India: A great destination for social ventures

Deepanwita Chattopadhyay has developed India’s first life sciences research park at Hyderabad, and pioneered a hardware product incubator and makerspace, IKP EDEN, in Bangalore

December 15, 2017

Indian health-technology firms are coming up with with business models around patient empowerment (tele-health, wellness), wearables, e-pharmacy, among others

Going forward, more VC money will come into areas such as consumer health, personalised medicine, predictive modelling, data analytics and rapid diagnostics

Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), set up by the Government has played a key role in creating the life sciences startup ecosystem

The sector has attracted investment from foreign entities such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the USAID and the UK’s Department of International Development

Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, Chairman & CEO of IKP Knowledge Park, has developed India’s first life sciences research park at Hyderabad. She has also pioneered a hardware product incubator and makerspace, IKP-Engineering Design & Entrepreneurship Network (IKP EDEN) in Bangalore. Both entities fuel the maker movement in India with the help of global and Indian partners. She writes science material for children and is an advisor on telecom regulation and policies, market forecasts and entry strategies. Here’s a quick interaction with this dynamic woman leader in life sciences, a key speaker at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2017.

What’s the latest trends among India’s pharma and biotech startups?

In India’s bio-pharma sector, we are seeing startups working on new drug delivery systems, drug repurposing, new platforms for drug screening, biosimilars and personalised medicine. We’re also seeing a lot of interest in early screening of diseases, point of care diagnostics, disease monitoring, consumer diagnostics, imaging technologies as well as innovation in the usage of artificial technology (AI) and machine learning (ML) for predictive modelling. We also have health-technology companies coming up with with business models around patient empowerment (tele-health, wellness), wearables, care management, e-pharmacy etc.  

What are the opportunities and collaborations in this sector for foreign investors?

At this point, the majority of the foreign investment into Indian health sector is going to certain health-tech startups. Going forward, I see more venture capital (VC) money and strategic investments in areas such as consumer health, personalised medicine, predictive modelling, data analytics, patient monitoring, rapid diagnostics and platform technologies.

There is also a growing scope of impact funds for investment into startups that are working on high impact solutions for emerging markets. A good number of passionate young innovators are working in areas of healthcare access in resource-poor settings, unserved/underserved markets, early screening, affordable diagnostics, infectious disease control, maternal and child health as well as food and nutrition.

Foreign investments can also happen through investments into Indian VCs and accelerators.  Corporate social responsibility (CSR) money too can be deployed in incubators for supporting innovations.

What is the support provided by the government so far? Which areas need to improve?

Through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), set up by the Department of Biotechnology, the Government has played a key role in creating the life sciences startup ecosystem. BIRAC’s grant schemes range from funding ideas to clinical trials and commercialisation. It has recently launched an equity-linked seed fund and a Fund of Funds for investment into startups in partnership with incubators and VC firms. BIRAC is also about to launch a portfolio of biopharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices in the country’s priority areas through joint funding from the Indian Government and World Bank.

Beyond startup funding, BIRAC is supporting a large number of incubators and creating other enabling infrastructures to help innovators. For instance, IKP has partnered with BIRAC on several programmes, including setting up of incubators as well as startup funding and nurturing schemes. These programmes include the Biotechnology Ignition Grant, Grand Challenges Exploration and Grand Challenges in tuberculosis (TB) control. Additionally, the BIRAC Regional Innovation Centre (BRIC) is studying innovation clusters while providing IP and hand-holding services to startups and academic innovators.

The Government’s Startup Policy and the Department of Science and Technology’s National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) is also helping.

The IKP has attracted investors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s Department of International Development. What went into bringing them onboard?

These funding agencies were looking for partners in India that could help them address some critical challenges in healthcare by crowdsourcing innovations from across the country. IKP has been supporting healthcare innovators and our partnership took off when BMGF ran the Grand Challenges Explorations, seeking out-of-the-box ideas for solving global health challenges from innovators across the globe.

In 2011, BMGF partnered with IKP to increase its outreach in India, scout for revolutionary ideas from Indian innovators and implement the programmes here. This was followed by a partnership with BMGF and USAID in 2013 for addressing challenges in controlling TB.  BIRAC and UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) later joined the USAID programme to address critical aspects of TB control. We are also working with USAID on the agency’s global Feed the Future programme through Grand Challenges in Agriculture for Nutrition.

What is the role of the foreign funding agencies in India? What makes India a great destination for investors?

These international agencies (BMGF, USAID) fund innovations that have the ability to improve lives and health of the people. A large number of Indian innovators and startups are passionate about innovating for the vulnerable populations and that makes India a great destination for impact and social ventures. By social ventures I am not referring to NGOs but talking about impact driven startups. The number of smart entrepreneurs and the huge market potential make India attractive to investors.

You have nurtured over 250 innovators and early startups in Hyderabad, can you elaborate on IKP’s new incubation facility in Bengaluru?

We believe that the next generation of startups will create solutions at the interface of technologies including biotech, electronics, nanotech, computer science and artificial intelligence. Seeing IKP EDEN’s success, Karnataka Government has asked us to set up common instrument facility and incubators in tier 2 cities in Karnataka such as Mangalore, Mysore, Belgaum and help create the local entrepreneurial ecosystems.

We are also working with the Karnataka Government to call for proposals to solve six challenges such as real time monitoring of sewage water, monitoring primary healthcare delivery, affordable food supplements to address malnutrition, reducing traffic congestion in Bengaluru as well as real-time monitoring of pest and diseases in plants while saving the last drop of water.

What is your message to new entrepreneurs in India today?

You will never have a better time to try out new ideas, so take the plunge. IKP is always looking for great ideas, let us know how we can help you succeed.