Arvind Gupta – IndieBio Founder: World’s Leading Biotech Accelerator
Voice of Biotecnika – Episode 32
Welcome back, guys! Hope you are thoroughly enjoying the podcast sessions. Here we are with another inspiring episode of Voice of Biotecnika.
Today’s Podcast is very special. Biotecnika team got a golden opportunity to interact with Arvind Gupta – an iconic & dynamic entrepreneur who is the founder of the Leading Biotech Accelerator – IndieBio. IndieBio is a unique venture that makes us see the other side of science which is an amalgamation of scientific & design thinking with a pinch of business prospects.
“Rule One: Don’t die,” he declares. “Rule Two: Get the terms you want. But if that doesn’t work, refer to Rule One.” – These words of Arvind acts as a driving force for the Bio-startups to present their scientific creativity to the world. So if you have an idea and you are courageous enough to believe in executing it do think about IndieBio to develop this idea of yours into a successful product.
Biotecnika’s CEO & Managing Director Mr. Shekhar Suman was in one on one conversation with IndieBio Founder – Mr. Arvind Gupta, wherein they talk about IndieBio, its history and how it can helpthe budding scientists & researchers who want to be researcherpreneur’s.
The transcript of the entire conversation in between Arvind Gupta, IndieBio & Mr. Shekhar Suman, Biotecnika can be read below:
Shekhar Suman: Hello and welcome to the brand new episode of the Voice of Biotecnika. I’m your host Shekhar Suman, CEO at Biotecnika, and today I bring to you a very,
very, very special guest. If you remember a few months ago in the 10th episode of our podcast in December 2018, my colleague Kajol Patel covered IndieBio, the world’s largest seed fund. In that episode, we talked about an outstanding personality, who smells opportunity out of research and turns it around into a company. Yes, you guessed it right, today I’m sitting with Mr. Arvind Gupta, the serial investor, entrepreneur and founder of at IndieBio.
Shekhar Suman: So welcome Mr. Gupta to the Voice of Biotecnika, I hope I’m audible.
Arvind Gupta: Great to be here Shekhar. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you and your audience.
Shekhar Suman: Thank you, Mr. Gupta. Let me take this opportunity to thank you for sparing out time for this episode. All right, so let us begin today’s show by asking you, how and when it all happened. When did you come up with the idea of IndieBio and how it all started?
Arvind Gupta: Yeah. It’s kind of a long story, as long as my life actually. I studied genetic
engineering in undergrad school at UC Santa Barbara. I was interested in my early time of using genetic engineering to modify the genome of E.Coli that are in our guts to be able to digest cellulose, so we can eat plants and solve world hunger.
Arvind Gupta: Now what I think it was, it took a long time and it was very difficult to do so, we didn’t discover the science that would make that possible yet, and so it was an
undertaking that was a little too large at the time.
Arvind Gupta: I also then went and did economics, and eventually became an industrial
designer. As a designer, I’m taking real hard problems and using creativity and a set of constraints to solve them. As a designer, I’ve designed many of the things that people use everyday like the Samsung Galaxy Curve, Western Digital My Book hard drives, things like that but over time, I found that it wasn’t quite as meaningful as some of the work that was possible, becoming possible with biology.
Arvind Gupta: I saw that biology was getting cheaper and faster and more people could do it, but investors hadn’t caught up to the idea yet that any scientist can become an entrepreneur and build a world-changing company. That left a gap in the market
holes for early seed stage investing in biotech.
Arvind Gupta: I found Sean O’Sullivan who started SOSV and ran vertical accelerators and we were talking about me joining the firm and I told him I liked to build a biotech accelerator to take advantage of that and fund all of those entrepreneurs and scientists or they want to be entrepreneurs but no one else was looking at and use biology and technology to solve massive global problems beyond the typical pharmaceuticals that were being done at the time, and so John agreed with that and IndieBio was born.
Shekhar Suman: That’s great. What I could understand from the website and the news around that, you’re looking for the world’s best scientists who are working on to affect a
billion people to join the program. What according to you is the biggest challenge humanity faces today from the life science perspective and in which you would be interested to invest in?
