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Biotechs: Your Ultimate Survival Guide for the Year's Biggest Confab, J.P. Morgan

It's countdown time. Monday marks the start of the 28th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference, arguably one of the most important events on the biotech social calendar.

Any banking conference can give you visibility with investors, but J.P. Morgan has become a draw even for companies that couldn't snag a presentation slot, quite simply because everyone is there. In the space of a week (or even an hour), you can meet with potential partners, venture capitalists, bankers, sell-side analysts and portfolio managers, all of whom descend on San Francisco's Union Square with the hope of divining what the biotech industry has in store for the coming year.

Here's what you need to know to survive:

The Conference:

  • Pick up your badge Sunday night (or Monday afternoon, if that's when you arrive). The registration lines in the morning can be looooong.
  • Presentations are followed by a Q&A in a separate breakout room. Leave the presentation early if you want to get in the room for important breakout sessions.
  • Some highly-anticipated presentations: Celgene (CELG) 8 a.m. Mon., Grand Ballroom, Roche 8:30 a.m. Mon, Grand Ballroom, Amgen (AMGN) 8 a.m. Tues., Grand Ballroom, Genzyme (GENZ) 9 a.m. Tues., Grand Ballroom, Biogen Idec (BIIB) 4:30 p.m. Tues, Grand Ballroom -- and all the big pharmas and device folks are presenting, too.
The Meetings:
  • Don't say you'll meet someone under the clock in the Westin lobby -- the lobby can get body-to-body packed. Try the lobby of the Sir Francis Drake across the street or the Chancellor up the hill.
  • Some hotels are a two minute walk from the Westin, others may be 20 minutes. Map your schedule ahead of time and leave yourself enough time to get between meetings.
  • Be careful what you say in public places. About 6,000 people attend J.P. Morgan, not including the thousands who don't register for the conference, and they all have a vested interest in biotech. For a truly private meeting, get out of downtown and the financial district and into the neighborhoods.
  • If you're hosting meetings in your hotel suite, arrange with the hotel to have the maid come early each morning to tidy up
The Networking:
  • The networking doesn't start Monday -- there are ski trips, golf outings and winery tours all weekend. Some are informal and others are organized by banks, lawfirms and venture groups.
  • Nor does the networking end at 5 p.m. each day -- this conference is notorious for cocktail parties hosted by banks, law firms, public relations groups, VCs and companies. Most are invite-only, but the banks tend to be less strict about enforcing the RSVP list.
  • It's a marathon, not a sprint. If you drink your dinner in a martini glass and stay up until 4 a.m. when you've got 40 meetings the next day starting at 7 a.m., you will be sorry.
  • Bring LOTS of business cards.