Lessons from Corporate Innovators

J&J Innovation – Michal Preminger and Stephen Pitt

Play episode

I’m sure you are familiar with Johnson & Johnson, but do you know their innovation strategy? On this episode we’re joined by 2 Corporate Innovators within J&J Michal Preminger and Stephen Pitt to discuss their innovation strategy.

Show Links

Full Transcript

Sean Ammirati (00:08):
Welcome to Agile Giants, Lessons from Corporate Innovators. I’m Sean Ammirati, your host, co-founder and director of the Carnegie Mellon Corporate Startup Lab and partner at the early-stage venture capital fund Birchmere Ventures. Each week, I’m going to talk to guests who are experts at creating startups inside large corporations. I believe fundamentally, a startup within a company is the same as one inside the proverbial garage, a group of entrepreneurs trying to make the world a better place using new ideas and inventions. However, I also believe some of the techniques and processes are just inherently different. This podcast is going to explore those similarities and differences.

Sean Ammirati (00:56):
On this week’s episode of Agile Giants, I’m joined by not one, but two corporate innovators inside the same company. I’m sure you’ve heard of Johnson & Johnson, but you may not know the full breadth of their innovation strategy. Michal and Stephen walk through that strategy and all the different individual initiatives that fit together for this overall innovation strategy. It’s a really interesting conversation.

Sean Ammirati (01:20):
We also bring up a conversation that’s happening more and more on Agile Giants by design, which is how JLABS attracts a diverse and representative community to be part of their innovation ecosystem. They’ve done a nice job reaching out to female-led and minority-led founders in the programs that they run. I think that this is a really important thing for lots of companies to be thinking about today, obviously. There’s some lessons from JLABS here. Again, this is a conversation that we’ve already brought up a little bit in the season and it’s going to continue to come up.

Sean Ammirati (01:52):
Oh, and one more thing, if you find today’s conversation interesting, know that Michal is actually going to be joining us at the upcoming Corporate Entrepreneurship Forum that my lab is running. Historically, this is our biggest event of the year done in-person in Pittsburgh, but because of COVID it’s remote, so you can join from anywhere and hear conversations with people like Michal and other industry leaders, as well as academic thought leaders and famous authors talking all about how to transform your business. You can go to corporatestartuplab.com and register for a free ticket right now for the Corporate Entrepreneurship Forum.

Sean Ammirati (02:30):
Wow. Well, thank you guys both so much for joining today. Michal, let’s start with you. Could you just give the folks here a little bit of your background and how you ended up at J&J Innovation?

Michal Preminger (02:41):
Sure. Thank you, Sean. I spanned my career on the interface between science and business, building on my background in medicine and science. Then my business joining, which I made a point of accelerating post-MBA by launching my career first in the tech industry, actually, and the fluency in both of these disciplines gave me the opportunity to pursue a career that is focused on mobilizing innovation from the lab and early stage discovery towards development and successful market entry to meet important world problems.

Michal Preminger (03:17):
I like to call what I do connecting science to purpose. So, certainly I’m purpose driven and love science incredibly much, and so I’m being fortunate to be able to combine the two.

Michal Preminger (03:29):
Along my journey, I operated in a variety of settings, mostly in the early innovations, facing startups and most recently, right before joining J&J in academia at Harvard, working with faculty, students, entrepreneurs, their VCs and industry leaders. And in this setting, I got to witness the impact that science can make on patients, like the development of checkpoint inhibitors for cancer immunotherapy. The tech basically went from the lab to approval during my time at Harvard.

Michal Preminger (04:04):
I also learned what a great industry partner can offer to an early stage entrepreneur, and how difficult being a young entrepreneur is. So, my role at J&J innovation has created a real opportunity to be that partner that entrepreneurs seek in the company and can give that kind of support that I’ve always looked for when I was in that situation. I think that what we try to do now that I’m at J&J is understand the key to translating innovation and transform this innovation into life changing products for patients, and through forging strong partnerships that enable early stage researchers to clear those early hurdles.

Sean Ammirati (04:56):
That’s awesome. And you can definitely hear that red thread of purpose through your career there, so that’s really great, all the way to today and these life-changing products. Stephen, how about yourself? Could you go through your background and how that’s informed where you’ve ended up today?

Stephen Pitt (05:13):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Sean, for having us, first of all, it’s great to be here.

