Being in Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw’s presence itself signifies that she is in a league of her own. She has an unmatchable charisma that translates into her speech and her vision. If you have read her success story and found it awe inspiring, then meeting her and hearing her speak can actually transform you. That’s what all of us experienced during our orientation when we got the opportunity of our lifetime to interact with her.
Her story is so much more than what it appears in print. She is grit and grumption personified. Her words always comes across as gold-dust, “To be at the top you have to be a specialist and not a generalist”. We were influenced by her personality and it inflamed a passion of achieving the pinnacle of success in all of us and made us thirsty for more. Our subsequent interaction with her proved to be much more enthralling, as she narrated her experiences in life.
From being the daughter of a brewer and becoming the first female brewer in India to becoming the pioneer in Biotech Industry, her journey is what legends are made of. Her challenges would appear insurmountable to many, overcoming the gender bias, no financial backing, credibility issues, and inexperience in business to delving in an unexplored field, but she took them in her stride and overcame each one of them by taking them as a challenge.
She defied all odds by collaborating with Biocon Biochemical Limited, Ireland in 1978 and started Biocon in the garage of her rented house in Bangalore with an initial capital of Rs. 10,000 and has turned it into the foremost bio-pharmaceutical firm in India. Although it was a joint venture, Indian laws constrained FDI to only 30% and Ms. Kiran had to arrange 70% funding from her end. She faced challenges of scarce availability of resources like laboratory equipment’s and qualified employees for her start-up. Within a year of operations she was successful in exporting enzymes prepared in Biocon to US, Europe, which was a first for an Indian company. With the profits made, she purchased 20-acre property for expansion and delved into the world of bio-pharmaceuticals. She said “It was about greening businesses, which was a very new concept. Saying how do we replace chemical technologies with enzyme technologies, and green the world. And that was my sense of purpose when I started”.
The focus of the business was changed from enzymes to bio-pharmaceuticals in the 90s. She sold off the enzyme business she had built for 15 years and put in all her energies into the bio-pharmaceutical business – where the first batch of enzymes failed. ‘Here I was trying to scale up a home grown biotechnology firm and my first batch failed. We checked why it failed. We identified process failures,’ she says. She truly is perseverance personified. She went about slicing her setbacks with almost clinical precision. And rest as they say is history.
Listening to her was not only inspiring but motivating as well. Listening to her life journey compelled us to believe in ourselves. Her diligence and her determination to achieve her goals taught us to have focused mind and an eye for goal. People like her inspire us to innovate rather than imitate. Indians have the capability to innovate and she has proved that to all.
The Biocon-KGI certificate program is her brainchild, to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and industrial applications. Not being one to reap the fruits of her success alone she believes in giving back to society and pave a way of development for the whole industry.This flagship program is a unique initiative to provide the aspiring biotechnologists with necessary knowledge, skills and industrial training to make them employable in the industry.
It is indeed a privilege to be part of such unique program and be guided by a personality called Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and grow academically as well as professionally.
Written by: Rehan Rizvi, Biocon KGI Certificate Program in Biosciences