Dr Krishna M Ella, founder & chairman of Bharat Biotech
As a scientist-turned entrepreneur, my journey has taken a long time, with many struggles along the way. For an entrepreneur every step is a milestone. He must possess a keen eye to identify problems of the society and solve them. I was born into a middle class agricultural family in a village near Thiruthani, Tamil Nadu. I studied agriculture, against my father's wish and began my career with Bayer's agricultural division due to economic pressure.
The Rotary Foundation's Freedom from Hunger Scholarship bolstered my ambitions and allowed me to pursue my MS from the University of Hawaii, US, and subsequently get a PhD, in molecular biology from Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin- Madison. It is at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that I learnt to think, analyse and carefully interpret science. My thought processes and appreciation for science were transformed while listening to lectures by Nobel laureates and National Science Academy winners at the University.
I always believed in taking the unconventional approach and to further research after my PhD, and teaching, I joined the Medical University of South Carolina-Charleston.
It was here that I first began to think that I need to pursue the path of entrepreneurship if I were to do something for the society. It was a tough decision, especially to leave a flourishing professional career. But, two women in my life, my mother and my wife Suchitra, backed my decision to return to India in 1996 to start my entrepreneurial journey. After the touching down in India, my first challenge came from policy makers and regulatory authorities who were neither familiar with the word ‘biotech' nor convinced on its outcomes. Given my background as a first generation entrepreneur from a farming background, raising funds for my project was a huge struggle at the beginning stage of my entrepreneurial journey was to.
At that very time, another biotech company had submitted a Rs 65-crore (Rs 650 million) proposal and mine was for Rs12.5 crore (Rs 125 million). My proposal did not find favor as it was all together a new environment for them and, as a subject with no benchmark in the country, they also felt that I didn't know what I was doing. I did not let this setback deter me from my goal- I knew exactly what I was doing and overcame this problem with funds and committed support from my family and fellow scientists from the US, who were convinced with my vision for Bharat Biotech.
Money never motivated me to become an entrepreneur. It was the hunger to develop a novel approach to make an indigenous vaccine for India, one that was not only world class but also affordable. I wanted to use what I learnt during my interactions with professors and Nobel Laureates to realize this vision, and with a team that shared the same passion and substantial understanding to make science work.