November 27, 2017
Startups & Entrepreneurs

Pharmaceutical giant scopes out UConn’s incubator startups

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
Jim Tobin, a vice president with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, explains how startups partner with the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer products giant.
Matt Pilon

UConn's Technology Incubation Program is trying to make inroads with the world's biggest pharmaceutical maker.

This month, two executives from Johnson & Johnson's innovation division in Cambridge, Mass., drove out to Farmington to meet incubator startups and discuss how the company selects new partners and technologies to develop and commercialize.

With major resources and various divisions — pharma, medical device and consumer — J&J is seen as a desirable potential option for an equity, research or licensing partnership, according to TIP overseers who arranged the visit.

It was the first time J&J stepped foot in the Technology Incubation Program (TIP) building in Farmington (400 Farmington Ave.), invited by Mostafa Analoui, who was appointed executive director of venture development at UConn just over a year ago.

"Absolutely," Analoui replied when asked if TIP's startups (which currently number 32 across two locations) would covet a relationship with J&J, a global company with 120,000 employees and a market cap of more than $370 billion.

Analoui said three TIP startups were already talking to J&J about meeting in Boston to discuss their technologies.

"This is a very fruitful conversation that we've started with them," he said.

J&J has nine laboratory incubator facilities across North America, known as JLABS, including locations in New York and Boston.

Paul Parker, TIP's director, said incubator companies are always on the hunt for outside financing and research partnerships.

"So this is an opportunity, hopefully, for some of our companies to find some of that," Parker said.

Many TIP companies are working in an area of medical science that could be of interest to J&J, he said, though many are still in early stages of development.

J&J puts out a lot of feelers for new technologies, but the company is pretty selective.

Jim Tobin, vice president of cardiovascular and metabolism scientific innovation at J&J Innovation, estimated his business unit has done approximately 450 deals of varying levels with outside startups and companies, out of approximately 15,000 companies its evaluated.

"You've got to kiss a lot of frogs in this business," Tobin said with a grin.

Parker said he hopes that 450 number will grow with the help of some UConn additions.

"Either now or down the road," he said.

While J&J is new to TIP, its not new to Connecticut.

The company this month said it would sell off its 18.4 million shares in New Haven-based Achillion Pharmaceuticals for nearly $51 million. In September, J&J pulled the plug on a potential Hepatitis C treatment that contained a compound developed by Achillion.

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