Johnson & Johnson teams up with Shenzhen accelerator HAX to support health care start-ups

US health care firm says it is looking outside its core product lines to keep its technology fresh

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 8:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 8:48am

Johnson & Johnson, the US health care products giant, is joining forces with Shenzhen-based HAX, a support and consultancy service for start-ups, to offer health-related mentoring and access to its business networks.

The partnership will see around 15 start-ups selected by the accelerator, or incubator, for a four-month programme in Shenzhen, giving them access to J&J’s suppliers and manufacturers. The programme will be run twice a year.

Famous for its baby products, J&J invests $8 billion annually on research and development, but John Bell, its vice president external innovation and new business models at Johnson & Johnson Consumer, said the company is now keen to look to outside sources to keep its technology fresh.

“What we are learning is that doing everything on your own is no longer possible. We have found out the hard way every now and then that if you try to do everything, it doesn’t work,” Bell said, announcing the programme in Hong Kong.

“We are really focused on working together with the external world to co-create new innovations.”

Bell said J&J is certainly open to working with start-ups that fall outside of its traditional core areas of focus, depending on consumer demand, highlighting areas such as anti-aging or improving the quality of sleep.

Global investment into digital health – products ranging from fitness trackers to brain sensors and infant monitoring – hit US$5.8 billion last year with the number of deals growing 21 per cent on 2014 to almost 900, according to CB Insights.

Duncan Turner, managing director of HAX, which is backed by venture capital firm SOSV, said the accelerator defines health-related hardware in a broad sense, to include products that monitor or assist with fitness, wellness and health, for instance.

Turner said the number of health-related companies applying to the four-year-old accelerator has been growing steadily. A total of 25 of the 118 start-ups that have passed through its doors fall into the health category.

“In the past two cohorts, particularly, we’ve had a huge spike in health care companies and have had some really fantastic applicants,” Turner said.

“But things are also getting a lot easier, such as prototyping... which means it’s incredibly efficient to get a medical device or a consumer health device onto the market.”

Its location in Shenzhen, he added, gives its start-ups ready access to prototyping and manufacturing experts.

Turner said many start-ups are now able to buy sensors with United States Food and Drug Administration approval that can be applied in their devices to measure heart rates or other factors, meaning they do not need to develop their own components.

J&J recently acquired a start-up which had developed an acne treatment using different wavelengths of light from LEDs to treat the skin condition, Bell said, which chimes with its ambitions to find and develop innovations outwith its core activities.

The company has established a dedicated team to work as an intermediary between it and the start-ups it supports, to prevent entrepreneurs from being bogged down in red tape, and to still allow access to J&J’s resources and expertise, Bell explained.