Sandeep Saxena, Founder, Acton Biotech (India) Pvt. Ltd.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is a saying that applies amazingly well to Sandeep Saxena’s venture “Acton Biotech”, because he is in the business of prevention. His aim is to help patients with cancer, asthma, diabetes and cardio vascular disorders across India by the use of genetic tests.
Sandeep told us how they apply genetic science to aid others saying
“Acton Biotech offers genetic tests to identify drugs you will benefit from, drugs that you will not respond to and drugs that can cause severe side effects. We have started with cancer drugs as these drugs are expensive, have severe side effects and don’t work in a large percentage of the populations. We have collection centers and work with all leading oncologists across India. With cost of our tests coming down, we will also extend our tests to other complicated diseases.”
Business idea- The reason why people will flock to Acton Biotech is simple; it saves lives and makes treatment safer. Sandeep explains
“Our mission is to make drugs - safer and effective and treatment - faster and cheaper. We collect blood and tissue samples of patients and courier them to our lab in Pune. We extract DNA, test for specific genes and give a report.”
“India has 20 lac cancer patients and 5 lac new cancer patients are added every year. We have already helped close to 1000 cancer patients in the last 3 years. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are working towards reducing our costs, so that we can serve a larger patient pool.”
What sets them apart- Sandeep told us that despite the multitude of diagnostic labs out there, theirs is the one that promises value for money. He explains his statement saying “We are in the diagnostics space. Our average cost per patient is Rs 5000 as compared to Rs 200 for routine pathology tests. We have designed, validated, and marketed all our tests on our own, where as large diagnostics labs use readymade kits and equipment supplied by international companies. Our sales people are capable to meeting highly qualified doctors and discussing advanced concepts like genetics with them. Sales people working with large labs do not meet specialist doctors.”
Future plans- If the future of a business lies in its undiscovered uses then Sandeep could spend several lifetimes expanding Acton Biotech. He says “Our business is highly scalable. We are currently testing for 30 genes, where as a person has 30,000 genes. We are currently testing for 10 cancer drugs, where as there are more than 1000 drugs that do not work in many patients or cause side effects. We are currently focusing on cancer which has 20 lac patients in India. We can move to all complicated diseases where the patient pool is in crores.”
“We want to be known as a scientific and innovative diagnostics laboratory. We want to be known as the company that brought new development in genetics to India.”
His entrepreneurial story- Sandeep is a self confessed risk lover. He took up the entrepreneurial journey because in comparison to a normal job it offered so much more. He says “A job was too easy for me. There was no challenge, no risk, no thrill, no satisfaction and little learning. People had told me the setting up and building a venture is risky, challenging and there is a lot of learning. I wanted to experience all this on my own.”
“I have been preparing for a venture of my own for the last 10 years. The day I quit my job to start a venture, there has been no looking back. There were tough days, unhappy moments, but not bad enough to put me into corporate jail.”
“The biggest challenge in a high tech venture is marketing and sales. The concept has to be presented in simple words, in humble words, and still customers don’t understand. One has to be patient, passionate and confident about the idea. We have worked closely with our customers, offered what they demanded, and kept innovating on our products. We have always been ahead of the market. All these things have helped us overcome the odds.”
He was also open and frank about the stumbling blocks that they had trouble crossing at one go. He told us about them saying “We over promised and we were very ambitious with our sales projections. The market develops very slowly. We also took some high ticket employees. That caused a big hole in our pockets and these employees never delivered. So we lost time and money. Now we are very careful while recruiting.”
He explained how despite the “downs” they see only the “upside” saying “We celebrate every small happy moment and don’t talk too much about the bad things. Our customers push us to do new things and we just keep doing that. I have a lot of support from my team in office, home and friends. They all encourage me to keep going forward.”
Their seed capital came from NirmaLabs, a technology business incubator, in Nirma University, Ahmedabad. Sandeep told us about how they provided so much more than just hard cash. “This money came with a lot of advice, guidance, suggestions, experience, leads and constructive critics. That has laid a strong foundation to our venture. We are still working on the same path, as written in our business plan 4 years ago. That is the kind of maturity we had built in the plan.”
Recognition gained – Acton Biotech has in Sandeep’s own words “got a lot of media coverage, awards, invitation to large conferences and events.” He adds “The biggest achievement has been the repeat business from our doctors and addition of new doctors who demand our tests on a regular basis. That has kept us going, focused and motivated about the concept.”
Entrepreneurial lesson – Sandeep has seen and learnt much along the way, and gave us his take on the entrepreneurial scene in India saying “Key challenge for Indian entrepreneur is lack of exposure. Today, we have enough capital, enough mentors, and enough customers but as we do not have enough exposure, we don’t try new things. We only try things that other people have done. That is the biggest challenge. The only way we can overcome this barrier is travelling extensively, working in different domains, and taking large risks.”
He believes that an aspiring entrepreneur should keep their priorities straight saying “Complete your education, get little work experience, keep working on your idea, till your idea is so large that a job looks petty and too small in front of it. Think big, aim high, start small, stay focused and network. If you fail, get up and try again.”
Yourstory believes that Sandeep and Acton Biotech will touch many lives and help many people. We commend his vision and hope to see him expand into other areas of genetic testing.