Stephen Pitt (05:16):
So yeah, for me, I think I’ve been somebody who’s always been excited about solving big health care challenges. From an early age, I realized that nothing’s more important than your health care, and you see relatives get diseases in the hospitals and you say, “Wow, I want to make a difference here.”

Stephen Pitt (05:30):
So for me, it’s always been that battle of do I go into become a doctor? Do I become a PhD? Do I become a scientist? What do I do with my life, right? And how to make the biggest impact. And so I was one of those guys who was really debating between MD and PhD for quite a long time, but I ended up doing my PhD very early on in using algorithms to solve drug discovery problems. So how do we model things in solution and how do we actually predict drugs to bind them?

Stephen Pitt (05:55):
We used to call it algorithm-based or rational drug design. I realized recently if you just call it artificial intelligence, it suddenly becomes much more sexy, but that’s what it was. And it was 20 years ago doing this in the lab with a computer, and ever since then I’ve loved tech and tech solving biology problems.

Stephen Pitt (06:12):
And so then I went into discovery and development groups at J&J, Pfizer biotech, came back to J&J, left J&J, went to consumer at GSK where I started up an upstream innovation group. And now I’m back to J&J working with startups across J labs as part of Johnson & Johnson innovation.

Stephen Pitt (06:31):
So I think for me, it’s like, I can never go back to being that deep subject matter expert. I think it’s the thrill of working with startups, the thrill of working with cutting edge science and connecting dots, that’s really what drives me. So that’s how I got to where I am and it’s been a great, great journey. And it almost seems planned, but it wasn’t, you’re almost surfing the wave and it all makes sense one day, you’re like, “Wow, this all happened for a reason.”

Sean Ammirati (06:52):
That’s awesome. I want to get to that surfing the wave at the end, because I think there’s a lot of insight in that, but your comment about calling it AI just cracked me up because I dropped out of grad school at Carnegie Mellon to do startups that were … we basically did everything we could to not call them AI startups. What other words could we use? But we did machine learning for finance companies and then machine learning for internet companies. So it was like, anything we could do to avoid the term AI. And I’m thinking like, man, 20 years later, we would have slapped a couple of buzzwords on there and this whole startup thing would have looked a lot different. The sort of “Why now?” question is a relevant one for a lot of these startups, and I think AI is a great illustration of that today.

Michal Preminger (07:36):
Yeah. I think other areas, by the way, that are similarly, right? I mean, gene therapy, cell therapy, thinking about areas in health care that were bad words just five, 10 years ago after early failures are now the hottest things. And that’s just evidence of the progress that science is making, technology. It’s just really incredible.

Sean Ammirati (08:02):
Absolutely right. And I think that’s part of what you guys are doing at J&J around innovation, right? So maybe just to double click a little bit on that, could you just talk a little bit about how Johnson & Johnson engages with innovators broadly to get started?

Michal Preminger (08:17):
I think I’ll just start with a little bit of a big picture. J&J is one of the largest healthcare companies and probably one of the most diverse. It has really built its success on innovation, and a lot of that innovation came from the external world. So it’s a company that has a good understanding, deep understanding of the value of working with external innovators in thinking about how to best engage with innovators. There has been the recognition that there needs to be a dedicated organization that is out there in the field that is close to where innovation happens, that is accessible, that speaks the same language. This is why we’re here, people who have been out there and understand the mindset of entrepreneurs and what they really need.

Michal Preminger (09:15):
But beyond that, we also understand that it is critically important that this organization is fully integrated with our internal businesses and R&D, so that there isn’t a separation between external and internal. And we have very, very successfully created that by creating a strong matrix organization that is a continuum between internal and external and has all the channels going in and out that are just fluent and fluid and very, very natural. So maybe I’ll ask Steve. I mean, Steve, do you want to add a little bit more about how exactly we engage at J&J innovation?

Stephen Pitt (10:00):
Yeah, no, I think my perspective is very similar. I think we’re probably the largest or the most diverse healthcare company in the world, right? If you think about it, we do consumer, we do pharma, we do medical devices, products that you probably know and love and use every day in your medicine cabinet, and may not even know that they’re ours. I think we reach a billion-plus people a year with our products.

