Goa-based MolBio Diagnostics, last year recorded a turnover of Rs 25 crore and on track to post Rs 300 crore by next financial year. The journey for Sriram Natrajan, founder director and CEO was not easy. VIKANT SAHAY met with him to know how a research student went on to become a successful entrepreneur
Sriram Natrajan, a technocrat, started his career as a research student. He was doing PhD in Bio-Chemistry from Botany Department of Delhi University and around that time in early 1980s he went to study a new technology called radio immune assay which was being used to analyse plant hormones. However, he found out that the entire field had changed. They were using this technology called radio immune assay where one used radio labeled indicators to look for something. It was being used to find out various problems in human beings for example, thyroid hormones. Natrajan felt solving human problems especially to do with disease was better than wasting time trying to do a PhD in Botany.
That is when he found a job at a company called Hoechst which is now called Sanofi (has a plant in Goa). This company had a division called Behring Diagnostics and they wanted some technical marketing person for which Natrajan qualified and started his career as a technical marketing person. It was here that he learnt a lot. He was there for about three to four years before joining an Ahmedabad-based company called Krishna Keshav Laboratories which were into ivy fluids. He joined them to set up a diagnostics manufacturing and marketing center with his base at Delhi but operating mainly from Ahmedabad which went on for another 3-4 years.
Around this time he felt that the company was not able to invest enough money. The company had a lot of cash constraints and they were not able to invest in growth. Natrajan was in touch with two other partners who earlier were in Hoechst in the pharma side.
“So we thought that we knew this business very well and so we should probably do something about it and the very next day we left our jobs where we were drawing a salary of about Rs 6000 per month and started a company with a capital of Rs 70,000 between the three of us. We initially started from Bombay then we were looking for a place to start manufacturing in 1989-90. But in Pune water and power was an issue and everything was becoming very difficult. We had a friend in Goa who coaxed us to have a look at Goa and that was for the first time I came to Goa,” said Natarajan.
When he came to Goa in 1990 he felt the warmth of the Goans. “Everyone was so nice and helpful and so warm and we were really amazed and there were absolutely no expectations. On the contrary they wanted to do something for you. This was something we had never seen anywhere else in the country. In fact those days, the director of FDA would come out with us on weekends and helped us settle down here in the state. We did not have much money so we started from a very small place in Old Goa called the Edmar building and we took a basement which was of about a 1200 square feet area and started our manufacturing from there. We had one car which we used to share within the three of us,” added Natrajan
All three partners were salaried people and they had no business background in the family. However the grit and willingness to do it with moral support from their families they started by investing more into new technologies. They were into ‘Rapid Diagnostics’ and became one of the pioneers in India which used to conduct test on cards for pregnancy and diseases like malaria etc. This was at that point of time one of their biggest selling products as they were among the world’s only three companies that had this technology.
Gradually they formed a company called ‘Tulip’ and as part of ‘Orchid Biomedical Systems’ which was formed because they had the tax advantage injected a totally new technology with new manufacturing requirements and then they had a global monopoly in malaria detection.
Over a period of time, after about 12 years, the malaria diagnosis started becoming very competitive, the prices came down significantly and it was not that attractive anymore. It was working very well for them because after the first seven years they broken even and become a debt-free company.
“In ten years time by the year 2000 we were totally debt free and after that we have never borrowed money. Our growth has been totally self-funded and we went on to employ 1300 people in our 28-year journey. Our revenues went up from somewhere around Rs 13 lakh to Rs 230 crore. From a small plant of 1200 square feet we now had almost about 2,00,000 square feet,” added Natrajan.
The journey does not stop here. In fact it inspired him to do it alone after amicably separating from his partners who also had different dreams to follow. Tulip was finally sold off in 2017 to Perkin Elmer lock stock and barrel and Natrajan formed a company MolBio Diagnostics in partnership with Chandrashakhar Nair of BigTech Laboratories which was later merged into MolBio.
“We have 230 people in MolBio and we had the first version of our technology which we call the ‘Point of Care Molecular Diagnostics Technology’. Now this platform is the only one of its kind in the world because molecular diagnostics was always the domain of big laboratories like Dr Lal’s, Ranbaxy, or Metropolis etc. Our technology is fast and accurate and diagnosis of tuberculosis can be done within couple of hours which used to earlier be done in about a week’s time due to batch testing,” added Natrajan.
Tuberculosis is the largest killer by way of infectious diseases and has even overtaken HIV-AIDS as a killer, and in India they say that every hour, three people die because of tuberculosis.
MolBio Diagnostics has converted this very complicated technology into a portable Point of Care platform where it can be battery operated and it does not require infrastructure like laboratories. About 20 different diseases can be diagnosed but at the moment tuberculosis detection is on a high priority.
“Last year the company had a turnover of Rs 25 crore and this year we are expecting a turnover of Rs 300 crore plus and this will be a huge jump. The Government of India took about two years to study our technology as they want to end tuberculosis. We have deployed 225 machines in Andhra Pradesh and we expect to win a tender at the Government of India level. We are also working on to get certification from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which will open the window in about 150 countries.”