Could the pandemic situation be a catalyst to break down barriers for entrepreneurs?

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Whether you are a pharma or life sciences leader, academic, entrepreneur or investor, every year BIO-Europe has been the premier event for Europeans in our industry to connect, communicate and cultivate relationships that can lead to innovation. This year the novel coronavirus has fundamentally altered how we all live, work, educate and relate to one another while still striving to discover and create positive change.

As I think about the pre-pandemic European market, I already saw disparity between the needs of early-stage companies here compared to contemporaries in the United States for instance. I feel European startups often come to the table with very limited early-stage funding and require more opportunities to gain the attention of investors as an initial step towards success. Layer on top of this a global lockdown that appears to stifle these interactions, and what was once a challenge could now be seen as a crippling course of events for early-stage European companies.

Amidst this new reality, can we also find a way to emerge stronger and act with more agility under the current circumstances? The virtualization of our industry landscape has in many ways the potential to level the playing field and democratize the process. Today, with limitless geographic reach and increased scheduling bandwidth, early-stage companies who are thoughtful in venue selection and thorough in pitching sessions, may have a greater chance to get the right level of attention and make their case to a captive VC audience.

At Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS in EMEA, we have also learned some valuable lessons stemming from the current environment. Europe was the second region in the world hit by the pandemic, and it was crucial for us at Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS to react with speed and purpose to support our companies. We pivoted to the online environment and set up virtual CEO roundtables and programming for our portfolio companies and potential partners, connecting faster than we ever did in person. I feel we exchanged best practices more efficiently and across a broader group of collaborators within and outside our company which has proven to be extremely powerful in our work. Catalyzed by the pandemic, I believe the obstacle of isolation evolved into a collective strength because we leveraged more minds and perspectives in real time than ever before.

Another benefit for us as Europeans is that this communal mindset has led to a greater infusion of diversity into our collective endeavors. In many ways, the pandemic-imposed remoteness has brought a new togetherness – a deeper understanding that our blended cultural patchwork is a strength that can lead to diversity of ideas and accelerated creativity. The geographic barriers that we all somewhat accepted at times hid our talents from each other and we have realized that in the virtual marketplace of ideas, that no longer has to be the case.

The world has changed. But physical isolation doesn’t have to stop the flow of ideas and creativity. In fact, it can help us in many ways to prioritise what’s most important and open new doors to collaboration and innovation.