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Jan, 01 2008

Dream reality Biotechnology - India`s biotech queen

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw started her venture in the garage with an investment of Rs 10,000 after the 25-year-old entrepreneur was turned down by the banks for taking up a business that was absolutely new in the country and more so for being a woman. Years of h

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw started her venture in the garage with an investment of Rs 10,000 after the 25-year-old entrepreneur was turned down by the banks for taking up a business that was absolutely new in the country and more so for being a woman. Years of hard work, perseverance and determination to stand against all odds has brought that small venture to an unimaginable magnitude. And the young entrepreneur is now heralded as the pioneer, `India`s Biotech Queen`.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, a qualified Brew Master from Ballarat University, on her return to India, found it difficult to pursue a career in brewing only because of her gender. Her inability to break into the professional orbit of brewing induced her to start up a biotechnology company instead. She established Biocon India as India`s first biotechnology start-up in November 1978 as a JV with a small Irish biotechnology company, Biocon Biochemicals Ltd.

Interaction with Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

During a brief interaction with Utpala Ghosh, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw narrated her trek to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

TFW: What inspired you to start your business?

Kiran Mazudar Shaw: My inability to break into the professional orbit of brewing induced me to start up a biotechnology company instead. After all, brewing is one of the oldest biotechnologies known to man! You could say I started Biocon on a rebound! I took on a challenge to prove to the world that a woman could make a good business manager and that contrary to common perception; women did have the ability to take and manage risk!

TFW: What is the origin and growth of Biocon?

KMS: I established Biocon India as India`s first biotechnology start-up in November 1978 as a JV with a small Irish Biotechnology company, Biocon Biochemicals Ltd. I was to develop a manufacturing process for Papain, an enzyme derived from the Papaya fruit that was used extensively in the brewing industry to clarify beer. Apart from this, I was required to create a market for other enzymes for the brewing industry to be imported from the Irish partner. My approach was frugal. I converted the garage in my rented home into my office and rented a 3,000 sq.ft industrial shed to manufacture Papain. Later, I expanded this to develop other microbial enzymes.

Enzymes, was a vast field and in order to develop a differentiated strategy, Biocon opted for specialty low volume, high value enzymes for the food and beverages industry. Ever since, Biocon marched ahead with a mission to build global leadership in specialty enzymes for food, animal feed and beverages.

TFW: What are your achievements so far?

KMS: On a personal level, this really is for others to say. My personal best is being chosen for the Padmashri (1989) and Padma Bhushan (2005). I consider this as recognition of the potential and promise that biotechnology holds for our country. As a company, Biocon`s pipeline of proprietary products is both extensive and exciting. Leading this effort is the launch of Insugen®, the new generation bio-insulin and the recent launch of BIOMAb EGFR- India`s first cancer drug for head and neck cancers. This product marked Biocon`s foray into the oncology market and furthermore, has established us as an innovator company.

TFW: Have you enjoyed any privilege for being a woman entrepreneur?

KMS: I have never felt the `burden` of being a woman. Being a woman provides us with special attributes such as compassion, sensitivity, multi-tasking and above all, the inner strength to excel. With the right mix of skills, experience and resourcefulness, being at the helm can be one of the most rewarding experiences.

Being a woman, I was not accepted as a Brew Master in India. That worked to my advantage and changed my life. In hindsight, I am grateful that the brewing doors shut on me and I set up Biocon instead! Whilst setting up Biocon in a strong licensing environment, I found that being a woman worked to my advantage as I was always welcomed into government offices whilst my male counterparts were kept waiting. I guess being unusual really worked to my advantage.

TFW: What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?

KMS: My challenges have evolved along with the evolutionary growth of Biocon. Initially, I faced credibility challenges: my young age, my gender and my unfamiliar business model posed enormous obstacles. Funding was not easy to come by either. No bank wanted to lend to me, no professional wanted to work with me and it was tough to even do business because women were considered `high risk` in the business world. Once I overcame these, I then had to face technological challenges of trying to build a Biotech business in a country where the infrastructure was too primitive to support a high tech industry like biotechnology that was so dependent on uninterrupted, high quality power, high quality water, sterile and dust free labs, imported research equipment, advanced scientific skills etc. Today, our challenges address those posed by new medical wisdom: addressing unmet medical needs, researching new drugs, new drug delivery systems and new therapies. Overcoming each of these phases has been a rich learning experience that has helped us to develop world-class expertise in biotechnology. Today my challenges are about growth and managing a large company and managing investor expectations like any other CEO.

TFW: What are your future plans?

KMS: Biocon is devoted to building cutting-edge capabilities, global credibility and of course building global scale in our manufacturing and marketing capabilities. We are on our way to making Biocon a global biotechnology enterprise and my dream is to see both India and Biocon being ranked amongst the top league in the global biotech sector. Our ambition is to be among the top 10 biotech companies globally.

TFW: Does your busy schedule hamper your personal life in anyway? How do you deal with it?

KMS: For women especially, balancing home and work life may become difficult without adequate support from the family. Whilst it is true that I was single when I built Biocon, the real growth came when I got married. My husband has played a vital role in our success today. We balance and complement each other: I am a scientist and he has a strong financial background. My husband has invested in me in every way, and shares my passion to build a company that will truly be a global torch-bearer for Indian biotechnology. Work is my passion and I enjoy what I do.

TFW: What valuable advice would you like to give women who want to start their own business?

KMS: If you have a vision, a plan and the conviction you should follow it and success will come to you. Biocon is testimony to a vision that a team of like-minded people with the same drive to excel, can achieve.

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