[Podcast] Kiran Mazumdar Shaw shares the Biocon journey, explains why entrepreneurs need to be risk-takers

In this episode of the #InsightsPodcast series, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and MD of Biocon, talks about starting up and her strategic shift to the biopharma industry, and gives young entrepreneurs advice on innovation, problem-solving, and mentorship.

We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series and on this episode, we have with us Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon.

A pioneer of the biotech industry in India and the head of the country’s leading biotechnology enterprise, Kiran is a highly respected business leader and has been named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. She’s a recognised global thought leader in biotechnology and has been awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, two of India’s highest civilian honours.

Today, Biocon is one of Asia’s largest biopharmaceutical companies – 12,000-people strong with 30 percent women, most of whom are scientists. It focuses on diabetes and cancer as thrust areas and has a vision of making global impact on healthcare by providing affordable access to life-saving drugs.

On this podcast, Kiran talks about her journey, building Biocon, how she started out, built a great team, and went on to take the company to IPO. She also shares insights on how founders can find a good work-life balance by prioritising what matters most to them.

An accidental entrepreneur

Kiran calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur”, starting Biocon when she was discriminated against as a woman while applying for the job of a brewmaster. She set up Biocon in 1978, initially focusing on the enzyme industry, and made a strategic shift to the biopharmaceutical industry as it was a much bigger opportunity - riding the shift in cancer care from chemotherapy to immunotherapy.

Starting up at the age of 25, in a field that was not understood by many, raising capital was not an easy task. Especially at a time when a woman entrepreneur without collateral was considered a high financial and business risk.

Hiring talent was another challenge. As Kiran started building her company, she aggressively pursued building the team, hiring people with complementary skills to form the core team, and incentivised them with rich stock options.

A bottomline-driven business

In 2004, Kiran did a lot of roadshows and went IPO, to raise capital for the business. She wasn’t concerned about raising the value of the company, but made sure it was profitable in the last four quarters before going public and had clear visibility on profits in the foreseeable future. She says today’s companies are topline-driven in contrast to her business that is “bottomline-driven”.

“Today’s business models are different; they’re very asset-light. Today, we’re in an idea economy. It is about how clever, innovative, differentiated your idea is. Innovation is all about taking that idea to the market and how you take it to the market,” she says.

Kiran talks about how the long gestation time from idea to market for biotech companies makes it challenging to sustain. She advises young biotech startups to focus on diagnostics- catching diseases early versus treating them at a later stage.

Drawing from her personal experiences, she shares how having a global market focus and a modular business strategy helped make money at every phase and put it back into the business.  

Opportunities to learn

On her personal growth, Kiran says she used her team as a think-tank and used her mentors to draw inspiration and for brainstorming.

“Mentors in an entrepreneur’s journey should only help stay focused. I don’t think any entrepreneur should keep going back to a mentor asking ‘what should I do next’? That is not entrepreneurship,” she says.

“Entrepreneurs need to script their own journey, figure out their own things, and solve problems. If you keep running back to your mentor at the drop of your hat, you’re not an entrepreneur. A true entrepreneur is a risk-taker, problem-solver, a person who’s willing to face challenges and failure.”

Kiran says she encourages young entrepreneurs to not worry about making mistakes and see them as opportunities to learn. Adding to her advice, she urges them not to wait to develop the perfect product and to instead go to market first.

Continuing to reiterate how AI can help transform healthcare, she also gives her take on work-life balance. Kiran believes the answer to this question is only one: “Prioritisation”.

Tune in to the podcast to hear more interesting insights from Kiran’s journey of launching and growing Biocon.

Anand Daniel is a seed/early stage venture investor with Accel Partners.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)