Written by: Shobhan Thakkar

Not long after the New Year brings a three-month conference schedule for venture funds like ours that are solely focused on digital health, including J.P. Morgan Healthcare in San Francisco; HIMSS in Orlando and SXSW in Austin.

We’re planning on attending each conference and have in the past. With each attracting a different crowd – often including entrepreneurs pitching new ideas – we wanted to summarize the three conferences as we see them to give a little more color. Hopefully, it helps readers prioritize as they’re planning and prioritizing their 2017 calendars.

1)    J.P. Morgan Healthcare: This is the granddaddy conference for healthcare investment.  To get invited to the actual conference requires you to have high-level connections. If you can’t get invited to the conference, don’t fret there are still plenty of events going around in San Francisco that will make the trip well worth it. For example, Startup Health; OneMed, Athena Health, Amazon Web Services, Wells Fargo and others all hold conferences and start-up focused events (those are just a couple that we’ll be attending). Usually, an email to the hosts will get you invited if you represent an investor group. The JPM conference usually attracts later-stage and larger public companies. Our focus is more on earlier companies, but we still get value from firsthand accounts of the digital health market so we try to split our time. Attendees across the board bring great value in the form of bankers, later-stage VCs, hedge funds, investment analysts, consultants and other financial advisors that attend the conference. If you plan early enough, you can usually sneak in a quick 30-minute coffee to chat about your investment portfolio. 

a.     When: Early January
b.     Where: San Francisco, CA
2)    HIMSS: While JMP is viewed by some as the granddaddy conference for investors; HIMSS is the granddaddy conference for vendors and healthcare executives. Tens of thousands of attendees converge at convention centers in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Orlando, which rotate every year. This year the conference is in Orlando in February (not bad timing for us Midwesterners). HIMSS attracts many people across the healthcare industry landscape, including healthcare professionals, executives, vendors and no shortage of service providers. Some of the bigger vendors have booths the size of a basketball court. Over the past few years, HIMSS has started promoting early stage companies in an area called StartUp Showcase. Last year, we had success quickly making our way through the StartUp Showcase and talking with several interesting companies. We’re usually also able to catch up with CIOs and other executives to better understand some their top concerns for the upcoming year and chat about some of the solutions offered by our portfolio companies.

a.     When: February
b.     Where: Orlando, FL
3)    SXSW: This the mecca for entrepreneurs, along with a lot of focus on some of the most celebrated arts, music and culture offered anywhere around. If you want to run into the next aspiring entrepreneur who has an idea and dream…this is where to be. The range of companies range from early idea to the leaders across the tech scene. There are pitch events at every corner. Last year, street arrows randomly led me to a pitch session for digital health companies. The week’s events are plentiful, but the bigger ones have lines around the corner and attendees must be on the “list”. The smaller night gatherings are much easier to get into, but you still need to work to get in. Unlike HIMSS which often focuses on B2B-focused businesses, SXSW attracts the big moonshot technology plays, but ideas can also run the gamut. 

a.     When: March
b.     Where: Austin, TX
While all events have many startups that officially register for the conference, there are even more that are not registered for the main conference but are still networking around the periphery. That includes one-off meetings, mini targeted conferences, happy hours and many other flavors to connect people seeking similar outcomes: connecting over the next idea. If you plan and make a few calls you can fill your time productively talking with funds, entrepreneurs, executives and industry leaders.

One last tip: It often makes sense to create a team effort and take a colleague as most nights there are numerous events going on simultaneously and it helps tremendously to be able to divide and conquer. 

If you’ve made your way through the post, let us know if you’re planning to attend any of these events in 2017. Our team would look forward to connecting and perhaps grabbing a coffee (assuming we can wait out the lines). 


Shobhan Thakkar is a partner at HealthX Ventures.