Arvind Gupta: It’s a good question, I think the biggest problem facing society, I mean humanity today, I mean probably the very biggest is climate change. Climate change affects every single person on the planet and it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, where or what race you are, anything like that. It’s a collective problem, and it needs a biological solution in the end. Why climate change is a problem area is because fundamentally, we need to be able to do more with less, and almost everything we touch is biological food service. The food we eat is biological, and so if we’re reinventing how we make food, we can fight climate change using fewer resources. We also can provide more food for more people in a way that also doesn’t ruin the planet. I call that area of our investing thesis planetary help.
Arvind Gupta: In healthcare, the other side as well we say doing people again, cancer, heart disease. Real problems, rheumatoid arthritis, these are afflictions that affect billions of people around the world and also are even longer and get higher standards of living. We resolve for many of these really tragic issues that affect everyone. Everyone has a family member that is afflicted by a disease that they wish they could have helped, but couldn’t do anything about it, and it’s a very disempowering place to be for people and it’s something that I am intensely interested in solving for.
Shekhar Suman: All right, so Mr. Gupta, if we look at climate change or for that matter healthcare, there are some very pressing issues like cancer, like the pollution, the global warming. How do you think a scientist can turn around things here? What would be the biggest focus as a scientist, one should have to work on this?
Arvind Gupta: Yeah, so it’s a good question. All you have to do as a scientist is look at what you study and see how it affects the carbon cycle or how it could affect carbon energy. For instance, you’re a stem cell engineer, you can look at stem cells as a way of growing antibodies, which is normally done or you can turn and say hey I think we can grow meat, animal, cow meat but without the cow. All you’re doing is changing the problem from the traditional area of pharmaceuticals and healthcare into other large scale problems that are affecting global supply chains.
Arvind Gupta: They’re just using creativity in the problem that you’re solving. You will actually be able to take your skillset and translate it into something that can really change the world and the effect you make on little people. In fact, we’re starting to see more and more out of scientists, the ability to think that way.
Shekhar Suman: How does your four-month program at IndieBio help scientists solve these problems which affect a billion people? How do you go about training them?
Arvind Gupta: Yeah, what we do is we help them. There are amazing scientists that come in and they’re able to push on the technological side. What we do is we help them understand how to translate that technological achievement into a way of explaining it to the public, but also explaining it to customers and building a business.
Arvind Gupta: The number one thing is, for any of these solutions to work, they have to be adopted widely, and that means you have to create value. One thing I like to see is we translate scientific incitement to human value and we help the companies figure out how to do that on their own, so that way, we set them up to be able to go off and build world-changing companies.
Shekhar Suman: Right, so at what point in time do you feel that a scientist is ready to accelerate his research and how do you predict that idea’s about a billion dollars an
investible for you?
Arvind Gupta: Good questions. I mean the science, I want to fund engineering. I don’t want to fund science. The science is ready when the science is understood. For instance, if you’re saying to yourself, well if I discover this principal, then I’ll be able to build this company. That’s not what I would say. You need to have made that discovery, and then you could be saying, wow I discovered that I can create an electrical current with bacteria. Now the question is, how do we turn that into a multi-billion dollar battery company?
Shekhar Suman: Right. Okay, so Mr. Gupta, if I understand properly, IndieBio is trying to accelerate and make a researching investible for the investors. Why exactly a scientist should choose IndieBio, over other incubators? What’s the advantage they get if they are coming into IndieBio and running themselves?
Arvind Gupta: If you’re in IndieBio, it’s really our network, it’s really funding right and it’s really the best of the IndieBio community. I think that’s the things that keep paying off for the funders over the entire course of their career and get to know our top of the world, and because of the shared experiences, they’re friends for life.
Arvind Gupta: That’s really the number one thing about IndieBio, I think, for me, I think it’s important that scientists just got out and follow their dream, whether it’s at IndieBio or any other accelerator incubator is less important than finding amazing scientists working on world-changing companies for the better. I hope that there are more and more accelerators and more and more money that gets poured into this industry, as we need these solutions.