Stephen Pitt (10:20):
For me, I realized very early in my career that complex biological problems and complex healthcare problems are solved by teams. It’s not just one hero out there solving the problem with an idea. It’s really teams of people come up with these things. And it’s really the diverse teams that come up with the best ideas, new ways to look at problems. And so I think for us, it’s really about relationships, and it’s about forming those relationships early.

Stephen Pitt (10:44):
And some of the relationships you form early, COVID’s a great example, some relationships you have, when COVID hits, those relationships are in place that go right into projects that would have been way behind if you’d not formed those relationships early. And you don’t even know where this is going to go a lot of the time, so it becomes a thing where you have relationships, they last for a long time, and they’re able to grow with the times and pivot and come up with new ideas that you never been dreamed of.

Stephen Pitt (11:08):
So for me, it’s really about being, and for us at J&J innovation, it’s really about being in the ecosystems, forming those relationships, whether it be academic universities, startup entrepreneurs, government agencies, whatever it may be, we try to be feet on the ground, we say, or boots on the ground to really try to build trust, build the relationships, find where the hotbeds of innovation are happening and be part of it, be part of the conversation. We’re not the only game in town, but we’re one that we have a lot of diverse businesses and we really try to be a big player in these new areas. That’s pretty much broadly how we look at it. And then we can get into our structure a little bit later if you want.

Michal Preminger (11:47):
Adding a point there, Sean, if that’s okay, to just say from an entrepreneur perspective or from an innovator perspective, what are we trying to bring to the table? I think, especially in healthcare, such a complicated space with the long journey that is ahead of a young startup to actually bring a product to market and many considerations that are just not visible many times at the early stage around clinical development, and regulatory, and manufacturing scale up, and supply chain, and reimbursement, and market access. These are things that are so far down the road for someone who’s starting today. Usually, companies are spun out based on a work that is done with what’s available. So it may be that you’re trying to develop a device or a drug, and you’re targeting the model that you have in the lab, but it may be the wrong application all together. And availability of talent that has this knowledge and experience, is very scarce and expensive for a young startup.

Michal Preminger (12:58):
So we try to actually create the connection that brings this expertise that a large company has, to allow early startups to access it so that they can shape their journey with a much more informed kind of set of considerations. And we like to enable work participating for collaboration, and really make a difference in the probability of success for those young companies.

Stephen Pitt (13:30):
Add a little bit, I mean, I think we believe that the best innovation is not necessarily in the walls of Johnson & Johnson, right? That’s the core value of ours. So the question is, how do we really help entrepreneurs and innovators, and people working on these challenging problems?

Stephen Pitt (13:43):
And how do we use our scale, like Michal is saying, to really help them concentrate on the science, focus on the problems and let us bring our scale and our development know-how to help them. So it’s really that combination of our development know-how, plus those ideas that are coming out of everywhere we are.

Sean Ammirati (13:59):
Yeah. My sense is the audience is kind of leaning in exactly on that question right now. Right? So like that’s, I think makes a ton of intuitive sense. Absolutely there’s these insights outside the walls of J&J, but you can bring these unique things that are unique to J&J to it. But, Stephen, I think that’s exactly the next obvious question, which is like, okay, can you talk a little bit more about the, how of that? Like, how do you do that?

Stephen Pitt (14:29):
Yeah. I mean, so we’re part of Johnson & Johnson innovation, right? Which has a number of different pillars and arms. The whole goal of it is to come up with a bunch of tools we have to answer that question, right? So they can be incubation sites. That’s what JLABS is all about. And I lead JLABS across the Northeast part of the US; Boston, Philly, and New York. And then there’s also a development side of it, which is venture capitalist type funding that we have through our Johnson & Johnson development corporation.

Stephen Pitt (14:55):
Then we also have our innovation centers which Michal leads one of them across the East Coast. And that’s looking at really partnering with the ecosystem, finding deals, finding opportunities, and celebrating them into our business partners who can watch these things and get them to help our patients and consumers. So we have these different arms, these different skills and these different offerings that we have that we can help along that line. So Michal, if you want to add something.

Michal Preminger (15:22):
Maybe we can just say, share some examples of how that actually works.

Sean Ammirati (15:26):
I think that’d be great, but just to make sure everybody has the vocabulary, it sounds like there’s JLABS, right? There’s Johnson & Johnson’s Venture Group, which you called the Development Corporation. Is that right? That’s the VC arm. And then there’s the centers that you run Michal, which are called… Again, what’s the terminology there? Just to make sure we get this right as we get into the examples.

