Q&A with Renee Ryan, Vice President, Venture Investments at Johnson & Johnson Innovation

by | May 4, 2016 | Alliances, Education, Mentoring, Thought Leadership

The Fogarty Institute has been fortunate to have mentors such as Renee Ryan, vice president of Venture Investments at Johnson & Johnson Innovation (formerly Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, JJDC) to help guide our entrepreneurs and provide insight to our Lefteroff summer interns.

Ryan’s background includes over 20 years of healthcare investment banking. Most recently, she ran the medical device investment banking effort at R.W. Baird & Co. Previously, she lead the West Coast medical device group at Jefferies & Co. and was in the healthcare investment banking groups at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse.

Recently, we had the pleasure of catching up with Ryan to discuss her background in the industry, thoughts on the Fogarty Institute’s role in the innovation ecosystem and exciting upcoming healthcare trends.

Q. How did you first become involved in healthcare and medical technology?
A. I was an economics major and my first job out of college was at a small boutique investment bank in San Francisco where I focused on technology and healthcare. I learned very quickly about the impact that the right investments could have on patients, and therefore found my calling in this field very early on.

I stayed in investment banking and had the opportunity to make an impact on the healthcare industry by helping companies such as Medtronic and Stryker build pipelines through strategic acquisitions. I saw first-hand the world of larger medtech companies and how strategic investments can help leverage innovation.

I also really liked working with smaller companies, where much of the innovation is taking place, so I joined a middle-market-focused bank, Jefferies & Co., leading the West Coast healthcare group for nearly five years. There we worked primarily with venture-backed companies on M&A and IPOs.

Q. What is J&J’s current philosophy on how medical device startups fit into its ecosystem? Are there specific areas of interest for investment?
A. Medtech startups are critically important. We look at investments in a number of ways – for organizations such as Stanford Biodesign, the Fogarty Institute and other innovation centers, we will invest directly into the startups and/or seek opportunities for JJDC to actively fuel the innovation ecosystem.

The investments we make are highly strategic and important for the companies themselves as well as Johnson & Johnson.

J&J has a footprint across all medical devices; we have two very large surgical businesses, Ethicon and DePuy Synthes, and a Cardiovascular and Specialty Solutions. Our companies produce a broad range of innovative products, from those that pertain to treating the arrhythmias in the cardiovascular system, to other more consumer-facing businesses such as diabetes care. Our external equity investments line up with our business priorities.

Q. What are your thoughts on the role the Fogarty Institute plays within Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem?
A. It is critically important. Dr. Tom Fogarty is a prolific medtech innovator and entrepreneur, having founded companies such as Fogarty Engineering and the Institute. He established the Fogarty Institute at a time when funding was incredibly difficult to obtain, and his vision to give medtech startups that type of support is really wonderful and impactful.

The Fogarty Institute startups are accomplishing so much, very creatively and efficiently, using the different types of funding that are available.

Q. You have been a valuable mentor to many of our startups. What type of advice has proven to be most valuable and effective?
A. Focus. These companies need to be very singular in their focus. They also need to have passion — funders like to invest in people. If the leaders are focused and passionate about what they are doing, they are more likely to get an investment.

They also need to underscore the importance of the problem they are addressing. And they need to keep fighting. There are – and will be – a lot of days when they doubt themselves, and they will hear a lot of “nos” out there. But they have to stay strong.

Q. You are also a great role model and mentor to our Lefteroff summer interns. What advice would you give a young student who is considering a career in healthcare/medical technology?
A. I would give them the same advice I give the startups. If this is what you want to do, be passionate about it. There is so much to learn – you are always learning. Surround yourself with entrepreneurs who are in the space you wish to study. Embrace the challenges and always keep the bigger picture in mind, including the fact that you are solving vital healthcare issues and will have a lasting impact.

Q. What has been one of the most rewarding moments of your career?
A. In one of my first jobs in investment banking in San Francisco, I was involved in the public financing of a biotech company. Five years later, the company’s drug was approved, and I got tears in my eyes. To see something, a hope and a promise, actually come to fruition was very rewarding. It was the first time that I realized that what I do as an investment banker truly matters.

Q. What emerging healthcare trends excite you the most?
A. I continue to be really excited about open procedures becoming less invasive – we are seeing tremendous opportunities in this area across all our businesses. I am also optimistic about the rise of consumer healthcare and where wearable technology is heading. We, as consumers, are paying more for our healthcare, so we are also expecting more – that’s a trend that’s here to stay, and one we are watching closely at J&J.

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