Shekhar Suman: At IndieBio, let’s call these wannabe entrepreneurs who are right now a scientist or researcher, as researcherpreneur, so how do you prepare these researcherpreneur to raise the seed round? What exactly goes into preparing them for the big game of business, because they have never been exposed to that foray, right? What exactly goes right inside IndieBio if we look at it as an outsider?
Arvind Gupta: What goes right at IndieBio?
Shekhar Suman: What exactly happens at IndieBio, how do you prepare them?
Arvind Gupta: Yeah, so basically, many people call it a boot camp, but it’s very, very intense four and a half months of time in which fifteen companies sit next to each other, use a laboratory…the actual engineering of the thought, of the science they brought and make contact with customers and know the business side so that they can raise $3 million to $5 million doing demos.
Arvind Gupta: That’s the ultimate goal, and we do that through panel discussions every week, we do board meetings every two weeks. We have a very intense way of getting scientists prepared to truly be scientific entrepreneurs. We don’t want scientists to stop being scientists, but we want them to grasp the entrepreneur side of it.
Shekhar Suman: Mr. Gupta, how about some success stories? Would you like to share today how many scientists IndieBio has guided so far who turned into successful entrepreneurs? Could you let us know about some?
Arvind Gupta: Sure, very good question. We’ve started about 105 companies in the past four years. Out of those companies, we’ve invested $26 million and those companies have raised over $200 million total. They’re collectively almost $1 billion, and we’re looking at about, four hundred scientists that have made the strategy now to entrepreneur, that went through the program and mind you, these companies that will go on to hire dozens of people in many cases, so we’ve created well over 500 jobs. It’s been a pretty interesting and a pretty amazing ride.
Shekhar Suman: Great. Who’s your favorite among all these companies?
Arvind Gupta: I don’t really have any favorites but some of the companies I’m cheering for, obviously Memphis Meats, starting cell-based meats. As a big risk, we took that, that really paid off.
Arvind Gupta: For instance, we have a company called Tinctorium that’s making Indigo Dye, but completely clean by brewing it in bacteria. Right now, it’s an incredibly dirty and toxic process done in many countries including Indian countries, where workers are basically mistreated.
Arvind Gupta: We have another company called New Culture, that’s making cheese without the cow, though how do you choose an area that is huge, there are no good alternatives for people who are vegetarian or non-animal so we’re figuring out how to do that. Yeah, we have a computational biology company that’s making drugs about not the target that you see today, but by mathematically evolving the organism, whether it’s a cancer cell or a bacteria, targeting evolutionary defenses that that organism will gain from your initial drug.
Arvind Gupta: It’s the one-two punch therapy versus just the one punch, so these are the next level of thinking that we’re starting to see in IndieBio well in sight.
Shekhar Suman: Okay, so I’m sure a lot of effort goes in building these companies and a lot of motivation so from where do you get all this motivation? Who is your role model in regards to design and thinking abilities? How exactly, what really motivates you as an entrepreneur, who is your role model?
Arvind Gupta: Four years ago, five years ago, I would have said my wife. Today I say, my children, my two little girls. They’re two and four and I know that they’re going to inherit, they and all the other children in the world, everyone on the planet are going to inherit this world, that we’re going to give them. The path we’re on is we’re going to give them a broken shell of a planet and without radical change and innovation, that’s horrifying. We all as parents work really hard to try to give the best possible future for our children.
Arvind Gupta: I think if we don’t think about it from a broader view, what good is a great education and all of those things if they don’t have clean air that they can even breathe or they don’t have a fish left in the ocean. It’s important to think about that side as well. I literally do my work for my wife and my kids.
Shekhar Suman: Right, so Mr. Gupta, I come from India where every startup feels there is a lack of funding, and after the Theranos debacle, I’m sure many investors in the US of A as well are very careful onboarding any biotech company. What according to you are the major obstacles which are restricting life sciences to create and establish itself as a sustainable multi-million dollar industry, like we have the Googles and Ubers in the IT industry? What exactly is stopping us from creating a multi-million dollar company in this segment according to you?
