For a corporate venturing unit to operate for more than 40 years requires both consistent support from a changing suite of senior executives at the parent company and the ability to find, develop and rotate talented staff.
At a time when experienced leaders, such as Brad Vale and Michael Chuisano, have moved on from Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC then it falls to a new generation of rising stars to step up.
Renee Ryan, vice-president at Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC, is one who has done so under Tom Hayman, president of JJDC as well as CEO of its Janssen Pharmaceuticals division (and in the top 25 for the GCV Powerlist 2016).
JJDC was formed in 1973 with same mission – to support innovation and create strategic options in areas of interest to J&J – and Ryan quoted Janssen Pharmaceuticals founder, Paul Janssen: “There is so much more to be done – the patients are waiting.”
After spending more than 15 years in healthcare investment banking, first for Goldman Sachs, then Jefferies and finally Robert W Baird, Ryan joined J&J in 2011 and said: “I really never thought of myself as a banker, but rather a healthcare industry professional.
“I am lucky that my experience has enabled me to pursue my personal passions that include helping patients, delivering new technology and innovation, and working for a company that is innovating across medical devices, consumer and pharmaceuticals. This provides me with diverse opportunities and no day is ever boring.”
In fact, Ryan said she found the job so interesting that “while my husband might be disappointed to hear, my main professional ambition is to never retire”.
She went on: “I truly love the healthcare space and know that we will always have innovation to foster and diseases to treat. The attraction for me to this role [at JJDC] was the combination of both venture investing/shaping of early stage innovation and the strategic imperative of supporting innovation for J&J, the world’s largest healthcare company.
“To have the guidance of our credo, which starts with our obligations to the patient or consumer, is a true north for how we invest and execute. It also compels us to ensure our investments hold truly transformative potential.”
In this regard, Ryan said her greatest successes at an “extremely busy” time for the team had been the formation of Verb Surgical, a surgical robotics collaboration between Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon subsidiary and Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, “which was 15 months of heavy lifting to form the company and now an additional year and a half since the first employee was hired.
“The project was highly suited to my banker background doing complex deal transactions and very different than a typical series A round of investment that a traditional, non-corporate VC would do.”
Others of her deals include eye treatment developer ReVision Optics, which raised $32m in November, NeuroPace, which makes a cranially implanted neurostimulation device for the treatment of epilepsy, and Cala Health in bioelectronics wearables.
Given the pace of activity at JJDC, Ryan understandably said: “The biggest challenge can be time management. We closed over 25 new deals in 2015 and 2016 was even busier. Also it is tough when we see a super cool technology, but still need to pass if it is not a fit within our strategic areas of interest.”
That pointed Ryan, who received her MBA from Columbia Business School and a degree from Georgetown University, to her key insight for the corporate venture capital industry. “I think the power of corporate investing lies in the value add.
“We collectively have assets and capabilities that are fundamentally different and complementary to each other and to traditional VCs. If you look at healthcare, it is an enormous global market more than primed for cutting-edge innovation and technology that can take the market to the next level. The real potential for disruptive innovation lies in several CVCs from disparate industries working together to bring the next great breakthrough technology to fruition.”