J&J enlists veterans for innovation challenge series focused on healthcare solutions created by, and for, them

Johnson & Johnson Innovation, J&J's strategic venture capital arm, is using its latest QuickFire Challenge to benefit veterans. (Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson is launching a first-ever pair of innovation challenges with military veterans in mind. The initial Quickfire "Veterans Lead" challenge is already underway and crowdsources health solutions from veterans, while the second is set to launch this week and aims to come up with ideas to better serve veterans.

J&J's "Innovation by Vets" is partnering with nonprofit Bunker Labs, which helps the military community launch businesses, inviting U.S. veterans and military spouses or legal partners to submit ideas from across healthcare including pharma, consumer health, technology or medical devices.

In a campaign launch video, J&J military veterans, including Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky, talk about how their service shaped and affected them and why veterans have an important role to play in healthcare.

"It starts with a can-do attitude of 'we can figure this problem out.' And when veterans bring that same spirit to healthcare, there's nothing they can't do," Gorsky says.

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The second challenge, "Innovation for Vets," debuting Wednesday, asks for solutions that address medical issues that affect the military community including cardiovascular or kidney disease, cancer, orthopedic and musculoskeletal disease, physical trauma management, respiratory health and vision loss.

The winners of each challenge will receive up to $250,000 in grants as well as access to resources and programming through the J&J Innovation system and mentorship from experts across the company.

J&J is honoring the "strategic thinking, expertise and innovative ideas" of military veterans and their families inside its companies, Wanda Hope, J&J's chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, said in an email, adding the pharma is "honored to have so many military-connected employees among us and are always looking for ways to further support them."

The military initiatives mark J&J's 65th and 66th Quickfire innovation challenges. Previous challenges have focused on children’s wellness, neuroscience and digital technologies.

J&J and Bunker Labs are currently marketing the "Innovation By Veterans" challenge through both companies' networks and social media channels.

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The almost 18 million veterans in the U.S. are twice as likely to be self-employed compared to non-veterans and are majority owners of 9% of all businesses in the country.

Meanwhile, many post-active-duty veterans disproportionately face health issues compared to other Americans. The prevalence of multiple chronic conditions is higher among veterans compared with non-veterans for both men and women, according to a February report (PDF) from the Department of Health and Human Services.

J&J employs a large number of U.S. veterans, and in 2020, its office of diversity, equity and inclusion created a head of military and veterans affairs to take on issues affecting military members and their families, Erika Kula, director of sourcing, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, said.