J&J on Building Its Global Network of Innovation Centers

By Scott Kirsner |  October 7, 2013

Here’s the quick blueprint for these new innovation centers, followed by audio from our interview with Urban, and photos of the new space.

  • The innovation centers report into Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer.
  • They’re intended to hunt for nascent products for all three major sectors of J&J: its consumer business; pharmaceuticals; and medical devices and diagnostics. They’ll eventually be staffed with executives who have experience in most of J&J’s individual business units.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s corporate venture capital arm is also represented at the innovation centers.
  • But the innovation centers’ mandate isn’t just about making investments or acquiring promising companies. Urban says they exist to build relationships at an even earlier stage, and to help early-stage businesses get access to J&J resources and knowledge. That could involve providing access to J&J testing or pilot production capabilities; its people and expertise; and even offering startups free space to work in. J&J can set up scientists with flexible lab and office spaces at facilities like QB3 and LabCentral.
  • How are the innovation centers expected to move the needle for their parent company? By sourcing new products for the company to distribute. On metrics for success, Urban says, “It will eventually be that the things that are in J&J’s portfolio of things that we sell have benefitted from the fact that the innovation centers are here. If it turns out that they’re never interesting to our businesses, then our relevance here isn’t as impactful as we could be.” Another factor, he says, is “How innovative are [these new products]? We’re very focused on the fact that medicine of the not-too-distant future is going to be dramatically different than the medicine of right now. What real impact do our products have in people’s lives? How economically justifiable are they? And how can we stitch them together in more thoughtful, whole, integrated solutions?”
  • On reporting: Urban said there aren’t yet monthly or quarterly reports that his innovation center produces for internal consumption, capturing its activities. Instead, there’s more informal, day-to-day interaction with CSO Paul Stoffels, the HQ point of contact for all four innovation centers. But Urban says his center will try to communicate more clearly, for audiences outside J&J, about the areas of opportunity that it is most interested in. His aim is to “help people understand the kinds of things we’re really trying to focus on — the big problems we really want to help convene the world around, make significant investments in and significant time commitments to.”
  • The Cambridge Innovation Center hosts monthly “first Thursday” lunches, intended to bring in local entrepreneurs and scientific researchers, and foster networking and casual conversations. (The other innovation centers host similar lunches.)Each innovation center will have a staff of about 25. Urban broke down the staffing this way in a subsequent e-mail:
    • Experts from Businesses: ~8
    • Experts in Technology/Platforms: ~3
    • Experts in Transactions/Legal/Finance: ~5
    • Experts in Operations and Portfolio Management: ~3
    • Communications/HR/IT/Support: ~5A
    • Guy/gal to turn on and off the lights (me): 1

And some photos below of J&J’s offices in Cambridge’s Kendall Square neighborhood. They are located in a high-rise building that includes Microsoft and Samsung offices, and is across the street from MIT’s campus. The space was designed by Johnson & Johnson’s internal design group.