Dr. Shrilakshmi Desiraju a pioneer in Probiotics Space is the Co-founder and CEO of Triphase Pharmaceuticals. After relocating from Canada to India, Dr. Desiraju started her journey of innovation with Triphase in the field of Probiotics in 2009. Triphase has successfully raised funds (up to 1 Crore) from debt financing under CGTMSE scheme, funds from angel investors and also secured series A venture funding by a fortune 500 pharma company to develop robust Research and Development in the field of Probiotics.
Triphase was awarded a US, Canadian and European PATENT for the technology by which Probiotics bacteria could withstand temperatures of up to 240 degrees. This is the first time in the world that a disruptive platform innovation has been successfully completed. In one single stroke the company had eliminated any need for cold storage which meant a huge cost saving in the probiotic industry. A state of art research and development wing for probiotic research at Mysore has been established since 2009.
Dr. Desiraju was the speaker for ‘Innerview – Only the Paranoid Survive’, our weekly live 45-minute motivational and inspirational talk show which features interviews of industry experts who bring forth informative and life experiences and techniques to help shape and gear you up, to succeed. Dr. Desiraju is an MBA in Technology Commercialisation from University of Alberta; PhD in Medicinal Chemistry from Vikram University and a postdoctoral from the Indian Institute of Science. The first big challenge that Triphase solved was in eliminating the cold chain from the Probiotics industry.
Investors look out for clarity is what I have understood and believe me I understood it after pitching it to 180 people. So, you have to make sure that you keep it as simple as possible.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
How did you solve this challenge of eliminating coal chains from the probiotic industry?
The probiotics are nothing but good bacteria. We realised that probiotics or these bacteria have to be kept at two to eight degrees that is the refrigeration temperature. That refrigeration temperature is the only way that we can actually take these probiotics in our body where it is known to increase immunity. So, the first research topic that we understood was that can we make this probiotics temperature stable. We did this by simple fermentation process but it is a proprietary intellectual property issue as well as these are simple fermentation media that we play around with to make these probiotics which are the natural gut bacteria which we make high temperature stable. So, our probiotics which otherwise would have been left at two to eight degrees are now stable up till 240 degrees centigrade and that changed the whole game in the area of probiotics because now you can put probiotics in confectionery and bake your breads or make cookies out of it and this otherwise was not possible.
When we talk about this patent, Triphase, your company was awarded a US, Canadian and European patent for this technology. So, can you please tell us more about it?
We found out the problem that we wanted to solve. The solution to it, we saw that there is a competitive advantage because there were not many companies who were doing it. It is not just that there was only one technology which was at par but that technology also could not take the probiotics to 70 degrees or not more than that. This was another thing that allowed us to stay competitively way ahead in the game. Once that happened the next thing was to do IP protection. As the gestation period in biotech or life sciences is longer, there is a need to protect your intellectual property so that you have some time limit that you can actually monetise it. The first thing we did was to find a provincial IP both in India as well as in the US. The US patent attorney lawyers told us to put it on a fast track and in a year’s time or in a year and a half, the US patent came through. The beauty of the US patent is that they not only patented our process in the technology that we developed but they also allowed us to patent the microbes which is unheard of because microbes are something which are natural. You do not get patents on microbes but since this thermal variant of these microbes were developed through a technology and the name of the technology, we call it strain boost technology, and a US patent was given to us. European patents took some longer time but actually we got it by defending our patent in a much stronger way. Canadian patent came out after that and the Indian patent must be on its way. So yes, patenting was the strategy for Triphase right from the beginning.
Pitching your research and solution to investors is challenging. What was your experience?
Absolutely pitching your research and solution to investors is challenging. Please follow this path. Whenever there is a project, I make these five slides for myself. If you do this then you will be able to tell the investor in 30 seconds – this is the market pain, this is the solution, this is the market I am going after and I can do it because of the credentials. So, this is how you channelise it.
Investors look out for clarity is what I have understood and believe me I understood it after pitching it to 180 people. So, you have to make sure that you keep it as simple as possible. Another thing which helped me to pitch into the investor was I was very upfront, saying I can do this and I cannot do this. I had told my investors very clearly that I am good at doing research. I do not know how to handle manufacturing or labourers or I even do not know how to handle sales. So, we ended up making a model which actually benefited both of us.
Look out for investors who you want them to be investing in you not just because they have money but because every business is different. Some businesses in the IT sector require a different strategy of investors. The businesses like ours which have a long gestation require a different strategy so you need to understand what your business requires.
This is the best time in India to start up your company.
When should one consider patenting this and what are the challenges one can expect in the process?
You should start putting the initial patent application as soon as you are able to go ahead with your idea. When you put in the first application at least you know you have 18 months to prove whether it is happening or not happening so you should take that step very early. It requires only twenty thousand rupees or thirty thousand rupees initially to put this actually on paper and file it so that your idea is safe. Well, challenges are immense. You have to defend your patent so you need to know exactly what you want to do in that patent and keep your area of work only in that direction. This is the best time in India to start up your company. I have benefited from the MSME website. So whatever patenting I did, all the patent money has been reimbursed to me from the government. Under the MSME scheme they have this provision that if you are patenting and if the patent is granted, for Indian patent they give you upto 2 lakhs and for an international patent you get up to 10 lakhs.
When asked to summarise her journey from Mysore to Canada in one line, she flawlessly uttered ‘Be flexible and look out for opportunities.’ Being an inspiration for many womenpreneurs across the length and breadth of the country, Dr. Desiraju highlighted the present time to be best for them. Only that the opportunity has to be made use of by understanding and getting oneself involved. In her words, “We really need to see some unicorns coming out. We have seen a few and we really need to see some real good women unicorns coming out. I am hoping that very soon we will be seeing that.”