The Top 25: #4 Marian Nakada, Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC

Marian Nakada has been an investor for Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC, the corporate venture capital unit of US-based healthcare company Johnson & Johnson, for more than five years. Based at the Boston Innovation Centre and responsible for equity investments in US east coast companies, her ability to connect to local VCs has been especially noted by her colleagues, with Tom Heyman, head of JJDC, nominating her as a Rising Star.

Nakada said: “Making 17 new investments in my five years of investing has been invigorating. Each deal has been unique and investing continues to provide me with new lessons and experiences. A few in particular that stand out for me are Vedanta Biosciences, where our investment led to a strategic licensing of a microbiome asset; Rodeo Therapeutics, where our strategic interest led to the formation of a new company facilitated by Accelerator Life Science Partners, in which we are investors; and Costim Pharmaceuticals and Padlock Therapeutics, M&A exits with attractive financial returns.

“One of my biggest challenges is convincing the venture community that diversity is essential for the success of portfolio companies, C-suites and syndicates. Diversity is lagging in the venture and healthcare startup world, with only about 7% of healthcare VCs being female. Luckily there are more women – about 17% – in corporate venturing.

“There is also a disproportionately low percentage of female CEOs and board members in healthcare and biotech companies. The good news is that change is happening, as diversity is now viewed as important and valuable, and I am proud to work at JJDC, where we are committed to accelerating change.

“I work closely with our therapeutic area leads to evaluate opportunities. As a JJDC investor I bring not only capital but added value to our portfolio companies, providing invaluable insights, advice, scientific expertise, and connections with Johnson & Johnson experts.

“Scientific innovation is what leads to breakthrough therapies and it is essential for us to access the best approaches to be able to continue to deliver high-value solutions for patients. A great idea can come from anywhere, and corporate venture is an attractive way for larger organisations to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem by identifying and investing in private companies with promising technologies and assets that can feed our pipelines.

“Being a corporate investor was also enticing because JJDC makes lasting commitments to its portfolio companies, ensuring stability, determination and ample support to help entrepreneurs and their companies achieve their greatest potential.”

Before joining JJDC, Nakada worked in R&D and business development at Centocor R&D, Janssen R&D, and Janssen Business Development. She is also on the board and is a client of InnerCity Weightlifting, an organisation that employs repeat offenders and makes them personal trainers. She also helps a youth entrepreneurship program based in Boston.