Arvind Gupta: There’s nothing stopping them. I mean, capital constraints are good. It forces creativity. I think it’s really important to think about capital constraints to be a focus function. In other words, if you only have a couple hundred thousand dollars, you’re going to design your experiments really well to ensure that at the end of the $200,000, your product works or the idea or the concept is proven. If you have $200 million, you’re going to work really hard to try and experiment if you’re worth $200 million. That’s a very, very distracting thing for funders, so I think it’s a great thing to have less money in the beginning and it forces real great decision making and what you do is, you ladder your decision building one at a time rather than try to do everything at once, and that’s how you win.
Shekhar Suman: Well, very well said, Mr. Gupta. While you onboarding these companies, what are the red flags you should look for before you invest?
Arvind Gupta: Wow. One is founders that don’t match what they say. If you have a founder showing data and they don’t, and they’re saying look at this CRISPR data and they can’t answer a fundamental question that they would have to know in order to generate that data, that’s a problem. You generally are working for people who are doing this for the right reasons, i.e. they’re extremely genuine about why they wanted to do this startup, not just because they want to make money or trying to do a startup. That’s the last thing. If we see that type of a founder, we walk away.
Shekhar Suman: Right. If today, if you have to invest now, you see life science industries is a huge industry. It consists of a lot of subfields like genomics, diagnostics, Bio-IT, computational biology and many more, so what area would you be very much interested in investing out of all these subunits of life sciences?
Arvind Gupta: We would invest in all of them. I think it’s really important that planetary health and human health are both equally important. If we don’t have a planet, being really healthy isn’t going to help you, and having a great planet but being really sick doesn’t help either, so it’s really about solving for both. I think the most important thing I’ll like to invest in is – creativity, one who has inherent insight into a scientific principle and then uses creativity to find a perfect product that creates value with it.
Shekhar Suman: Right, so Mr. Gupta, why not go global with your idea and invest in some companies in the developing world, for example, BioTecNika or various such organizations in the developing countries? Why not go global with your ideas?
Arvind Gupta: We’d like to one day….It’s about people in the end, and so we have to find good people. You can’t just, venture capital, doing this is highly personal. It requires a specific skill set, one for both operator and investor. It’s really, really hard, it’s just really hard to do so, therefore, it’s slow.
Shekhar Suman: Right. Before starting this podcast also while I was talking to you, I told you that the reason why we profiled IndieBio and you, in particular, is because we really feel that if there is a biotech icon, that’s you, an icon in the world who has been really working forward to promote biosciences, that’s you. What our icon has learned so far in his journey?
Arvind Gupta: Well, first of all, that’s very sweet of you to say. What have I learned in my journey in IndieBio? I’ve learned that you will be surprised at the resilience, the creativity and the drive of people given the chance. That’s really important. Again, it’s easier to think that something is impossible or no one will believe me, or that’s going to be hard but when you give people a chance, they generally rise to the occasion that you’ve given them, and that to me is very powerful, again drives what I do.
Shekhar Suman: Right. That’s really insightful Mr. Arvind Gupta. I was listening to one of your TED Talks and you quoted creativity as the currency of purpose. I was myself really, exhilarated to listen to that quote and I noted it down somewhere. I really want to know how a scientist should use his knowledge, which is research knowledge, not business knowledge and how can he use his scientific creativity to give rise to a purposeful sustainable business idea because after all, it’s going to be all about science. If you’re talking about scientists who have creativity, how would they translate it into a currency of purpose according to you?
Shekhar Suman: How does the creativity of the scientists translate into a purposeful, sustainable business?
Arvind Gupta: Yeah, so the way that works is very, very simply the insight that they have, in terms of the science is not worth very much. Creativity is what is used in order to apply it to a change they’re going to create in the world, and that changes their purpose…everyone thinks that it’s money that makes everything happen. Money doesn’t make the world go round, creativity does.
Arvind Gupta: Yeah, money just greases the wheels. It’s important, again, the purpose when coupled with creativity becomes unstoppable.
