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The NFX Bio Guide to JPM Success
The NFX Team ·@NFX
Jan 2024 ·Bio
NFX’s Guide to Your Success at JPM

If there is one must-attend conference for early stage techbio companies, it’s the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM).

Today we’re releasing our guide for Founders looking to maximize their time at JPM next week.

It’s based on Omri Amirav-Drory’s years of experience attending JPM both as a Founder and investor. (Omri will be there this year as well). It also shares critical insights from two leading members of the NFX network: Emily LeProust, Founder and CEO of Twist Biosciences, and Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen, a Venture Partner at aMoon Fund.

Remember: Your startup is a network. Most of the time that network of investors, pharma, talent, or press is distributed and unseen. But at JPM the network is all out in the open and in the same place at the same time. Don’t waste your shot at making something big happen.

Think of this as the start of the new year in TechBio

Your guiding principle for this upcoming week should be: Everyone is here to find new deals and expand their network.

This means:

1) You must be strategic about finding time and using it effectively. Everyone is competing for the same attention and has the same goals.

2) There is no shame in reaching out to business development contacts or investors. It’s expected. They want to hear from you. We want to hear from you.

Common goals for seed stage startups usually include: networking, gaining industry insights, business development and fundraising. Business development and fundraising tend to be the most common focuses.

The 6 things you must have for a successful JPM

Everything you do is in the interest of maximizing your time with key stakeholders. Preparing these things ahead of time will ensure you don’t waste a moment.

1. A map of San Francisco’s Union Square

Many critical meetings at JPM happen outside the conference at secondary spots.

That’s why we suggest being familiar with the conference venue as well as local cafés and bars in the area. You want to be able to step out for coffee to continue a conversation that is going well. You’ll need a meeting place. Do research and locate quiet spaces where it will be possible to have a real conversation.

Emily LeProust has said that moving through JPM is like moving through viscous fluid. You will run into people you know and inevitably get side-tracked. Have a list of people you need to meet.

2. A Tailored Pitch Deck

Tailor your deck to your audience.

If you are meeting investors you should have a pitch deck, but we suggest that you frame this more as an “update” than a traditional pitch. Think of this as a soft pitch to investors that focuses on your progress as a company. (But be sure to remind them of the size of your opportunity, defensible magic, and team as well).

3. If you are having a biz dev meeting, you should do different homework beforehand

Things to include:

  1. How your technology complements your partners.’
  2. Understand your therapeutic landscape, what gaps exist, and how you fit into those gaps.
  3. Evidence of validation of your technology. It often takes in-vivo data to convince upper management, but more on that here.
  4. Have an understanding of which parts of your platform you could carve out as part of a deal. Eventually, if a deal goes forward, we suggest our companies “set a border” around their deals. But even at this early stage, you should understand what pieces of your platform you’re willing to give a partner access to and for what.

4. A Less-Than-3-Minute Version of Both Decks

Don’t be surprised if your 10 minute meeting becomes a 3 minute meeting because someone runs late.

Have a 3 minute version of both decks ready for this purpose, but be ready to read the moment.

If someone shows up visibly exhausted, show some empathy. Don’t push your presentation on anyone who isn’t ready to see it. Suggest a followup Zoom or coffee.

5. A “Social” Version of Your Pitch

The parties are a big part of the JPM experience (so much so we will cover them in depth below). Be ready to deliver a one minute version of your pitch that’s smart, but tonally casual. Make it feel like a conversation, not an extension of the workday.

Do it quickly, then move on.

The key for the social pitch is to make a good emotional impression. No one will remember the details of what you said. But they will remember how they feel after you said it. Make sure you leave them with a positive feeling.

6. A Sturdy Umbrella

It’s San Francisco in January. Be ready for wind and rain.

Strategies for a fundraising focus

JPM can be a difficult time to raise money. Investors are overloaded with companies to meet with. Coming in with a clear “pitch” may not get you far in such a crowded landscape.

Instead, your goal is to plant the seeds for raising money in the future. You do this by just updating investors on your progress. It is often easier to get meetings this way, than to try to create a traditional pitch scenario when time is so constrained.

Your secondary focus should be on getting information from potential inventors. Use this time to ask them what they would want to see in ~6 months time that would convince them to invest. Ask what industry trends in their silo of healthcare are particularly interesting to them. Be there to learn.

If you ask for money, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you get money. This saying is even more true at JPM.

JPM is a well-known deal crucible

JPM is a well-known deal crucible. Yet we’ve found that founders often have mixed feelings about the utility of JPM for business development.

Those who feel disappointed often have a flawed perspective. Deals don’t actually happen at JPM. Deals take a long time. But the deals that happen 6 months from now happen because of relationships with management that are forged at JPM.

At other conferences you are likely to meet directors or managers of business development from top pharma companies. At JPM, if you navigate the network correctly, you will meet with C-levels or VPs of business development at those key companies. JPM is where you begin to make inroads with the final decision makers.

To make the most of this opportunity you need a biz dev version of your pitch (as previously covered), but you also need to be prepared. Know exactly who you are meeting, who they probably already met with, and what their background is.

If you are coming to JPM with a biz dev focus, you need to be a hustler. You should realize that you, as a seed stage startup, are probably their fiftieth meeting of the day. So be sharp, overprepared, and make every second count.

Best practices for surviving 10 parties per night

Among investors, there is a notion of being “in network.” If an investor sees that you are at a series of events, then it sends a signal that your company is well connected. They will notice.

Being well connected isn’t everything, but it will put you a step ahead. At JPM there are about 10 parties per evening. So be smart about where you want to go, who you want to see, and who you want to see repeatedly. Think about what impression that gives on others in your network.

Do your best to meet people you’re interested in working with in a more social context. For example, if your most important meeting of the week is with Takeda, try to get invited to their reception. But don’t push yourself on people. If an event is full, be gracious and move on.

Finally, the parties are supposed to be fun. But don’t get drunk. It’s a bad look, and you aren’t going to make it through the week if you don’t pace yourself.

Do what you said you were going to do

The most important thing to do after JPM is keep your promises. Schedule time in the week following to hold yourself accountable to promises made in the whirlwind.

During that allotted time, you will send your follow ups, thank yous, and answer questions raised during in-person meetings.

Many people fail to do these basic things. You won’t fail to do this if you document everything you do all week, and note the promises you make, and schedule time to keep them. Keep business cards. Be professional and do everything you are committed to do.

If you do all these things, odds are you’ll do JPM right. It should be fun. It’s a week dedicated to

good science, good ideas, and meeting good people.

It will all pay off in the long run.

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