Photo: Yiu-Lian Fong and Jennifer Hamilton, both of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, visiting JLABS @ Toronto
With fifteen years of experience in venture capital and a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in Experimental Pathology, Jennifer Hamilton’s unique experience had led her to her current role as the Senior Director of New Ventures (Canada) for Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
Jennifer describes herself as an “innovation scout.” In her role, she travels across the country visiting professors, companies, incubators and tech transfer offices.
“I’m a sponge for information,” she says, “which is fortunate, because I visit therapeutics companies, I visit device companies, I visit consumer companies. I’m always looking for innovations that could one day be pipeline products for the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies.”
That means meeting with a lot of innovators. At any given time, Jennifer may be managing upwards of 40 relationships with startups, and researchers. “It’s part of my DNA – I thrive on the variety.”
Using experience to drive productive conversations
That variety is exciting – but requires experience to stay focused and drive tangible results. Jennifer has honed her ability to filter out the critical information and drive relationships that benefit both parties:
“If I’m at an event where I learn about ten new technologies, my experience allows me to drill down into the ones we might be interested in. It’s my own internal triage system.”
Innovation scouts like Jennifer have insight (knowledge of company priorities, potential commercial applications, other emerging technologies, and industry pain points) that startups or researchers may not. Because of this, Jennifer encourages innovators to connect with her team even before they are seeking investment or partnerships. Early conversations allow both parties to better understand each other, and to make more meaningful connections.
“I encourage companies to meet with us early, so that we can get to know them and their technology. It takes time before we’re ready to move forward with a partnership. Sometimes we even explore different potential applications together.”
Jennifer’s ability to spot value is an obvious benefit to her team at J&J – but she also uses it to return value to the people she meets with:
“The other night at an event, I left a conversation to chase down two people who had similar interests and introduce them. They were a little surprised, but they both gave me a thumbs up from across the room after. To me, that’s the happiest thing I can do – try and connect people and advance their goals.”
Leveraging external innovation as an efficient path to innovation
“Many products from Johnson & Johnson that are marketed right now were developed externally. By harnessing external innovation, you’re tapping into a much greater pool of innovation.”
Harnessing that innovation doesn’t always involve immediately bringing the technology or operations in-house. In fact, there are situations where the opposite is true:
“Things often develop faster on the outside of a huge company than on the inside. Sometimes it’s better not to slow down the innovative process by bringing them inside.”
Focusing on external innovation allows J&J to develop the kinds of cutting-edge partnerships that other large organizations might struggle to establish. One deal that Jennifer is particularly excited about is a partnership with a company called enGene.
The Montreal-based company is “developing its unique gene delivery formulation into an orally available “Gene Pill”, which has the potential to be a platform for oral delivery of a wide range protein drugs.”
Says Jennifer, “When I first learned about Engene over 15 years ago, it was practically a space-age technology. To think that a large company like Johnson & Johnson would be engaged in this kind of novel approach is very gratifying to me.”
What are you most excited about?
Looking to the future, Jennifer is excited about new ways that technology, research, and data are driving change. At J&J, Jennifer has been able to continue her lifelong pursuit of learning. Recently, her role has afforded the opportunity to explore impact investing in the space of global health where she is seeking healthcare investments worldwide that have social impact and financial return enabling scaling of technology and services in ultra-low resource settings.
“As I’m moving between the impact investing space and my core role, I’m finding that the overlap is quite extraordinary. I now think that the biotech work that I’ve been doing all these years is also impact investing, but a different kind of impact.”
“As a venture capital investor, I invested in Vancouver company – Angiotech – in the 90’s. A close family member had a major heart attack a couple years ago and now has two “Angiotech” stents in his heart. That’s impact.”
Ultimately, Jennifer wants to continue exploring all that Canada and the world’s innovation leaders have to offer, and the impact she can help them have.
“I’m very excited by the science I see in Canada in all therapeutic areas. I feel as if I’m on a treasure hunt every time I go out.”