Talk List

“The Biodiversity Act is detrimental to innovation in biotechnology” says Dr Shrikumar Suryanarayan, vice president, ABLE, in an exclusive conversation with ABLE’s COO, Narayanan Suresh. Dr Shrikumar emphasizes the importance of promoting entrepreneurship in biotechnology. Excerpts:

Current vice president of ABLE, Dr Shrikumar Suryanarayan is also the Chairman and co-founder of Sea6 Energy Pvt Ltd. He was formerly the President of Research and Development at Biocon Limited, Bangalore India and the Chief Scientific Advisor to the company. He was associated with Biocon for over 25 years. Even while steering Sea6 Energy, he is officiating as the honorary CEO of the bioincubator, C-CAMP (Center for Cellular and Molecular Platforms), Bangalore.

His other appointments include an Adjunct Professorship at the Department of Biotechnology at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. He is also a member of Governing & Advisory boards of several institutes and centers promoted by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and served as the Chief Executive officer for the Translational Health Sciences Institute at the National Capital Region Biosciences Cluster, Government of India from 2009-2010.

Shrikumar has a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of technology, Madras and a Master's degree in Biochemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of technology Delhi. In 2001, he was awarded the Biotechnology Process Development award of the Government of India and in 2009 he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

When was your first interaction with ABLE?

DR SHRIKUMAR: I was aware and was interacting with ABLE almost since its inception.

When did you join ABLE and what has been your experience in handling various tasks at ABLE?

DR SHRIKUMAR: I joined ABLE full time as its Director General in January of 2008. During that time we helped to move ABLE to its current offices and also ABLE took up Bio Entrepreneurship as a focus area around that time. The BEST ( Biotechnology Entrepreneurship for Student Teams) program was conceived and first executed around that time.

You are a "young" entrepreneur. How has been this experience as a biotech entrepreneur after a long stint in corporate R&D?

DR SHRIKUMAR:The experience of being in a senior position in a big corporate is useful as an entrepreneur and one understands the issues around scaling up more precisely. This allows a lot of planning to happen even in the early stages of a start-up which can make the start-up “scale ready”. Being an entrepreneur means having the freedom to pursue one’s ideas and enroll people into these ideas. Along with freedom also is a huge responsibility – towards one’s family, towards the employees, towards the investors etc. It is important to understand and balance these responsibilities properly.

In the last 6-7 years, you have also had stints in the government and worked closely with industry association. What are the learnings from these roles?

DR SHRIKUMAR: I have had the good fortune to be associated first with the biotechnology industry, then with government and also with academia . Put simply, the exposure to these domains has brought about a deep appreciation for the people engaged there and the constraints that they have to work under to bring about the change that we see.

How do you view the biotech startup ecosystem, particularly since you are engaged closely in promoting it in a big way through your engagement with C-CAMP?

DR SHRIKUMAR: The Bangalore biocluster – especially C-CAMP ( Center for Cellular and Molecular Platforms) is really the first experiment of its kind in the country and it seems to be doing very well . We need to put in much more investment into promoting centers like C-CAMP in and around academic institutions. The pay-off from this for the country will be huge in all areas of biotechnology – whether agriculture, healthcare or in industrial biotech.

What role do you envisage for ABLE in nurturing and promoting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country?

DR SHRIKUMAR: (a) ABLE clearly has to work with government to educate and sensitize government to the rapidly changing needs of the industry .

(b) For the entrepreneurial ecosystem ABLE can help immensely by being that platform where experience of the industry can be shared and exchanged for the benefit of everyone.

Which are the regulatory issues that need the quick attention of the government to enable more "ease of business" for the BioEconomy sector?

DR SHRIKUMAR: (a) The Biodiversity act is very detrimental to innovation in Biotechnology – I think this act needs to be modified and reexamined thoroughly

(b) The new companies act is onerous in its compliance needs and can overwhelm smaller companies. Much needs to be done to simplify this.