Healthcare industry should be seen as India’s next IT sector: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

The founder and chairperson of Biocon spoke to ET Now and CNBC-TV18 upon becoming the second woman in the world to win the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year award.
Healthcare industry should be seen as India’s next IT sector: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Healthcare industry should be seen as India’s next IT sector: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
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Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder and chairperson of Biocon, was awarded the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year last week, becoming the second woman in the world and the third Indian so far to win the award.

Chosen from among 46 award winners from 41 countries who were vying for the title, Kiran follows former Indian winners Narayana Murthy of Infosys Technologies Limited (2005) and Uday Kotak of Kotak Mahindra Bank (2014) in being honoured with the title. Before her, Olivia Lum of Hyflux Limited from Singapore had become the first woman to win the award in 2011. 

Speaking to ET Now’s Chandra Srikanth, Kiran shared that she celebrated the win with her 89-year-old mother at 1.30 am. “She runs her own business and insists on going to work,” she said about her mother.

Kiran, 67, founded Biocon, a bio-enzymes company, in 1978 with just two employees and US$500. Since its inception, Biocon has grown to employ more than 11,000 people and become one of the strongest innovation-driven biotechnology companies in Asia with revenues of US$800m for FY19.

Kiran also spoke to  CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan about women entrepreneurs and whether things have changed since she set up her own company in the 1970s, about the healthcare sector in India amid COVID-19 and the recent calls to move away from Chinese goods.

“I have always considered myself an accidental entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur and perhaps an eternal entrepreneur. This award meant a lot to me,” she said, speaking to CNBC-TV18. 

She, however, said that men still continue to be the first choice when it comes to investment.

“To be very honest, women still are under-invested. I always say that the money is in the hands of men, and men seem to invest and feel more confident to invest in male entrepreneurs. That is unfair because I really think there are really some wonderful entrepreneurs who find it so difficult, just like I did over 40 years ago, to attract investment. I think unless that changes, you’re not going to see more women as entrepreneurs or leading businesses,” she said. She added that though things need to change, she sees many more women these days who are willing to enter the portals of business and more women entering innovative spaces rather than traditional businesses.

Kiran also pointed out that the innovative sector in India needs a boost and more help from the government itself. She stated that there is now a need to invest in science, both in industry and academic research, especially with COVID-19 showing that India has been at the forefront of innovation in challenging times.

“Be it developing kits, ventilators, PPEs and other kinds of medical supplies, somehow India has repurposed itself and risen to the challenge. We did it. There is a lot of innovation potential in the Indian industry and this is the time to recognise the importance of science, research and innovation, and invest in it,” the entrepreneur added.

Kiran also said that the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector in India should become the next IT sector. If it receives a similar boost, our country can have the world’s largest and most impenetrable healthcare sector in the world.

“We’ve got a lot of the key ingredients already. For instance, India is the largest vaccine producer in the world when it comes to volume. We’re also one of the largest producers of generic drugs. We also want to propel ourselves into being one of the largest biosimilar producers in the world. We must also understand that the healthcare sector is a huge employer – from grassroots to very, very professional specialist skills. You start from Asha workers and anganwadi workers, to the researchers, the PhDs, the medical specialists and biomedical engineers. Secondly, you’re talking about the pharmaceutical industry and you’re talking about the hospital industry as well. So you can see how you can stagger the whole sector. And if you give the same sauce that you give to the IT sector and make it the world beating software industry that we are today, I’m sure we can actually be the world’s largest and most impenetrable healthcare sector in the world,” Kiran said.

Speaking about the controversy about private hospitals being accused of ‘fleecing’ patients in the times of a pandemic, Kiran said that the idea of price caps in India is unsustainable.

“I think price caps are absolutely unsustainable, because we’ve done that in the past and we’ve driven away antibiotic production from India. That’s a classic example of what price caps did. When we say ‘the private sector is asking for Rs 5,000 a day for treating COVID-19 patients’, everyone says, ‘Wow, look at the private sector, how greedy they are.’ They don’t realize how expensive it is to treat a COVID-19 patient. Now, when I look at government costs, they don’t have to take many of the costs. In fact, that was our complaint even about China, that, you know, China never used to take many costs into factor because they used to say, ‘okay, we get free power, so we don’t take our cost, we get free this and free that. So that does not factor in our costing.’ But that’s the way the government is going about their costing as well. And I think it needs to be done very transparently and very rationally. Otherwise, it’s not sustainable and you’re really creating an unnecessary controversy where there is none,” she said.

Kiran also spoke about the government’s ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ campaign and the current controversy to move away from Chinese-made applications. She, however, stated that India cannot ‘switch off’ its trade relations with China, but instead should focus on honing its own strengths as well.

“Yes, there is an axis of China which is pivoting away from them and it seems to be pivoting in favour of India. But that doesn’t mean that India should just basically cut itself out from China. I think we should be in a position to partner and collaborate with anyone and everyone as it suits us. That’s the balance we need to keep. At the same time, we must try and make ourselves very competitive because especially when we have the skills and the capabilities, that’s an area we should really focus on. And in the area of APIs, I think India has a lot of skills and strengths. So what lost us the leadership position to China is something which we can regain because of this geopolitical contentious war that is taking place between the US and China. But at this time, I don’t think we should just switch off everything with China, because China is still a very, very important trading partner for us. And I think we need to strike the balance that we want that suits us best,” she added.

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