What Scouts Want: Johnson & Johnson Innovation's Canadian Venture Scout on Searching for the Next Breakthrough Technologies

Jennifer HamiltonImagine if it was up to you to find the latest and greatest life-changing innovations in healthcare and life sciences across Canada – that’s exactly what Jennifer Hamilton’s job entails.

Residing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Jennifer has worked as a venture scout for Johnson & Johnson Innovation for over 10 years and has spoken to over 5000 companies throughout her career.

Read on to learn more about Jennifer’s role, and what she’s looking for when searching for the next breakthrough technology.

  1. Tell us a little bit about your background and your current role. What’s the personal and scientific inspiration behind working with Johnson & Johnson Innovation?

I received my PhD in Pathology at UBC, and then I worked in a biotechnology venture capital for 15 year before joining Johnson & Johnson in 2010. I think I have the best job in life sciences in Canada. My task is to find innovation – coast to coast across the Johnson & Johnson sectors of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, consumer products and everything in between.  I am inspired by conversations with innovators at big and small companies. People in our sector are driven by trying to improve lives and save lives; that obviously rubs off on me. The challenges of COVID have shown how industrious and creative our community is – from coming up with new innovations for patients, to working double time to keep their businesses and laboratories operating. 

  1. Canada is a big country for one person to cover! What are the different ways that you interact with all these Canadian companies?

There are great innovations in Canada. At any one time I am evaluating up to 50 opportunities. A big part of my job involves understanding the innovators’ technologies, helping scientists tune their pitch and then connecting to them to our experts at J&J for a deeper discussion. These discussions can lead to research collaborations, licensing, equity investment, JLABS residency and mentoring support or combinations of these. Occasionally great science is declined as it is not mature or does not match our strategy at that particular point in time but months or years later is suddenly a fit. Sometimes the science has advanced and sometimes our strategy evolves.  Regardless, I never say never.

  1. What are you looking for when you talk to companies? What advice do you have for companies when pitching?

One of the key things that I look for in company presentations is the technology’s “differentiation”. We need to know why technology is special and better than other approaches to the same problem. I also like to focus on the patient journey – how the technology helps the patient and when and if it truly makes a difference. 

  1. How do you find the next great deals?

Innovation can be found anywhere. I rely heavily on hard-working technology transfer officers from Newfoundland to Victoria. They are experts at assessing technology in universities and institutions, getting inventions down on paper, and facilitating IP filing. I also enjoy participating in conferences and pitch competitions where I sometimes have a sneak peek at new technology before it is ready for primetime. Finally – random conversations in conference hallways, airplanes and Zoom chat rooms can sometimes lead to new deals.

  1. What are your predictions for 2021?

2020 has been good and bad for our sectors; but I think the world has realized the importance of life sciences innovation.. I am hopeful that 2021 will bring new life-altering innovation, continued appreciation of digital technologies, and ultimately improved healthcare for us all. 

If you’re interested in incubation, collaboration, or investment with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, get in touch.