This is the first post in our JPALS series.
Every company that moves into JLABS gets paired with a JPAL. These experts from within Johnson & Johnson Innovation act as mentors to our resident companies, providing knowledge, connections, and support in order to help them succeed. JPALS are invested in the success of their resident companies, and they’re a crucial piece of the JPALS strategy. In this series, we’ll be interviewing JPALS about how they’ve helped our resident companies succeed, what makes them good mentors, and why they love being involved with JLABS.
Stefanie Dhanda is a Senior Director, Consumer Scientific Innovation, working out of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center in Boston. She leads Consumer sector efforts to grow and manage a portfolio of innovative external partnerships, collaborations and investments for the benefit of the Johnson & Johnson Consumer businesses, focusing on Eastern U.S., Eastern Canada and Latin America. One part of her job is working with early-stage companies who are residents at JLABS @ Toronto, and the upcoming JLABS @ NYC.
What do you bring to the companies that you mentor?
What makes you a good JPAL?
I sometimes refer to myself as a “recovering investment banker.” After a 20+ year career in the financial industry, making the move to consumer goods may not seem like an obvious shift, but it makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of consistencies in skills I developed in investment banking that are critical in working with early-stage companies – thinking through long term strategies, conveying the growth story, business modeling, and the ability to get something from where it is today to where we’re trying go. While I’m not a scientist, most of my investment banking clients were in the consumer or healthcare space, so I picked up the ability to quickly grasp technical concepts along the way.
What does being a JPAL mean to you?
The most important part of being a JPAL is being the bridge between Johnson & Johnson and these early-stage companies. I can help with some things: business modeling, creating and verbalizing a growth story, financial strategizing, long-term visioning – but there are a lot of skills I don’t bring. Whether they need to speak to a regulatory person, a technical expert or a marketing and consumer science specialist, or if they need access to equipment, identifying and facilitating access to the right people within Johnson & Johnson is probably the most critical piece of being a JPAL. It’s about making that connection, being a communicator, and making those introductions to support these companies.
What do you like most about being a JPAL?
I like working with early stage companies, helping them take a raw idea, maybe even something written on a napkin, and turning it into a business plan, carving out that path to grow it into something that could ultimately be successful. That’s what most of my job is: taking companies from a native idea and being able to see the pathway to becoming a viable product– and working with those companies to help move that process along.
How many companies do you mentor?
Right now, I regularly mentor two consumer companies, both based out of JLABS @ Toronto. I’ve helped a number of others, maybe four or five, with smaller projects or by connecting them to other mentors who have the right skills for their needs.
How have you helped JLABS companies?
One of our JLABS companies is in the sun/UV space. They needed do some testing, but had no access to a solar simulator (a machine that mimics the sun, used in a clinical setting to test performance of their product in simulated sunlight). I was able to connect them to the Johnson & Johnson Sun Care team in Skillman NJ, and the JLABS company traveled to Skillman to use our solar simulator equipment for their tests. And moreover, they did some of their testing alongside our UV experts. This helped them get a lot more info about how to run these tests, and they ended up changing their methodologies based on input of those experts.
During those discussions, they indicated they were having some technical issues with the adhesive on their product. On the same trip to Skillman, we were also able to have them spend time with adhesive experts from the BAND-AID® team, who provided guidance on better adhesives for the back of the sticker to improve the “stickiness.”
We have such deep internal expertise in these areas and it’s pretty awesome for these young companies to be connected to these experts. And for us, the JPALS program is a great way for internal employees to be involved with the external innovation activities happening at JLABS.