Bench International

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Insight by: Dave Whelan

It’s the hap-happiest season of all

With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings

When friends come to call

It’s the hap-happiest season of all

If you turned on the radio or Spotify over the past few weeks, you probably heard Andy Williams celebrating the holidays in his distinctive “Emperor of Easy” style. You may be slightly sick of the song by now, but it is a true Christmas classic.

While many of us travel long distances to be with family and friends for the holidays, I am fortunate to have my in-laws here in Southern California, which has kept my family local for the past few years. Even before the pandemic, I can’t remember the last time I got on a plane for leisure travel between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But when the first week of January hits, I get back on a plane again.

In some ways, the most wonderful time of the year for me is January. Not only is the new year a chance to start fresh with big new plans, but January is the start of the healthcare conference year, with two of the biggest annual gatherings, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and BioWeekSF in San Francisco, which is often called simply JPMorgan, in honor of the central event that started it all, the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference. (This conference has taken place in San Francisco since the 1980s, when it was known as the H&Q Conference, organized by San Francisco’s Hambrecht & Quist before the firm was acquired by Chase Manhattan, which soon after merged with JPMorgan. When I got my start in the biotech world back in the early 90s, I worked around the corner from H&Q, so I continue to feel a personal connection to the old days.)

Over the years, I have juggled CES and BioWeekSF, with a whirlwind of trains, planes, and automobiles, depending on event schedules. Occasionally, I foolishly do a long road trip to and from Las Vegas. Sometimes I fly to LAS and then SFO. Other times, I fly from to SFO and then LAS. This year, thanks to a little family trip to San Diego, I will be trying SAN to LAS to SFO for the first time.

Why do I do it? Well, those two events (and all the satellite events around them) really do represent the most wonderful time of the year. There are countless holiday greetings and tales of the glories of conferences long, long ago. There are plenty of gay happy meetings and parties for hosting. And old and new friends, from near and far, come to call. It is like a week of Christmas mornings for the quintessential networker.

For that quintessential networker, Christmas morning hasn’t happened since 2020. Like many major conferences and tradeshows, the music stopped with the pandemic. Neither CES nor BioWeekSF happened in person in 2021, and both of them were scaled back dramatically in 2022, in the wake of the Omicron variant. I am not alone in being more than a little bit excited for #CES2023 and #JPM23.

What can we expect with the in-person return of these lynchpin events? Based on the enthusiasm we’ve seen at conferences and tradeshows in late 2022, I predict that both CES and BioWeekSF will be super-popular, but hopefully not super-spreaders. I’m in touch with leaders from around the world who will be in Las Vegas, San Francisco, or both. Of course, many of my SoCal peers will be making the easy trips to these events, including several of the Bench International team, whom I expect to see in San Francisco.

I anticipate meetings and conversations about some of the trends that are accelerating due to the pandemic, as well as some other technologies and adjacent industries that really excite me:

  • Telehealth: This saw a huge boost during pandemic. While some regulatory challenges remain, this is a sub-sector that will continue to grow, and I expect to see relevant technologies and companies at both CES and BioWeekSF.
  • Diagnostic tests: These are often the flipside of the telehealth coin, with growing interest from investors, physicians, patients, and consumers. At-home tests, point-of-care technologies, retail solutions – all of these are continuing to grow.
  • Digital health meets smart home meets connected car: All three of these areas have been growing at CES over the past few years, but some of these topics have appeared during BioWeekSF in the past. Many of us are familiar with the growth of wearables and at-home fitness and wellness. Those get even more exciting when integrated into smart homes and increasingly connected cars. We are approaching a future where our homes, offices, and cars will be integral and smart parts of preventative, diagnostic, and even therapeutic solutions.
  • XR: Augmented reality, virtual reality, and metaverse – whatever you call it, the opportunities for immersive technology are huge. We are just at the early days, but extended reality can be applied to digital therapeutics, advanced training, telehealth, and more.
  • Aging technology: The population is aging, and that aging population is increasingly connected and tech-savvy. Agetech continues to emerge as a meaningful sector of healthcare, especially in the digital health arena.
  • AI: Along with the metaverse, AI is perhaps the most overused and misunderstood technology trend. That said, there are opportunities for artificial intelligence in drug discovery, clinical trials, diagnostics, knowledge management, and more. If you have not yet experimented with ChatGPT, I encourage you to do so. This is part of the generative AI trend that has been getting lots of press recently, and I am excited for the potential to transform healthcare education and communications (under the supervision of an experienced human, for now).
  • Human security: In my recent article, “Space: The (Not So) Final Frontier,” I referenced the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time, these are front-and-center at CES, where John Deere CEO John May will be delivering a keynote address on sustainability, agriculture, technology, and feeding a 10 billion-person planet.

This is just scratching the surface of the conversations that I will be having with leaders in Las Vegas and San Francisco. It is exciting stuff, every year, and you can understand why, for me, this really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Over the coming months, I will be sharing more about what I see and hear during these events, but in the meantime, if our paths cross, I would be delighted to get together. My Las Vegas schedule is very short this year, but I will be in San Francisco for a few days, so please reach out if you want to get together during #BioWeekSF. I will be moderating some sessions at Biotech Showcase (register at using promo code supBIOLA2023), as well as moderating a panel at the IVYFON Family Office Outlook Forum (register at In between, you can find me trudging through the cold windy sideways rain of San Francisco, in search of the next big thing!