American multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson is ubiquitous in the consumer space. What is lesser known, however, is that the company has been playing a part in the start-up space by helping innovators and researchers alike find the right collaborators and investors.
According to Dr Loy Chong Jin, research associate director of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Asia Pacific, the company prefers to position itself as a partner of choice for start-ups, researchers and innovators. He observes: “We partner anyone who has a great idea. You could be an academic, start-up, an established company or simply have a new product or innovation.”
Typically, Johnson & Johnson looks out for ideas that are applicable to its business which spans consumer health, medical devices, biologics and pharmaceuticals. “Usually we know what we are looking for and while they need to be applicable to our business needs, some may have a direct relevance and some may not. It’s important for us to keep an open mind,” he says.
For his part, Loy attends technology showcases and conferences to source potential external partners. One conference he makes time for is TechInnovation, the largest conference and exhibition in Singapore that focuses on industry-to-technology matching. Attendees and exhibitors include leading corporate R&D, multinational corporations, research organisations, university tech transfer offices, small and medium enterprises and public agencies.
Conferences like TechInnovation allow Loy to keep updated on the latest inventions and solutions. “This offers a very good platform for us to interact with the people behind these new ideas and find out more about what drives them. We want to work with people whom we know can make things happen so the team itself is critical,” he says.
“The attractive proposition for events like this where you don’t have a specific theme is that you have more people from different sectors coming together and it gives a broad coverage of what is happening outside your sphere of interest.”
When it comes to the health sciences space, Loy highlights that “a lot of innovation is not commercially ready at first and that is perfectly acceptable”. This is where he sees room for Johnson & Johnson to value-add.
He notes: “Part of what we do is build the relationship with these external partners and ensure that they are getting adequate feedback and support to help them get to the next milestone.”
In some cases, Johnson & Johnson also provides funding to help these external partners. “In terms of our model, we could be giving funding or doing a referral. If our consumer business is not keen on an idea, we can refer them to our pharmaceuticals business,” he asserts. “We can even refer them to someone else outside of Johnson & Johnson like a venture capital who may be interested in what they are doing. We want to help our partners to become successful,” he asserts.
Johnson & Johnson also has US-based life sciences facilities called JLABS that houses start-up companies and medical prototyping labs to foster a collaborative work environment. The companies get access to J&J resources and expertise in this “No-Strings-Attached” model. None of the companies located at JLABS work for Johnson & Johnson.
The way he sees it, having external firms work with Johnson & Johnson helps to breed a culture of open innovation where partnerships and ideas can be nurtured. This in turn reduces research costs and risks and helps to bring innovation to commercialisation more quickly. He says: “We want to help our partners succeed and to build trust and keep an open concept so they may refer their friends to us. We want to brand ourselves as a partner of choice.”
Loy reveals that he is currently on the lookout for consumer-oriented ideas. “This year at TechInnovation2016, we are focusing on the consumer space. This includes solutions and products in the information and communications technology (ICT) space.” he says.