How this young woman entrepreneur built a successful biotechnology startup out of Hubballi

With its rustic charm, multi-lingual culture, and cosmopolitan outlook, North Karnataka, with its largely untapped market, is waiting to be explored! This commercial hub is home to a wide cluster of industries and has more than one lakh small and medium businesses, and that number is growing. The region is now witnessing a revolutionary crop of entrepreneurs who are taking these very traditional businesses to a whole new level with a technological twist. One among them is biotech entrepreneur Sarah D’Souza, Founder and Chairman of Biosyl Technologies, a biotech-based company, headquartered in Hubballi, which deals with both manufacturing and services.

Sarah, 26, was born and brought up in Hubballi and went on to study Biotechnology Engineering at KLE Technological University in the city. But it was not just a degree or a cushy job that Sarah was after.

As I had seen through my years of education, excellent projects remain as a student’s report to fulfill academic requirements, and I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to convert my idea into reality, and starting up paved the way for this.

Thus, after her graduation, she decided to chase her dreams and went ahead to start Biosyl Technologies with her classmate Amit Vernekar in 2013 with an initial investment of Rs 1.5 lakh.

Startup Lessons

With no prior professional experience, it has mostly been a self-learning journey.

Although Sarah came with a strong technical background, she lacked the practical knowledge required to run a new enterprise, and networked extensively at events to overcome it. Being a Biotechnology graduate also made it a challenging task to design equipment, and hence Sarah enrolled for courses to match the requirement. Once equipped with all the required skills, Sarah and her co-founder worked on professionally displaying their products and marketing them by trying various self-taught methods, something they continue to polish even today.

The private limited company focuses strongly on biotechnology and its applications. Biosyl’s in-house lab takes up contracts for quality analysis, microbial testing, biochemical analysis and stability testing. Biosyl’s first product was a Milk Adulteration Test Kit, which Sarah addresses as a ‘pocket lab’. The Kit helps consumers identify adulterants present in milk before consumption. Biosyl has adopted the production model, where the company manufactures and sells its products to target customers, thus generating revenue. The company’s R&D pipeline for 2016–2017 includes products in the agricultural and waste-treatment sectors.

Biosyl's Anaerobic Workstation aims to provide researchers a quick and easy way to culture anaerobes, potential producers of several industrial products. Anaerobic means “without oxygen.” The bacteria are able to survive and grow in environments devoid of oxygen and could possibly react negatively, and may even die, in the presence of oxygen.

“The market has been growing the last several years, but in India, only a few industries and institutions have access to anaerobic chambers. Many pharmaceutical products are not produced due to lack of this facility and it being a tedious process to cultivate,” says Sarah.

With the advent of Biosyl’s cost-effective Anaerobic Workstation, industries and institutions will be aided in carrying out further research.

Sarah and her team’s self-taught efforts did pay off as the company went on to earn a number of awards and accolades. Biosyl Technologies was the winner of the prestigious TATA FIRST DOT Judge’s Choice Award 2013 for Best Student Startup and was ranked among India’s Top 40 Innovators at the National Fair of India Innovation Initiative (i3) 2012.

The hometown advantage

The bootstrapped venture makes an annual revenue of about Rs 10 lakh. The core team of four operates out of Biosyl’s headquarters at the Centre For Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the BVB campus, Hubli, and has twelve interns at present.

When Sarah decided to start up after college, the obvious choice concerning where to begin was her hometown. So how has working out of a tier II city panned out for her?

Conventional businesses in the region are waking up to the revolutionary powers of technology and are embracing it more than ever, which is encouraging youngsters like Sarah to take the entrepreneurial plunge. Moreover, the cost of operations and familiarity are also proving to be major draws.

Working out of Hubballi has helped because I am familiar with the surroundings, and with most of the market going online, it hasn’t been difficult to connect to vendors and customers alike. It also helped in the reduction of most other costs, since I live here.

It also meant having to deal with lesser competition.

There are very few Biotech firms in North Karnataka; hence, we have the advantage of not entering into a saturated pool.

Starting ahead of most companies has proved to be crucial for Biosyl. Apart from its first original product, pricing pre-existing products at 1/10th of the market price has worked in the company’s favour.

Biosyl is currently working on building its team and reaching 1 million customers, a milestone they are determined to achieve. And as Sarah goes about chasing her dreams, she also has her sights set on proving a larger point.

Being a woman entrepreneur comes with its pros and cons, while the business industry supports you, there might be skepticism from the society. Well, you can’t please everyone. Fortunately, I had the strong support from my family all through. There are very few women who start a business straight out of college and succeed. I plan to change that notion.

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