Shekhar Suman: That was really insightful, Mr. Gupta. Now you see in this current scenario, we’re also seeing a lot of companies like Udemy or Unacademy or various such companies which are coming up, and they are into technical education, but in software but not in life sciences, how do you foresee the life sciences technical education as an industry?
Arvind Gupta: Well what we’re going through teaching right now, which is wonderful. I think it’s becoming more multidisciplinary than ever where computational biology is coming in. There are many, many physicists who are coming in, programmers, so you’re looking at … and you’re seeing that biology’s doing well, becoming truly what it is, which is the best of all these different forces.
Arvind Gupta: For life sciences, we’re starting to get that with genomic data, with the proteome, with that transcriptome, like with all of this data, we’re going to start to undercover the fundamental laws of biology. We don’t have laws of biology yet, because we have never been able to get the data to find them. I believe that there are laws of biology that we don’t know yet and that they will be discovered in the next 20 years.
Shekhar Suman: Well that’s really insightful Mr. Arvind Gupta. Now if I look at the number of companies which IndieBio has now surely invested upon, I’m sure to select these companies, you must have rejected many ideas in the past right? Which idea do you think you regret not funding that idea which you think you should have onboard for IndieBio?
Arvind Gupta: I don’t know. I can’t remember any companies that I wish I had funded but didn’t at IndieBio. We don’t think that way. What we do is we look for the massive problems to solve and then form new companies to solve them, that are solving them, that’s really what we do. Like I said, my job is to take a risk. We at IndieBio, we take a lot of risks so we never say no to a company because it’s too risky. We say no to companies because there’s a founder issue. That’s one issue that we think, that stops it. I never wish I could have invested in a company. There’s always a reason why we didn’t and we wouldn’t change our minds, in any case.
Shekhar Suman: If you look at a scientist and when he’s transforming into an entrepreneur, what do you think he should keep in mind while turning from a scientist to entrepreneur?
Arvind Gupta: There are no answers in a book, and that you should be going out and talking to customers, in order to find out the answers to questions, not trying to research them on Google.
Shekhar Suman: Correct. If you’re not researching Google, instead talk to the real customers and understand the issues. That’s really something I should’ve known as a CEO myself. As we come to an end of our podcast, are there any shortcuts to get selected into IndieBio?
Arvind Gupta: There are no short cuts, but there are ways of making it easier, which have a great founding team. We don’t invest in single founders and we don’t invest in embracing a founder with another person that’s not helping them very much, so find a founding team.
Arvind Gupta: Demonstrate that you, your technical insights can be laid into a prototype, and most importantly be working on something that you’re passionate about that could affect a billion people or a $1 billion on value.
Shekhar Suman: Right. While we conclude this podcast, any message you want to give to young researchers of the world?
Arvind Gupta: Keep going, keep pushing on and the world, there’s a huge universe of options out there for making an impact. You could join startups, you could be a startup founder, you could go to academia, but be sure that you’re doing what you want to do in life, is the most important thing and there’s always a way, you just believe in yourself and you’ll be fine. I think a lot of people it’s hard, it’s hard as a scientist to start to believe in yourself when the entire system is built around a ladder up through the principal investigator. Don’t succumb to it, just believe in yourself.
Shekhar Suman: With this, I’m going to end our podcast with Mr. Arvind Gupta from IndieBio. Thanks a lot for your insightful talk this evening, and I’m sure our audiences have learned a lot from you today. Mr. Gupta, I personally believe that opportunities come only to those who are ready for it and I’m really grateful to you and IndieBio that you gave us this opportunity to interact with you, and thanks a lot for coming up for your time today.
Arvind Gupta: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. It was really fun, great questions.
Shekhar Suman: Yes, so I just read out the last line so that we can conclude in just a minute. People, that was Mr. Arvind Gupta, who heads IndieBio, world’s largest biotech seed fund, and if you a researcher idea which you think can solve problems of a billion people, do not wait, head straight to indiebio.co, and thank you, Mr. Gupta, once again. This is Shekhar Suman, CEO and Managing Director at BioTecNika, signing off. See you next week with a brand new broadcast of the Voice of BioTecNika. Thank you.