Michal Preminger (15:55):
Yeah. And these are the innovation centers.

Sean Ammirati (15:58):
Innovation centers. Yeah. So you’ve got JLABS, innovation centers, and the development corp, they all fall under J&J Innovation, just to make sure [crosstalk 00:04:08]-

Michal Preminger (16:05):
Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, sorry for… I don’t know if it’s so important to name all of these. I think that what we’re trying to do actually is to make it easy for people to interface with us, but by just saying, “Be in touch with J&J Innovation, and we will work with you to apply the right tool,” how we’re organized is maybe less important, to be honest.

Sean Ammirati (16:33):
I guess the question is if you’re an innovator from the outside, would you think about it… And maybe we can get to some examples now, would you think about it as engaging with J&J Innovation? Or would you think about it as engaging with one of these different groups?

Michal Preminger (16:46):
[crosstalk 00:16:46] I think we would encourage you to interface with J&J Innovation, because then we can meet all your needs. Right? If you say, “I think I need incubation,” you may be missing other opportunities, in theory, right? I mean, of course anyway, we’ll bring you back into J&J Innovation and offer you other things. But I think we will serve better the audience, if we suggest that they should think about us as one proposition with everything they need.

Michal Preminger (17:18):
And not to detract from, for example, JLABS is an important brand and network. And then I think Steve can talk more about that specifically. But I think just in general, inviting them to check out everything would be very good, and not trying to describe it in detail. Because it can get very confusing.

Sean Ammirati (17:38):
Sure. But I think the takeaway for entrepreneurs here is the front door is not one of these programs specifically, the front door is just J&J Innovation, and then you all will sort of like a smart route or route them to the right resources within J&J. Is that correct?

Stephen Pitt (17:54):
Yeah, that’s correct. I mean, the beauty of J&J Innovation is that J&J is a very complicated company. And so complicated that even we sometimes don’t have it all figured out, right? And it’s shifting all the time. It’s dynamic, it’s multiple businesses all around the world.

Stephen Pitt (18:07):
So I think if you look at us, and sometimes we joke, we’re the red door as a way into J&J, and our job really is to act on behalf of the startups and small companies and the ideas, to get them into the business, right? That’s our job. And so with that J&J Innovation is a number of tools. And the good thing for entrepreneurs is you don’t have to worry about that. Let us worry about the tools, but we have them. And that’s the key message that we have an ecosystem, an engine set up internally, to make this happen.

Sean Ammirati (18:33):
That’s perfect. Well, let’s get to some examples then. So maybe some examples of some collaborations that have gone really well. And some lessons learned from them. Like not just how the collaboration went well, but what are the lessons other people could take away from those collaborations?

Michal Preminger (18:50):
Can I jump in with one that I think is exciting? Very recently, we launched a product called True Match, long bone cage. This is a 3D printed, personalized device that enables the growth of bone where there’s very large gaps that are caused by trauma, or by surgery that is necessary in the context of cancer. And the product is basically kind of the outcome of a long collaboration.

Michal Preminger (19:28):
It started with a vision of a professor in University of Michigan to develop those biomaterials that can be used to embed bone stem cells and have them grow. And was used in the context of a different indication than this long bone. The long bone, I guess is a clinical case. We engaged with that innovator very early on, we brought our own team into the collaboration. Technology was spun into a startup. It was called Tissue Regeneration System.

Michal Preminger (20:12):
And we started working on proof of concept for this other indication. This actually allowed the company to raise funding from other sources. And eventually we generated the data together. Our team worked hand in hand with the young company. And once the data was compelling, we moved to kind of a larger collaboration. And eventually we acquired the company, and we brought this product to market. We just celebrated the launch with the original innovators, and everyone who participated along the way. And this was just a fantastic celebration of innovation.

Michal Preminger (20:56):
And listening to the professor who actually had this dream, he highlighted, what was the difference was in working in this context. I mean, again, it’s a very difficult journey. And he would not have had, for example, the ability to implement 3D printing. Definitely not in a clinical setting. We brought the capability, but we also brought the scale and the power to change a market.

