Script India's phase I
focused success story
Business is in my blood. So
much so that it has become my hobby,” quips Apurva Shah,
founder and group managing director, Veeda Clinical Research. Sitting
at his plush sea-facing abode in Mumbai, he divulged, “I like
to see how things come into play, how to create a team and its
business. I love to create businesses-good
businesses.” A telecon with London-based co-founder and
brother-in-law, Binoy Gardi revealed the same. “Challenging
and constantly questioning yourself, as well as other people, will get
the best answers which will help in bringing out new ideas and develop
the organization,” Gardi declares, talking about his
day-to-day business modus operandi.
From having just two people, namely Gardi and Shah on the deck to an
employee strength of over 500 people, and a stupendous growth rate of
70 percent in three years, Veeda Clinical Research is heading
towards a Rs 325 crore turnover in the coming three years.
Veeda's story is an encouraging tale of translating dreams
Establishing a global presence across Europe, India, the US and South
East Asia, through a succession of acquisitions, its success story
would not have been possible without the steel grit, determination and
passion of this entrepreneurial duo, thus etching a mark in the
industry and putting India on the map of global CRO
The Winning Duo
Born into a family of well-known businessmen in Gujarat,
entrepreneurship is in their genes. “True. Shah and Gardi
were focused on setting up a business right from day one. But it is not
just business but coming up with an innovative business product which
was their mission,” reveals an industry
Both the co-founders are known to exude an insatiable thirst to churn
out ideas in order to be a cut-above-the-rest. They have the analytical
skills to weigh the apprehensions and challenge ferociously
the predicaments coming in their way. Above all, before envisaging for
any business endeavor, both believe in mentally preparing themselves to
zero in on what they cannot do and then move to things that they can
do. This is but a formula to keep the company focused on their game
plan which is to concentrate only on phase I operations for the parent
company, and late phase clinical development for their recently
established subsidiary, Veeda Oncology. “This is the DNA of
Veeda and before acquiring any company we tell them what we are not. If
you cannot do something which is a value addition, there is no point
stepping into it,” reveals Shah.
Their partnership works on the very same principles as a successful
marriage. “Yes, our partnership is like a marriage which
requires 100 percent trust and complete
openness to each other for any decisions taken. The key is
openness,” adds Gardi.
Yet, they are two different individuals. While Gardi is well-known for
his 'out-of-the-box' thoughts, pitching in mammoth
ideas, Shah is more of a hands-on-person. Being based out of London and
managing operations out of UK, Belgium, France and Germany, Gardi is
also known for his knack to operate remotely, fix telecons and regular
update meetings even at 6 am (London time) with teams spread
across the world. Whereas Shah prefers to have face-to-face
interactions and meetings. “Though I would like to learn from
Binoy how to work remotely. However, globally, I'm selling
India which requires constant networking. At the end of the day, Binoy
and I, recognize each other's intentions,”confesses
It was sheer power of an article which gave rise to the conception of
the company. The story goes that Shah read an article on the Indian
clinical research industry which was slated to be the next sunrise
industry after IT. At that time, Gardi and Shah were working
together for the family trust hospital. In addition to this, Shah had a
packaging business which was “not so exciting”.
“I realized that I needed to do something better in life and
that is how the idea came up. Both Binoy and I started working on the
business plan but we needed to attract the right kind of people. We
then realized that working in central India will not do,”
Initially, Veeda was managed as part of the family trust but
they soon realized that it had to be run as a different entity
altogether. Recalls Gardi, “In the beginning, we just had an
idea and a vision. We didn't even have a building nor any
land to start the venture. The key to success was also to attract the
right kind of people and retain them.”
From day one, the strategy was to work on an international
platform instead of being India-centric and specialize only
in phase I early clinical development. “We looked at our
competitors and observed that they were trying to do everything. We
wanted to be different from the very beginning,” adds Gardi.
India around that time became TRIPS compliant which ushered in the age
of product patents. This opened up large avenues for clinical
research space, quality scientists and research coming out of India.
When Veeda came into existence in 2005, teams of five and six were sent
to the UK unit for training purposes.
The advantage was that both understood western as well as the Indian
psyche with Gardi being brought up in London and Shah having studied in
the US for two years. Thus a culmination of all these points
– to be different, going niche, to compete on the
international scale, having the knack to adapt to different cultural
backgrounds and focusing on the right team went ahead
in creating the winning strategy for the team.
Odyssey so far
Since 2005, it has been a journey of quick acquisitions of phase I CRO
units across the globe. Today, Veeda has made four CRO acquisitions in
Europe, has set up pharmacology units in India and the UK (Plymouth)
and a biometrics team in Brussels, Belgium. In January 2007, it
completed the acquisition of DICE, a Brussels-based CRO unit,
subsequently, it forged a deal with Shanghai-based Novamed in May 2007.
