I call myself an accidental entrepreneur. In 1975, I had just returned to India after completing my studies in Australia to become a brew-master and when that could not happen I was pushed to become an entrepreneur by my Irish partner. As a 25-year-old woman wanting to start her own business, I had to face huge credibility challenges.
My journey of building Biocon started with leveraging my biotechnology skills, experimenting and learning—trying out new ideas and addressing the numerous everyday challenges that are a part and parcel of the business environment in a developing economy like India. As an entrepreneur, my focus was clearly on an innovation-led business model, as I believed the best way to differentiate is through creative pursuit. I always wanted to create a career opportunity for Indian scientists who were otherwise compelled to pursue careers overseas. I also wanted to create a world-class innovative company out of India; eclipsing the imitative reputation that we have. I also wanted to change the poor quality label that Indian products had by developing high quality, sophisticated drugs that met the highest international standards.
By 1983, people in India were slowly beginning to look at entrepreneurship with more openness and I was able to build a promising business with a good team. I knew then that we could make Biocon work only if we followed a strategy of differentiation. Being a research-led business, the perennial question for us was, how do we create value from a research-based model, and could we unlock value from intellectual property (IP)? Over time, gradually we began to unlock value when we developed proprietary technology and began to understand the value of IP. Our enzymes business was such an R&D-led (research and development) business. It became a great success and brought us tremendous value when we exited the business to focus on becoming an integrated biopharmaceuticals company.
My biggest challenge of those times was to get people to understand that business was not all bricks and mortar and that IP is an important asset and bigger in value than a factory. We proved that when we went for our IPO (initial public offering) in 2004. The huge valuation of $1 billion on the day of listing was an endorsement of the biotechnology business we had built over the previous two decades. That was our first eureka moment. It was about translating science into business value. There has been no looking back since then and today we are India’s largest biotech enterprise and an emerging global biopharma enterprise with a focus on delivering affordable innovation. We have many firsts to our credit; Biocon is the only company in the world to develop pichia-based technology for recombinant human insulin, which has made diabetes treatment the most affordable across the globe. We are committed to leveraging India’s cost advantage to deliver affordable therapy solutions for chronic diseases for patients worldwide.
In my entrepreneurial journey, my ability to face and learn from failure and move on has helped me a great deal in being successful. It is a trait that most entrepreneurs need to have in order to be successful. Failures provide the experience that no amount of success can. I am not suggesting one must seek failure, but when it comes, learn from it instead of getting defeated and giving up permanently. My personal journey has been about value creation. For me, wealth equals value and I focus on how much value I can add to the business. My vision for Biocon is that in the next few years, we become a billion-dollar revenue firm and one of our novel drugs makes it to the global markets.
The economic challenges that confront us today—healthcare, education, development, and environment, among others—call for extraordinary steps. India’s ability to generate wealth and create social good will come if we let innovation flourish by encouraging and enabling entrepreneurship. With a large pool of world-class talent and resources, India is a fertile ground for entrepreneurs. They can transform our numerous challenges into opportunities by developing innovative products that can benefit millions and drive economic growth.
The writer is CMD, Biocon.