Michal Preminger (21:29):
Which is something that is very difficult for a small startup to even imagine. And of course, we also think it helped shape the journey toward an unmet need that really benefited from that particular technology in the most powerful way. So I think it’s a good example of the difficulties that young companies face and how a large company, like us, can actually come in and help in all parts of the journey.

Sean Ammirati (22:00):
Yeah. I think that’s a great example. Especially, because it’s literally from the lab bench at University of Michigan, to a product in the market. Right? So let’s just think about the lessons learned from this for a minute. So imagine you’re talking to a CEO of another company, maybe they’re not even in healthcare. But that example from University of Michigan lab bench to in the market innovation solution is resonating with them. What are maybe the lessons learned you’d encourage him or her to take away from that case you just shared?

Michal Preminger (22:33):
I think that one of the important things that we talked about earlier, but is very important here, is the continuity between the internal R&D, and the external arm that in this case is J&J Innovation. The team at J&J Innovation, it operates, and also, from a reporting perspective is mostly kind of working in a dual mindset, and dual operating mode. On the one hand, representing and working very closely with R&D and the commercial, and business partners internally, bringing all those needs and trying to impose a certain discipline and rigor that are part of what will make the product eventually, go to market properly.

Michal Preminger (23:28):
And at the same time, they need to be curious about science, and driven by the same energy and passion that young startups, and innovators operate. And more than that, be able to connect the dots from science or technology that are really in their raw form, to something that is an unmet need that we can, as a large company, impact. And so when we think about people who come into our team, we say, “Don’t lose your entrepreneurial spirit but kind of understand the big picture.” Or if they comment from internally we say, “no, just emulate that innovative spirit.” I think it’s really about creating an organization that is empowered to do both. Has the reach, has the seniority from an expertise perspective and also from an organizational perspective. So our organization reports very high up in the organization, into the chief scientific officer of the company, very close to the CEO, has a lot of visibility and a lot of impact and I think that makes a big difference.

Sean Ammirati (24:47):
It’s awesome. Stephen, maybe another example like that of a collaboration that’s gone really well.

Stephen Pitt (24:53):
Yeah, I’ll give you a couple. So when we look on the incubation side, we start with the priorities of the business, right? So we look at where the business’ going and we’re a little bit more upstream. So we look for adjacencies, white space riskier type projects that can really be the assets of tomorrow, right? So we also look at trends and some of the things that are disruptive or transformational that are coming down the pike that may not have support right now but five years from now, if we’re not aware of these things or in on these things, we could be way behind. So therefore we look at kind of a portfolio look at things, we try to diversify our bats across a number of different areas. I’ll give you a couple, three or four areas of companies or examples of companies that we think are a representative of some cool technology that we’re doing business with.

Stephen Pitt (25:41):
One company is called Huma, right? They’re a company that’s global and they’re based in China and New York and our incubation sites, JLABS. And they’re looking at, we’ve talked about artificial intelligence earlier a little bit but they’re looking at using artificial intelligence and digital biomarkers to predict disease. So there’s one example where our neuroscience colleagues have a collaboration with them looking specifically at Alzheimer’s and saying, hey, could someone’s voice actually be a diagnostic? Could you predict someone getting Alzheimer’s just by their voice alone? So, that’s one good example that came out of JLABS collaboration with one of our businesses.

Stephen Pitt (26:15):
Another one, we have a company up in Boston, we’ve been working with called Holobiome and they’re a microbiome company. So you can see already the diversity that we’re coming up with, we have an AI company, now we have a microbiome company. They’re a company that’s working with getting gut microbiome products that can basically influence things like sleep and mood and things of that nature. So you think about it, your guts’ so connected to your mind and I think 70% or so of your nervous system, whatever and serotonins in your gut and there’s a huge connection there. So how do you-

Sean Ammirati (26:48):
It’s a fascinating area, it’s just amazing to me actually. Not as much of a deep scientist as either of you, right? My background is computer science but I just find this area just amazing, it’s really interesting.

Michal Preminger (27:04):
And making a quick comment on that. What is really interesting about both of these examples is that the utility of the technology in the context of a J&J relationship goes beyond one sector, right? So we have utility in the consumer sector and their ability to access the market in that direction, pharmaceuticals and medical devices for all of them in different settings. So this is again, I mean the ability to connect every innovation to such a large diverse set of opportunities. And beyond that fulfill the dream that I personally have and I think many of us, which is to be able to serve the people with what they need, right? And not through the people of one sector or modality of technology but rather with everything they need. So we have the ability to deploy across the journey to just remember that your first bath was probably with Johnson shampoo and one day if we ever needed cataract surgery, will also be a J&J product and technology.