In the same month, it completed its acquisition of the phase I units at
Gorlitz, Germany thus adding to its
existing European units in UK and Belgium. In the same year, it also
announced plans for four more acquisitions within four months with an
additional investment of Rs 100 crore for expansion of its
facilities and acquisitions.
Despite being termed as an acquisitive company, it was not a cakewalk
for the team. “It is difficult to look out for an acquisition
because more than the financial aspect it is looking for the right kind
of people. This is a people's business and surprisingly most
of our acquisitions happened from our relationship building exercise
with clients across the globe,” adds Gardi.
With success in the European market, the only market left to complete
the jigsaw puzzle was the US. The company at the moment is
scouting for potential phase I units to buyout and the process has been
going on for the past 18 months. It was almost on the verge of
acquiring a unit but the plan was kept on hold due to unrealistic
valuations. “US is a difficult market when it comes to
looking out for CROs because we are on the look out for phase I units
which specialize in NCEs,” adds Gardi.
With the US plans kept on hold, the company then put on its thinking
caps for its next level to growth and this gave birth to its subsidiary
Veeda Oncology which looks into late phase trials for oncology. This
subsidiary today has operations across India, West Europe, Eastern
Europe and the US. Why just oncology and not a basket of therapeutic
segments? Clarifies Shah, “Today, if I have a team of 60
people competing with a larger CRO having 200 people, I will
still be a stronger team because I have all the 60 people working on
oncology while out of 200, they have just 20 people in
Veeda has recently spread its wings to South East Asia with a
collaboration with the Malaysian ministry of health for setting up of
phase I and early clinical development unit at
Kuala Lumpur. Apart from this, it has various laurels to its credit.
Veeda was awarded the Supplementary Accreditation for conducting
clinical pharmacology phase I trials in Europe by the Medicines and
Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), was awarded $10.2 million
of new clinical research programs in December
2008 from five new clients and made the acquisition of the US based
International Oncology Network (ION) Clinical Research last year. The
acquisition of ION Clinical Research provided Veeda with
immediate access to the 50 ION sites that conduct oncology clinical
research in the US.
What the team
Both are excellent human beings and not just leaders. Both are
professional and open to ideas. They give us the freedom to put in our
ideas which does not happen in many companies in India. While Apurva is
more of a financial person, Binoy is more on the business development
side. Both have the eye and vision to foresee exactly the
kind of business they would like to enter.
Kiran Marthak, member, Board of Directors of Veeda Clinical Research
Binoy and Apurva like to look at things differently. They have the
caliber and will to translate a vision into reality. They have created
a company wherein people are allowed to think differently and
creatively. Binoy is a more systems driven person and has the
courage to move forward, whereas Apurva is extremely considerate
and humble person which has contributed to Veeda's
growth. He has good people management skills.
Prasad, VP, business development, Veeda Clinical Research
Veeda has a unique and focused strategy, which is cut above the rest.
They have a major focus on oncology which is an upcoming niche segment.
It is a far thinking CRO. In a few years time, it will emerge
as one of the top CROs in India.
Manoj Victor, Frost & Sullivan Healthcare
2005: Veeda Clinical Research comes into existence.
2007: Completes the acquisition of DICE, a CRO based in
2007: Forges relationship with Novamed, China.
2007: Completes the take-over of a phase I clinical
research unit in Gorlitz, Germany.
2007: Frost & Sullivan presents Veeda Clinical
Research with the Partner of Choice Award 2007 for phase I studies.
2007: Passes 3 international audits in less than 90 days.
2008: Installs India's first ever clinical
Pharmacology Unit for renal impaired patients.
2008: Launches New Global Oncology CRO Subsidiary.
2009: Announces the Opening of a New Unit in SE Asia.
2009: Veeda UK awarded the MHRA Phase I Supplementary
Veeda's success story can be attributed to Shah and
Gardi's people management skills. Gardi and Shah believe that
it is a professionally run business rather than a family run enterprise
and communicate so to the employees.
They are self confessed family oriented men; they see to it that their
hectic work schedules doesn't affect their normal family
routine. They agree that there can be no perfect balance between work
and family. The duo also sees to it that they provide the same
flexibility to their workers.
There is no full stop for these two entrepreneurs. They have set
ambitious but realistic targets for Veeda in the coming
years-to touch a revenue of over Rs 300 crore and to be among
the top three Indian CROs in another three years. The core team has a
business plan which might include an acquisition of a unit(s) in the
US. But the game plan remains the same-to be focused and a
cut above the rest.
This apart, philanthropy is one area where the duo likes to dedicate a
considerable amount of time.
Nayantara Som in Mumbai