JP Morgan: Where the Boys Are…And Not the Girls

1/16/12Follow @venturevalkyrie

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underplay theirs. This was a room full of PhDs and MDs and people who had been instrumental in the creation of a myriad of famous companies and billions in market value, yet they often left that out of their personal introduction.

Fortunately women are also more likely to point out the accomplishments of their colleagues, so many intros were followed by shout-outs from others in the crowd reminding the other diners that the cool chick before them, in addition to being from Philadelphia or Boston, had changed medicine forever in some profound way. Very cool to see the support and lack of competition in the room and all around a very different vibe from other events I attended. The best dinner story was probably the one about how one VC partner and her female colleague use “boyfriend” terminology to characterize the stage and progress of their deals in their staff meetings. I have yet to hear any of my male colleagues refer to one of their deals in progress as being in the stage called “friends with benefits.” It was pretty hilarious. And yes, I confess that there was some talk about shoes and other essential accessories, as well as the blisters many of us had obtained walking from venue to venue, but it didn’t take away one bit from the discussion about healthcare reform or the state of life science venture funding. Mercifully, it was probably the only social event I attended where golf was not a critical part of the discussion agenda.

The overall tone of this year’s JP Morgan Lollapalooza was cautiously upbeat, I would say. There are a few promising healthcare IPOs in the pipeline and a lot of opportunity presented by the changing healthcare field. Good companies are getting funded and bankers are busy again. Times are still tough but unemployment is slightly better. Healthcare IT is all the rage and there were even some whispers about early stage investing slowly climbing again. There was so much action around the conference headquarters at the St. Francis Hotel (also known as the worst conference venue on earth unless you love being crushed to death like you were at Altamont for a Rolling Stones concert) that security was even stronger than the airport in Fallujah. You couldn’t even enter the hotel without a pre-printed approval email, bona fide healthcare credentials and a DNA sample. Apparently the sponsors were very concerned that the Occupy Wall Street crowd might show up given the high ratio of bankers, but fortunately the only place being occupied was Starbucks. With 99 percent of the attendees from the world of healthcare finance, the 1 percent were the dogs cruising through Union Square with their owners, who were forced against their will to stop to let the homesick VCs and investment bankers pet their furry little charges. “Does your dog lead restructuring transactions?” “That is not my dog!”

Now it is time for all of us in attendance to dig the newly acquired business cards out of every orifice and do all that promised follow-up. As they say in the business, same time next year, guys. See you at Altamont.

Lisa Suennen is Managing Partner at Venture Valkyrie Consulting, a firm providing advisory services to companies, organizations, and private equity firms in the healthcare field, and the co-author of Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare With Technology? Follow @venturevalkyrie

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  • Lisa Suennen

    Thanks for including me today, Wade. I am telling you the great untapped market opportunity at JP Morgan is selling blister treatments at the corner of Post and Stockton! http://venturevalkyrie.com

  • http://www.drbonnie360.com Bonnie Feldman (@DrBonnie360)

    Having been at JP Morgan for the last 10 years, I was struck by the decreasing number of women at this conference. Perhaps my view is skewed from my 5 ft vantage point, but the view looked to me like a sea of dark suits. In contrast, the CES Digital Summit had plenty of women.

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  • http://www.zoomedia.com Barbara Lavery

    Thanks for the “girls” take on JPM Lisa! It’s always fun but also a little odd to be one of the few “running in heels” from meeting to meeting in a sea of black suits every year :) I did manage to participate on a panel at the New Paradigms meeting were 4 out of 5 of us panelists were ladies – nice for a change!

  • http://www.asiaticlinical.com Mithra Bindhu

    Very well written Lisa ! Your article brought a smile to my lips and hope for women. :-)

  • http://venturevalkyrie.com Lisa Suennen

    Thanks Bonnie, Barbara and Mithra for throwing in with me! Lisa

  • Nicole Martin

    The male blue suit overload effect was in full throttle in every single hotel lobby around the conference. At first I found it funny, and then I just started to think of myself in a foreign country. It’s strange when there are so few women around.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    Lisa—thanks much for this post. It reminded me how strange it felt to be one of about five guys in a room of 200 women at Women in Bio’s Seattle chapter kickoff party last fall. Many of the women I saw there have never been on the usual industry event circuit, to attend things like JP Morgan. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see many more women turning out in the years to come.

    http://www.xconomy.com/seattle/2011/09/16/women-in-bios-seattle-chapter-kick-off-the-photo-gallery/

  • http://venturevalkyrie.com Lisa Suennen

    Luke, let’s hope you’re right. Would be nice to be in the majority for a change. Lisa

  • http://www.hirealternaitve.com Cindy Cremona

    Lisa – so pleased to see your take on the JPM conference. It was my first, and I too was struck by the ‘uniform’ of blue male filled suits in the majority! I’m proud to be part of the growing minority and to hear how the few have had so much impact on the many.

    Next year, I’ll be armed or shall I say legged with more comfortable shoes, blister pads and a little more confidence that I am not the only ‘girl’ in the room.

  • Mary Kay Fenton

    Wonderful piece, Lisa. Sadly, as JPM veteran, I’ve become blinded to the vast imbalance of women at most healthcare business events. It’s only when I read a something like your post or relay the experience to a friend that I realize just how far we have to go!

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