthermore hundreds of other companies were presenting at other conferences that week and I met executives from even more startups who were attending but not presenting. As I flip through the abstracts it seems like there are multiple companies with diagnostics, devices and therapeutics addressing virtually every major disease and many low occurrence (orphan) diseases and illnesses. Probably the majority of these companies will not succeed, but even if a small percentage of them do deliver a product to market they will, in total, enable dramatic improvements in human health care. So the next time you read an article lamenting the lack of innovation or progress in healthcare or other technology sectors, don’t despair. My time spent at JPMorgan week reassured me that innovation and entrepreneurship in healthcare is alive and well.

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