Acton Biotech (India) Private Limited is a laboratory dedicated to medical genetics. They have created the first and only laboratory dedicated to offering pharmacogenomic tests to cancer and cardio patients in India. Currently they offer tests to identify patients who will benefit from gefitinib, capecitabine, tamoxifen, oxaliplatin, clopidogrel, warfarin and asprin. Acton Biotech works with leading oncologists and cardiologists across India to make sure that cure is effective, faster and cheaper. They collect samples from all over India and analyse them in their laboratory. Gradually the services will extend to drugs used in other diseases like Asthma, Diabetes, TB, AIDS, and CNS disorders. Founder/CEO Sandeep Saxena elaborates on his entrepreneurial journey.
Genesis of starting out
Sandeep is die-hard entrepreneur, who despite initial failures, has continued with his entrepreneurial spirit to form Acton Biotech in 2006. I tried starting a business in 1999 and that failed. Then I worked in industry for 3 years and joined a start-up in 2002. That closed down in 2005. I had learned lots of things that should not be done, but did not know the things that need to be done. So I joined a course on Technology Entrepreneurship at NirmaLabs Ahmedabad. Joined hands with Sunil Kumar, my classmate at NirmaLabs and wrote a business plan that was selected for incubation and seed funding at NirmaLabs. We developed the product, marketed it; even got first customers and repeat customers. Then raised angel funds and moved to Pune to setup our own laboratory, recounts Sandeep.
Challenges faced in start-up phase
Like most of the start-ups in India, Sandeep’s immediate challenge was manpower. At a start-up phase, the biggest challenges are of hiring good people. Not many people like to work with start-ups. The other challenge is to down grade your luxuries. In my last job I was entitled to travel by air. In my start-up most often we had to travel by train in unreserved compartment! You have very little cash at hand and it takes a long lone time to see revenue and profits. Till then you need to live like a very poor man. In these years, I have got into a habit of living like a poor and the desire for high end lifestyle is over. I prefer to drive a small car, live in a small house, and love inspiring students and other people who are suffocating themselves in high paying jobs, explains Sandeep.
Business Model of your Idea
Acton Biotech offers genetics tests to predict drug response. According to Sandeep, We all know that all drugs do not work in case of everyone. Sometimes a drug will give us no relief and at other times it will actually cause some other side effect like rashes and loose motions. This difference in drug response is because of our genes. The good news is that today we can predict how a person will respond to a drug, before he has been subjected to the drug. Right now it might not be cost effective for simple conditions like body pain and fever but for severe disease like cancer, stroke, AIDS, TB, diabetes and neurological disorders we are saving thousands of lives in a year.
Keeping abreast with the competition
Competition is good for any kind of market and any kind of product or service. Sandeep shares his insight about competition as experienced from being a start-up and a small player right now. Competition is always from larger companies who are not able to focus on a niche area and are not able to invest time in listening to a customer. As a start-up we lend all the ears and focus on our customers. Fighting competition is never a problem for a start-up. In our case we are missing competition. When there are more players, you create a market place. When you have a monopoly, the market does not grow at a healthy pace, he explains.
Sandeep and his team at Acton Biotech have a couple of very simple principles. Never over charge a customer because you do not have a large volume. Revenue – Cost = Profit and that has to be greater than Zero. He says, Find a gap in the market but more importantly figure out is there a big market in that gap? You can only make money when you have large volume and can never make money if you have few customers paying a premium.
The first big success
Every step taken forward is a success for any fledgling start-up. And if it is getting revenue, it is a success worth millions. Getting the product out in the market and getting a paid customer in the first six month was a big success. Getting invited as a speaker for Indian Science Congress was another big success. But biggest success was when I received the “Entrepreneur of the year award” at a five star hotel in Mumbai with my parents, wife and kids in audience, says proud Sandeep.
Sandeep has crystal clear goals as the CEO of Acton Biotech. Keep growing this company till we reach 100 Cr in revenue and can do an IPO. There is a lot to be done. Training, alliances, new products, new projects, new markets, team building and all that. There are opportunities everywhere. Being focused is getting difficult. But taking your eye off your main market even to blink can be costly, he envisions.
Sandeep Saxena is a B.Sc. Life Sciences and an MBA with 10 years of experience in Genetics Research, Bioinformatics, Sales and Marketing.
Mridula is a freelance writer. She writes on Entrepreneurship and has worked for a start-up in the past. To know more check out her profile at LinkedIn/Mridula Velagapudi