Both scientific discovery and entrepreneurship are about building on the innovations, successes, and failures that came before and using them as a foundation for new (and hopefully fruitful) explorations. For over five years, JLABS has occupied the sweet spot at this intersection, giving future business leaders the tools and expertise they need to unlock their vision.
Nowhere is this more true than in the burgeoning Canadian biotech ecosystem. In 2016, following the success of its U.S. locations, Johnson & Johnson Innovation saw an opportunity and established JLABS @ Toronto. The goal was to use Toronto as a launch pad to help transform Canada and its young entrepreneurs into a world-class biotech hub. It’s in this spirit of new beginnings that I am very honored to introduce myself as the new Head of JLABS @ Toronto.
In the three short months I’ve been in this role, I’ve been astounded by the number of companies in our ecosystem and the shear breadth of innovation that has occurred in the sectors we cover: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, consumer and health tech. The challenges these emerging biotech businesses face are familiar to me because I’ve been on their side of the desk and grappled with them myself.
It’s as if all the paths I’ve taken over the course of my career converge here. I had always been interested in the business side of science and after obtaining my Ph.D., I leapt headfirst into the often-unpredictable world of Canadian biotech startups working at a University Technology Transfer Office. I saw firsthand the obstacles a company faces in terms of access to talent, capital, and forming a relationship with a corporate partner. Like the scores of small businesses that come through our doors at JLABS, these companies were all looking for a way to properly scale themselves as they manage cash flow and work to meet the ambitious near-term milestones they set for themselves.
I then went on to obtain an MBA and worked in business development for two biotech companies, living the stress of trying to partner with big pharma while managing investors and cash flow. Decision making at small companies is instinctual and while you own the decisions, you are always wondering “is this the right way to do it?” Just as I convinced myself that I would be in the start-up biotech arena for life, I got a call from Johnson and Johnson to work in Business Development for Janssen Canada. For 13 years I worked in Business Development, Marketing and Market Access absorbing how a big company approaches product development and commercialization, as well as developing skills in leadership and collaboration.
As the head of JLABS @ Toronto, I hope to bring both my start-up and big company experiences to the table, helping companies at JLABS flourish on their own terms. I firmly believe that the JLABS model is exactly what the start-ups I worked for could have used. JLABS offerings like the Investor Hub and JPALs fill a gap that all start-up companies can benefit from by providing access to capital and valuable expertise. Start-ups also need the freedom to develop their technology and solve business problems in a way that reflects their size and available resources. The JLABS no-strings attached model allows entrepreneurs the freedom to operate and do what is best for their company as they completely retain their intellectual property and there are no rights of first refusal.
Looking back on the progress JLABS has made in Toronto these past two years is invigorating. We are very proud of all the groundbreaking Canadian companies we’ve worked with. Companies like Zucara Therapeutics, a recent resident developing the first once-daily therapeutic to prevent hypoglycemia in diabetes patients, DNAstack who created an advanced platform for genomics data storage, bioinformatics, and sharing in the cloud, and DoseBiome who is conducting fascinating oral microbiome research aiming at reducing disease-causing bacteria in the mouth while promoting healthy bacteria, among many, many more (we already have 11 alumni companies and currently have 47 resident companies, with room to grow).
As we continue to educate the ecosystem on the JLABS model, we are also getting interest from start-ups outside the Toronto area, and have even had companies in other Provinces inquire or take residence at JLABS. Our one-desk, one-lab-bench scalable model has appeal to these companies so they can establish a presence in Toronto and avail themselves of the value of JLABS while continuing to have a presence in their community.
I am very excited to be a part of the JLABS Toronto team and look forward to growing JLABS and continuing to build Toronto into the booming biotech hub I know it can be.