Sean Ammirati (28:17):
Yeah. Stephen, that example was just too compelling, we cut you off mid-stream but we’ve got the AIML, we’ve got gut microbiome which I just personally find to be kind of an amazing area just from the little bits I’ve read on that. But keep going if you have any other points on that and then I think you might’ve had another example too that you wanted to get-

Stephen Pitt (28:38):
Yeah, definitely. The whole biome example is a great example of that as a consumer collaboration, right? So it is into our consumer sector. The third example I’ll talk about is one in New York where they use again, AI, but they’re looking at it for splicing events. So if you think about how DNA goes to RNA, RNA goes to protein. DNA to RNA is not a simple thing, there’s a series of pre-RNAs that are formed and then it is spliced, almost like you edit a book or edit this podcast after we’re done. And you put it all together to make the final product, sometimes that splicing or that editing goes wrong. And they use AI to kind of really look at how do we find diseases that are caused by splicing events. And then they basically are able to accelerate the identification of which splicing events caused what disease and then try to find therapeutics that can intervene and correct those.

Stephen Pitt (29:29):
So that’s something that’s really partnered again with our lung cancer initiative, which we didn’t talk too much about but that’s another example of our cross sector type of collaboration. Where we have a whole initiative set off just to look at how do we intercede or how do we intercept the lung cancer from inception all the way to people who are diseased and have lung cancer nodules and tumor. So really exciting area and that’s another example. So three quick examples. I mean, I think COVID also has changed the landscape recently and I think seeing a lot now is a lot more diagnostic companies coming up, which I think is fantastic. This whole vision of at home diagnostics where people can understand what’s causing their symptoms and do it cheaply, safely and effectively.

Stephen Pitt (30:15):
Another big-ish area that I’m seeing a lot now is decentralized clinical trials. And if you think about clinical trials, we had a whole program on this recently with our head of data analytics where clinical trials haven’t changed since the 1700s, essentially they’ve been the same format. And the question is, if you’ve got all these people who are coming up with diseases and can’t come to these centralized sites, how do we bring those medications and get the doctors who are in those areas who want to do these, give them access to one clinical trials? And that way you can diversify the population, diversify the opportunities, people can get access to experimental medicine. So all these things are emerging and we’re seeing companies coming into these areas as well. So exciting times now and I think we’ve got a pretty nice portfolio basket of companies that we’re pretty excited about.

Michal Preminger (31:03):
And maybe since we’re virtually in Pittsburgh today, I’ll just mention one recent collaboration that we entered into with ChemImage. It’s a Pittsburgh based molecular chemical imaging company. And we facilitated the collaboration with Ethicon surgery business to develop the company’s visualization and awareness of things, AOT platform for healthcare applications and we’re very excited about this collaboration.

Sean Ammirati (31:34):
That’s awesome. I mean, that’s just playing to the host to do a Pittsburgh example as well but that’s fantastic, that’s very cool. Well I could keep doing this all day, right? Give me an innovation, talk about how it flows through J&J but I want to be respectful of your time. So just before we get to kind of the wrap-up question that we ask everybody. As we were thinking about this sort of third season of Agile Giants and we were planning it over the summer, the other topic that we did want to start to weave in more is, how these innovation groups are tackling diversity and inclusion. And one of the things beyond obviously just the J&J intersection with healthcare and the J&J intersection with COVID that made this a timely conversation is also that you guys have really done a great job leaning into these topics.

Sean Ammirati (32:28):
Or at least you have metrics that show that you guys are doing well on this. So my understanding is, the statistics are 30% of JLABS companies are female led and 29% are minority led. And so I’m just curious if you could talk for a minute about how J&J Innovation has had so much success in this area and maybe some things that other companies who are trying to do the same thing could learn from Johnson & Johnson.

Michal Preminger (32:57):
So Sean you’re right that Johnson & Johnson is very strongly committed to diversity, both gender and race and culture and the many other aspects of diversity. And in many ways, J&J Innovation is a little bit of a mirror of this. So J&J Innovation is led by a six member team and five of us are women. So that may be even as a starting point in a way, for people who are more diverse to relate to this organization and definitely that percolates down but Steve maybe you want to talk a little bit about our programs and approach.

