Something was different about the JP Morgan Conference this year.
Pretty much everyone involved with medtech investing knows that San Francisco becomes the center of the world during the second week of January. Melodramatic, perhaps, but for almost a decade and years before that under the Hambrecht and Quist banner, the JP Morgan Healthcare conference has been the best attended and arguably most important event for healthcare investors annually. Each year, hundreds of JPM personnel, medtech executives, venture capitalists and institutional investors pack the halls of the Westin St. Francis Hotel, traveling between company presentations, one-on-one meetings and countless opportunities to network and catch up with the circle of freinds and colleagues that make up the somewhay inbred world of the medical and biotech industries. Meanwhile, in adjacent hotel suites and coffee shops, competitive investment banks set up shop to make sure they have equal time with company managers in the most “target rich environment” the industry has to offer.
Did a depressing economy and a steep decline in funding in the sector impact the tone of the 2009 event? In short – yes. I was told by JP Morgan organizers that far fewer invites went out to presenters and attendees. In addition, the typically lavish JPM welcome reception, held for the past few years at the San Francisco City Hall, was cancelled. There seemed to be a tone of austerity, an evident focus on “green” conference initiatives (e.g. recycled supplies, earth friendly materials, etc.) and a square focus on business before social imperatives.
Though more serious in tone, optimism seemed to carry the day as high-profile acquisitions in the industry were pointed to as proof of life and hope for deals in the near term – now financing is another matter completely…..