Medtech stardom

The evidence is everywhere, but now it’s official. Orange County is America’s top market for medtech, according to a new report by the global real estate services company JLL.

The evidence is everywhere, but now it’s official. Orange County is America’s top market for medtech, according to a new report by the global real estate services company JLL. It was the first time JLL analysts have ranked regions for their medtech strength.

“With the number of established medtech companies headquartered or with a significant presence in the region…it’s no surprise for people locally to see the results,” noted JLL Managing Director Jason Lantgen. “While the medtech industry is throughout Orange County, the greatest concentration of employers and innovation is in Irvine.”

In other words, all the visible recent bustle in this profitable, lifesaving industry – including the constant stream of new startups, hiring, conferences and research breakthroughs – attests to the local medtech prowess. When it comes to producing industry staples, such as heart valves, respiratory monitors and artificial-intelligence strategies that help diagnose and treat disorders, Orange County, led by Irvine, has found its lane, ahead of traditional biomedical hubs such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Boston, according to the JLL report.

Among the standout strengths Lantgen noted: 28,953 Orange County residents now work in medtech manufacturing, and more than $1 billion in venture-capital investments have poured into local medtech companies in just the past five years.

“This is a big deal,” said Bill Carpou, chief executive at OCTANe, a major life-sciences accelerator. “It puts an exclamation point on all the things we’ve been building for the past five to 10 years.”

The industry’s Irvine origins

The county’s medtech industry put down roots in the 1960s, when large firms, including Allergan, the giant pharmaceutical company now part of AbbVie, and Edwards Lifesciences, today a global leader in cardiovascular devices, moved to the area, and a brand-new University of California campus opened in the center of the brand-new, master-planned city of Irvine. Other major medtech firms in Irvine include Medtronic Neurovascular, B. Braun Medical Inc., and Johnson & Johnson, which established its Irvine medtech campus in 2016 and today has more than 2,000 employees. Masimo, which makes biomedical monitoring devices, began with 15 employees in 1989 and today has close to 10,000 worldwide.

In recent years, especially, the confluence of corporations and academia – including nearby top engineering schools such as Caltech – has fueled the growth of hundreds of startups clustering near the larger firms, while Irvine’s Master Plan, also dating from the 1960s, supplied key infrastructure, including a trove of premier office and industrial space.

An optimistic outlook

JLL’s 2023 Life Sciences Industry and Real Estate Perspective, which includes the medtech ranking, predicts a sunny future for life sciences in general, following a recent slowdown.

“The top 20 venture capital firms focused on life sciences are waiting to deploy record amounts of capital,” the research firm said in a press release.

“They’ve raised over $22 billion collectively since 2021 that will soon find its way into growing startups. With ample funds to close deals, the rest of 2023 will likely see mega M&A (mergers and acquisitions) deals for companies with top-notch science deep into their clinical trials.”

That could be very good news for Irvine’s energetic startup culture, which encompasses incubators, accelerators, highly motivated investors and ancillary supports, including patent lawyers and prototype labs.

Local medtech leaders say they’re seeing signs of the enthusiasm.

“I agree with JLL’s findings,” said Thomas Lee, an Irvine anesthesiologist who leads an angel investor committee that evaluates promising medical technology startups, in an email. “Orange County continues to blossom and is rightfully becoming known as the premier medtech/medical device hotbed for the nation.“

Earlier this year, Lee told the Standard that so many new companies are seeking meetings that he keeps getting overbooked.