Johnson & Johnson’s network of healthcare innovation incubators, JLABS, opened its doors in Shanghai in June 2019 and now stands as the largest such institution of 13 globally. JLABS @ Shanghai’s head, Dr Sharon Chan, recently sat down with PharmaBoardroom to explain the JLABS model, how it has had to adapt to the Chinese context, and how it aims to continue to foster Chinese innovation.


Early Successes

Dr Chan explains that, “JLABS @ Shanghai is a no-strings-attached incubator, which means entrepreneurs are free to develop their science while holding on to their intellectual property – providing a cost-efficient and capital-efficient platform for entrepreneurs aiming to turn their ideas of today into the breakthrough potential solutions of tomorrow. Our goal is to build a network of world-class incubators globally.”

73 percent of our residents are first-time entrepreneurs, while the rest are serial entrepreneurs. What is also positive is that 15 percent of our resident companies are led by women

Dr Sharon Chan, JLABS @ Shanghai


Success has come quickly for the Shanghai branch. “In the first ten months, we have seen tremendous progress towards this goal,” boasts Chan. “We have cumulatively admitted 40 resident companies, with 35 current and five alumni companies. By sector, 23 are in pharmaceuticals, 14 are in medical devices, and four are in consumer health. Three of them are awardees of the 2019 Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Innovation Quickfire Challenge.”

She continues, “By location 56 percent of our residents come from mainland China; seven are from Hong Kong; five are from Taiwan; 10 percent from other parts of Asia like South Korea and Singapore; 14 percent from North America; 5 percent from Australia; and one company from Belgium. One of our resident companies has since IPOed on KOSDAQ in South Korea.”

“73 percent of our residents are first-time entrepreneurs, while the rest are serial entrepreneurs. What is also positive is that 15 percent of our resident companies are led by women.”


Adapting to China: ‘Rinse and Repeat’

In terms of adapting a global model to a Chinese reality, Chan “takes pride in the fact that our JLABS model is one that we ‘rinse and repeat’ globally. JLABS @ Shanghai works on the exact same model as our other JLABS sites globally, though of course, we have adapted as necessary to local regulations. The resources and services we provide are exactly the same throughout our global network, including the infrastructure, the laboratory equipment, operation systems, billing processes and so on.”

She adds, “This is important because globally we have had a very successful track record across the more than 600 companies we have incubated. A fifth of those have gone on to do deals with Johnson & Johnson. Another fifth has gone on to do deals with other companies. In the past seven years, there have been a total of 26 IPOs. Overall, over USD 27 billion have been raised by our resident companies globally. The model has been shown to be tremendously successful in the US, and for this reason, we are even more excited to have brought JLABS to Shanghai.”


Open Innovation: Standing Apart

For start-ups looking to work with JLABS, Chan is keen to point out her incubator’s unique advantages. “Once a company comes to JLABS, we provide them with many different resources. For instance, through our Investor Hub, our resident companies can access VC firms and other investors on a regular basis. Already, over 35 VC firms have signed up to join the Investor Hub at JLABS @ Shanghai. We also have a Resource Hub where we are able to offer services and products at preferential pricing, including 10 suppliers from China. We also offer educational and training programs aimed at helping our residents grow their businesses and connect across the industry.”

Chan continues, “Another important part of our support includes our JLABS mentor program called JPALS. Every start-up receives a mentor or a JPAL when they join JLABS, who is a technical expert within Johnson & Johnson in a particular domain. They have the necessary expertise and aim to help that particular start-up grow.”

“We also look at our portfolio of resident companies as a global portfolio. While the start-up ecosystem in China is incredibly vibrant and there is huge potential here, there also exists a tremendous amount of opportunities for collaboration regionally and globally, which our resident companies at any JLABS site, including Shanghai, can take advantage of. For instance, we have four Innovation Centres globally in London, San Francisco, Boston, and Shanghai. Our resident companies have access to the experts and deal teams that sit there. Within Johnson & Johnson Innovation, we also have Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, our VC arm that provides venture capital to eligible companies. We also have Business Development teams to evaluate medium- to late-stage collaborations and potential acquisitions.”

She concludes, “I feel JLABS really stands out from other incubators with this unique open innovation model. Our resident companies have access to a global community of likeminded individuals as well as a rich global ecosystem of technical experts, investors and deal teams that aim to understand what innovators are trying to achieve and are always looking for the best and brightest talent working on potentially the most disruptive and game-changing science.”