Stephen Pitt (33:45):
Yeah. I would say diversity to echo Michal’s point, diversity is paramount for us. And I think we’re just starting it, right? I think what you quoted Sean, was about 29, 30% of our companies are women and minority led and you compare that to an industry average of about 1% and 8% respectively. I think we’ve got a great headstart on that but I think we’re just starting. And I think as we actively look for companies, we are always considering this, we’re tracking it, we have metrics around it, we incentivise around it. And I think the real deep belief here is that the best ideas come from diverse teams, I think that’s as simple as that. And I think the more diverse we get, I think the better and that’s going to help humanity overall.

Stephen Pitt (34:28):
And it’s the right thing to do, we believe in this, we stand behind it and we practice it and we incentivise around it. So it’s something we track, and I think one of the [inaudible 00:34:37] has been really championing this for many years now and I think we’re just starting now to really even build it up further. So we’re looking at the way we interact with the ecosystems we work in and live in. We’re trying to make our teams representative of what we see in the population base, we’re believing strongly in how do we get some clinical trials to be more diverse. Typically, you don’t see the diversity in clinical trials. So there’s everything… We stand for this in a big way and we do many many things to try to foster this.

Sean Ammirati (35:08):
Fantastic. And I think the kind of thing that hopefully lots of other companies will follow your example. And it’s actually something I’m particularly interested in, in this corporate innovation space. I think there’s an opportunity because of the size and scale of corporate innovation in general, to really help catalyze some good conversations around entrepreneurship and innovation in general for diversity and inclusion. And we certainly want to try to amplify some of that on Agile Giants, so thanks for sharing that.

Sean Ammirati (35:37):
Before we get to your advice, I guess the one thing that’s also typically helpful to ask everybody is… We have a bunch of different audiences listening to this but some of the audience are also startups who may be thinking, oh, I’d love to engage with J&J innovation. And I know we talked earlier, the front door is J&J Innovation. So what’s the best way for a startup to kind of knock at that door, if you will. Either of you can take that, but just kind of, is there a website they can go to? Is there a forum they should fill? How should they reach out to connect with you guys?

Michal Preminger (36:12):
Yeah. I think the simple thing is to go on the J&J innovation website, if they don’t know any one of us, but we try to actually be out there and available through many partnering events and be visible. But, if none of this works, then our website is definitely a great place. info@J&Jinnovation, we’ll send the email to the right region, to the right person. And then, you will get an answer that helps continuing the navigation process to put you in the right hands.

Sean Ammirati (37:02):
Perfect. Well, we’ll include a link to that in the show notes as well, just so people can, who may be entrepreneurs or innovators who want to connect with J&J and have found this interesting can connect. So, I want to finish with the same question that I asked almost all of the guests, which is advice for recent graduates or aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators. Maybe just one or two pieces of advice from each of you on that would be great. And either of you can start, but if it’s just a couple pieces of advice from each of you, would be awesome.

Michal Preminger (37:33):
Steve, do you want to start this time?

Stephen Pitt (37:35):
Sure. I’ll start this time. No. I thought about this question. It’s like looking back at my career, I think it’s important, first of all, to know who you are. I mean, we talked a little bit about my background, and I think there’s people who are subject matter experts who really get excited about going really deep and knowing that all there is to know about one or two topics. There’s people who are more generous, like connecting dots. So, I think knowing what really drives you and play to your strengths. I think that’s one piece of advice I’ve got is, I don’t want to focus on fixing my weaknesses my entire career. I want to focus on playing my strengths. What comes natural to me? What energizes me, and that’s really, I think, a key piece of success.

Stephen Pitt (38:13):
I think, with that, once you understand that, then the focus will come, right? You’ll know where to focus and you’ll be able to say “No,” or the then you say, “Yeah.” So, I think that’s a key point, right? Because there’s so many things you could be doing with their time. And I think when you really get comfortable with who you are, you know when to say no, and that’s an important thing to do.

Stephen Pitt (38:32):
I think there’s other things too, like be resilient. I think that’s something, anybody does a PhD or graduate program probably understands and learns is that you fail more than you succeed. And I think that’s something that I learned in my PhD days was I failed almost every single day. Then when you get that moment of success, it just all clicks. This is why I’m doing it. So, I think you learn how to fail, how to learn, how to adapt and not make the same mistakes over and over.

