At a time when women education was not given much importance in the Indian society, a woman, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, emanated as an impactful entrepreneur. She founded a company called Biocon at a time when it was not very ubiquitous to find a women entrepreneur.
Kiran-Shaw was born to parents (originally from Uttar Pradesh) in Kolkata, India. She went to school at Bangalore’s Bishop Cotton Girl’s High School, graduating in 1968. She then attended Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, a women’s college offering pre-university courses as an affiliate of Bangalore University. She studied biology and zoology, graduating from Bangalore University with a B.Sc. in Zoology in 1973. Mazumdar hoped to go to medical school but did not obtain a scholarship.
Her father, Rajendra Mazumdar, was the head brew master at United Breweries. He suggested Kiran to study fermentation science, and train to be a brew master- a very non-traditional field for a woman. Mazumdar went to Federation University in Australia to study Malting and Brewing. In 1974, she was the only woman enrolled in the brewing course and was at the top of her class. She earned the degree of Master Brewer in 1975.
She worked as a trainee brewer in Carlton and United Breweries, Melbourne and as a trainee maltster at Barrett Brothers and Burston, Australia. She also worked for a brief period of time as a technical consultant at Jupiter Breweries Limited, Calcutta and as a technical manager at Standard Maltings Corporation, Baroda between 1975 and 1977. However, when she investigated the possibility of further work in Bangalore or Delhi, she was told that she would not be hired as a master brewer in India because “it’s a man’s work.” She began to look abroad for work opportunities and was offered a position in Scotland.
Before Kiran could move, she met Leslie Auchincloss, founder of Biocon Biochemicals Limited, of Cork, Ireland. Auchincloss’s company produced enzymes used in brewing, food-packaging and textile industries. Auchincloss was looking for an Indian entrepreneur to help establish an Indian subsidiary. Mazumdar agreed to undertake the job on the condition that if she did not wish to continue after six months she would be guaranteed a brew master’s position comparable to the ones she was giving up.
After working as a trainee manager at Biocon Biochemicals Limited, of Cork, Ireland, she decided to come back to India in order to gain some experience in the business. She started Biocon India in 1978 in the garage of her rented house in Bangalore. She commenced the start-up with a mere investment of Rs. 10,000. Because of the issues pertaining joint-venture laws in India, 30% of the ownership belonged to the foreign corporation and the rest 70% belonged to Kiran. Initially, it was really arduous for Kiran to find investors because of her youth, gender and untested business model. But, incidentally, she came across a banker in a social gathering who gave her first financial backing. Then, she found it difficult to recruit people and her first employee was a retired garage mechanic. The company’s initial projects were the extraction of papain and isinglass. Within a year, Biocon was able to manufacture and export enzymes to UK and USA, being the first Indian company to do so. At the end of the first year, Kiran bought a new property to expand her business.
Kiran managed to transform Biocon from an enzyme manufacturing firm into a fully-balanced bio-pharmaceutical company. Biocon had a good variety of products along with useful researches on diabetes, oncology, and autoimmune diseases. The company managed to carve a niche for itself and soon ICICI invested in Biocon which was its first huge investment. In 1989, Biocon became the first Indian biotech company to receive US funding for proprietary technologies. Biocon further did useful research in biotechnology and healthcare. The company’s revenue went up from Rs. 70 crore in 1998, to Rs. 500 crore in 2004 when it went public.
Since then, Kiran Shaw has not looked back and has taken her business to the heights of success.
“I managed to do things with a lot of common sense, a lot of determination, and a lot of foolish courage”- Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
Today, Biocon’s net worth is US $655 million (as of October 2013). Biocon has invested in certain health-related projects like Arogya Raksha Yojana and Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center. In 2010, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw was named among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. She is on the 2011 Financial Times’ top 50 women in business list. In 2014, she was listed as the 92nd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.
Biocon has paved its way among other Indian biotech giants and over the years, it has rewarded the world with astounding products and research. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw kept encouraging herself and propelled forward with utmost zeal. When she started her business, no one really showed confidence at her except for her own self. Her unfading spirit and her optics induced her to never-back-down. Her story tells us how to make both ends meet despite the obstacles. She left no stone unturned to achieve her goals. She managed to sustain in the market which was male-dominated and fickle-minded in respect of women working as entrepreneurs.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is definitely a success story that every endeavoring entrepreneur, especially female, should look up to as an inspiration.