Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)
Shilpy Kochhar, Senior Manager for Entrepreneurship Development at the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), specialises in managing grants and the key requirements of a growing business ecosystem. She runs several programmes focused on BIRAC’s entrepreneurial spirit, such as Ignition Grant, the Regional Centres and student entrepreneurship programmes.
What is the status of the biotechnology industry in India?
In India we see this industry as the industry of a new dawn, a vibrant sector with many startups and entrepreneurs. We’ve seen a big increase in the number of startups over the past decade.
At the moment, there are probably more than 2,500 biotechnology startups in India, and it seems this will be a 100-billion-dollar economy by 2025. So this is a promising sector for the country’s economy.
Some 60% of these startups deal with medical and diagnostics devices, followed by biotechnology. Then there’s biopharma, drug research and the agricultural sector.
Therefore, the term “biotechnology” encompasses a wide range of technologies such as healthcare, agriculture, industry, wastewater management and so on.
How could Spain and India work together on international cooperation?
At BIRAC we already have agreements with several international stakeholders. We have co-funding agreements with institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Welcome Trust and USAID, to name a few, and we are interested in collaborating with Spain on the international expansion of our startups.
BIRAC has a group of startups that are already mature and have technologies ready to go to market. We see Spain as a potential market to develop those technologies, and we are also interested in startup exchanges and in learning Spain’s best practices. At the same time, we would like Spanish innovators to visit India and become part of our incubation ecosystem.
During the past few days we have seen that technology transfer is a challenge as well as an opportunity. The biotechnology industry could be more market-oriented…
Not at all: the challenges of technology transfer are the same in the biotechnology sector, and we have been working on this. The main challenge is to forge links between the industry and academia, and BIRAC is making great efforts to facilitate those links.
Right now, the industry and the academic sector are starting to look to each other. We provide a number of platforms for them to interact and make technology transfer a reality.
The lack of technology transfer offices is one of the reasons for a lack of such links. The Government of India is making great efforts to promote technology transfer offices at universities, and we aim to open 150 of those by 2020.
We have started to see positive signs, and at BIRAC we have several projects that have enabled startups to obtain technological licences from institutions to take these technologies to the next level and get them validated and commercialised.
What part of the programme did you find most interesting?
On the whole, the Indian Leaders Programme is very well designed; it has provided us with a comprehensive overview of the Spanish innovation ecosystem, and we have met with the main players in the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The best part or me personally was meeting with the authorities and, more specifically, the Councils, and learning about how they foster entrepreneurship.
To compare this situation with India, we also have the support of central and regional governments, but in Spain we can see that the Councils are also proactively involved and play an important role in encouraging entrepreneurship and supporting entrepreneurs.
We would like to implement some of the policies that are already at work in Spain, which we consider to be best practices and highly beneficial to promoting entrepreneurship.
I believe that the Spanish administrations are playing a very active role, and we have seen that. There are many services such as incubators and advisory services that are made available free of charge for six months or even a year. This is a great help for startups to go beyond the initial stage. It is something that could be applied in India: we already have several mechanisms in place, but we would like to take a step forward and continue to make progress.