Stephen Pitt (38:56):
So, it might be a little bit cliche, but I think it’s something very sage to have, to keep in mind is that you really want to be resilient. And then, the last thing I’ll leave you with is, I’d definitely seek advice from people who are smarter with you, surround yourself with people who will say, “You’re an idiot. You need to think differently. You’re not getting the big picture. You’re missing some detail.” Whatever it may be. I think get some diverse opinions and have people tell you why you’re going to fail ahead of time, so you consider all the options. At least there’s some of the things that you can not see, what’s least understand what you could go wrong and understand what you can try to intercept before it goes wrong. And then, you can deal with the challenges as they come up that are unforeseen. So, that’s the last piece I’ll leave you with, but hopefully that a good overview.

Sean Ammirati (39:38):
That’s awesome. Michal?

Michal Preminger (39:39):
So, maybe building on these really wonderful highlights, I will get a little more granular even because I think Steve covered many of my plan points. So, I think that many, many young entrepreneurs who start their journey get advice that they should be careful about disclosing their ideas and they should be careful about dilution. So, these are the two things that you supposedly need to be careful about. And I think that, especially in healthcare, again, very complicated space, there is no choice, but to try and reach out and get help in thinking about creating the vision for a company and understanding what the ingredients are that are needed for the journey. Even in terms of IP that maybe you need to license from university, what’s important? Or what kind of expertises you need to bring into the company early on.

Michal Preminger (40:51):
And the way to do it is really by going and talking to people and talking to, including companies. And this is not meant to be self-serving. One of the reasons that I think Kendall Square in Cambridge, in Boston is such an environment that promotes success for startups is that there is this thing that is called The Walk. Young startups come in and they start walking around and visiting all of the different companies that are there. And they go in cycles and they learn from everybody, kicks the tires on them and gives them all this criticism and asked all these questions. And it’s very painful, but as they go around, their vision and their plans get better and better. And they, until the moment in which this looks so compelling, and now they see an investment and they get partnerships. But, the culture is about openness. It’s about contribution from the large companies to help, and listen and provide helpful advice. And from the startups, to be open and accept that this is a process that benefits them.

Michal Preminger (42:03):
Same goes for dilution. I mean, if you can bring investors that are going to be strategic and help you and important partners that compliment your capabilities, then it’s worth, sharing in the potential success. And the pie will get so much larger, that everybody benefits.

Sean Ammirati (42:25):
Yeah. The dilution point, I think is one, actually, that most people who’ve been around startups get, right? 10% of a big number is a lot more valuable than 100% of 0. That anti-stealth recommendation, is kind of is how I would frame the first one. It’s interesting because that’s a very common piece of advice for web entrepreneurs, which is how, where I spend most of my time, right? Is working with internet companies and digital media companies and things like that. It’s funny that often the pushback is, “Well, what about healthcare?” And healthcare don’t you want? And it’s fascinating to me that you’re offering that same advice to very science-driven, kind of deep science entrepreneurs. That’s interesting, [crosstalk 00:43:09] that’s interesting insight here.

Michal Preminger (43:11):
Yeah. It’s interesting because from my perspective, it’s even more important in healthcare. Because I think you don’t have, I don’t know, if you are developing an app or whatever, you may feel that you have the intuition as a user of what needs to happen. I think in healthcare, it’s just so complicated what has to happen downstream, that no one person and definitely not a young company, that is just especially coming out of academia, we just don’t, it’s very hard. Even for experienced entrepreneurs, they need this input in a changing environment and I’m glad we had this conversation. [crosstalk 00:43:55].

Sean Ammirati (43:52):
This has been amazing. I really appreciate both of your time. I know you guys are always busy and I know COVID has only made you more busy. So, I appreciate you making the time today to share a little bit of your insights with the Agile Giants community. Thanks so much.

Michal Preminger (44:07):
Thank you, Sean.

Stephen Pitt (44:08):
Thank, Sean. Appreciate it.

Sean Ammirati (44:15):
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Agile Giants. If so, consider sharing it with a friend. And if you think it’s worth five stars, which I hope you do, please go to iTunes and rate it so that others can find this content as well.

Join the discussion

More from this show


Episode 41