It may seem hard to believe, but the 36th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (January 8 – 11, 2018) is about 40 business days away. JPM is so big that it attracts nearly 40,000 life science professionals to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, resulting in some referring to this annual West Coast pilgrimage as BioWeekSF. That moniker also has emerged due to the multitude of events going on beyond just JPM. For example, also taking place this same week are the following conferences:
Throw in a few breakfast meetings, about 80 receptions, and some CEOs seizing the opportunity to get their company boards together, and you can see why JPM in January has become the place to be for those in biopharma. To help you get the most out of JPM this year, I put together a list of helpful tips.
JPM Tip #1 - Hotels
Every year in January we book our hotel for JPM for the following year. While some will tell you it is already too late to find a hotel (even for this year), I have found this not to be true. We have had issues where hotels weren’t properly booked, but we were still able to find rooms in the area during JPM. However, such an oversight will result in you having to take a cab ride or use public transportation to get to where you need to be. The beauty of booking early is you can hopefully get something not too far from where all the action is, and get to most of the places you want to by walking, which leads us to tip #2.
JPM Tip #2 – Shoes And Such
I don’t wear a personal fitness tracker, but I do carry my phone everywhere I go. One day last year during JPM, my cellphone health app noted I had walked a total of 5.7 miles, 13,927 steps, and climbed 25 floors. I share this information to make several points. First, though I like to work out, when travelling to JPM I leave the fitness clothing at home. That’s because I am active enough with all of my duties surrounding JPM. Second, with all the walking I do, comfortable shoes are a must. Maybe, at the very least, keep an extra pair of comfortable shoes in a bag that you carry. Speaking of bags, I have always been a big proponent of using a roller bag when attending shows. But JPM is an exception to this rule. The hallways of the Westin St. Francis are so crowded during changeover from company presentation to Q&A breakout rooms, and some breakout rooms are more crowded than a Beijing subway during rush hour, that a bag may only be a hindrance rather than a help. So for JPM I advise taking a backpack.
JPM Tip #3 – Clothing
For those traveling from the East Coast where winter is in full swing, we tend to think, oh, California, it will be warm there. And while it certainly is warmer than where I live, it isn’t summer. Because of the Bay and the hills, San Francisco has micro climates, and you can find a 20 degree drop in temperature from one block to the next. This is why most locals dress in layers. Last year during JPM we had terrible weather, and I went through at least two umbrellas which were shredded by the wind. So bring a couple of layers (top coat), and perhaps an extra umbrella — or two.
JPM Tip #4 - You Don’t Have To Go To JPM To Get Value From Being There
As a member of media, I like being within the walls of the Westin St. Francis where JPM is held. But that’s just me. Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have to attend any shows to get an extraordinary amount of value from being in San Francisco when JPM takes place. But to get the most value requires a great deal of planning and proper scheduling. Big3Bio has put together a BioWeekSF portal that might be helpful to those trying to do things on a shoestring budget. While there is a $99 fee to take advantage of their portal, one of the benefits gained is access to BIO’s One-On-One partnering platform, which might help with filling your JPM meeting dance card. It also provides you with a list of receptions, which is not only helpful for networking, but eating. A startup CEO once told me how she kept her JPM meal costs down by serving as a speaker at one of the nearby shows which gave her access to a “free” breakfast during their conference, and attending plenty of JPM receptions which served as her dinners.
JPM Tip #5 – The Essentials
I can’t tell you how many times people have told me they have run out of business cards during JPM, and frankly, this is inexcusable. I suggest when packing to grab a stack of cards that you think will get you through the week. Then take three times that amount. My motto is it is better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them. And for those who think an electronic business card will suffice, think again. Just because you think e-cards are great, don’t expect everyone else to feel the same. Good old-fashioned cardstock business cards — end of discussion. In addition, take mints, cold medicine, cough drops, lip balm, hand sanitizer, pens, paper, Pepto, Gax-X, Advil, or whatever pain relievers you might think you’ll need, cause the days are long, and if you don’t feel well, the days are even longer.
JPM Tip #6 – Pick Your Poison — Presentation Or Breakout Q&A
For those who have never attended JPM, if you think you are going to be able to (A), sit through a presentation by a company like Gilead held in the Grand Ballroom (seating capacity 1,100), and then (B), walk across the hall and get a seat for the post presentation breakout session in the Borgia Room (seating capacity 100), let me dispel you of that notion immediately. It is tough enough to accomplish this activity at JPM with companies not making big news splashes. However, when you consider a company like Gilead with its unprecedented sales success the past couple of years, combined with the lingering pricing controversy surrounding its breakthrough Hepatitis C drugs, odds are extremely good that opting to attend their presentation first will result in your being on the outside looking in when it came to attending their breakout. This is why at JPM, I attend only a couple of presentations, deciding instead to focus my time on trying to get a front row seat for the breakouts where the discussion is much more intimate and less scripted.
JPM Tip #7 – Who And What To Follow On Twitter
The unofficial hashtag everyone will be following during JPM is #JPM18. Throughout the conference I keep tabs on this hashtag, along with Biotech Showcase’s (#BTS18). But in addition, I also follow a few key Twitter personalities. While there are plenty of people you can follow who tweet early and often, my preference is to follow those who tweet substance, especially during JPM. Below is a list of people who do a great job covering/tweeting during “BioWeekSF” including yours truly. If you keep tabs on these 10, along with the two hashtags, you will have more than 80 percent of what you need to stay “in the know.”