How a Johnson &Johnson Incubator Is Helping Nurture the Next Great Healthcare Breakthroughs

How a Johnson &Johnson Incubator Is Helping Nurture the Next Great Healthcare Breakthroughs
Imagine you’re on the beach right now. You know that wearing sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against skin cancer, but how much is really enough? How often should you reapply? And for that matter, how can you tell if your lotion isn't working anymore?

These are questions that piqued the curiosity of Andrew Martinko when he was a nanotechnology student at the University of Waterloo in 2013. So, while still in school, he and two co-founders devised SPOT—a sticker that would change colors when your sunscreen was no longer protecting you.

Because it was a concept that had the potential to save thousands of lives, Martinko and his team were anxious to further develop it and launch a start-up called Suncayr. But they needed to secure a laboratory to get going on the research, and that required money—money they didn’t have.

So they entered their invention into one of the QuickFire Challenges offered by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS. The goal of the challenges: find scientists, companies and entrepreneurs with cutting-edge healthcare innovations that Johnson & Johnson Innovation could help bring to the next level.

Of the 61 applicants who pitched their ideas, Suncayr was one of seven winners who received access to state-of-the-art lab space—rent-free—for an entire year at the JLABS facility in Toronto.

What’s more, JLABS would take care of all the important details that go into operating a biotech startup, like stocking the lab with the latest equipment and running safety inspections. They would even help set up informational meetings with industry experts and potential investors. All Suncayr had to worry about was the science.

After spending nine months at JLABS @ Toronto, Suncayr is just about ready to launch SPOT. “We’ve probably saved six months [of development time] using the JLABS facilities, which in the start-up world is a lot of time,” Martinko says. “JLABS has definitely helped us accelerate the production and research needed for SPOT faster than we could have done on our own.”

Ever since JLABS debuted with its flagship location in San Diego in 2012, the incubator division of Johnson & Johnson has championed dozens of budding biotech companies just like Suncayr that are innovating across four strategic areas of interest: consumer products, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and digital health.

The overriding mission: give startups the operational tools, infrastructure and mentoring opportunities necessary to take their brilliant idea from the drawing board to the lab and out to the world, so they can reach patients and consumers as quickly as possible.

Today there are more than 140 startups working in seven JLABS facilities across the U.S. and in Canada—and a just-announced eighth will open in New York City in 2018. To mark JLABS' fifth anniversary this year, we're going back in time to trace how a lightbulb moment in one trailblazer’s head gave birth to an incubator that's now transforming the ideas—and lives—of many, many more.

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