SupportBiz had an exclusive conversation with Asif Naqvi, founder and CEO of BioDiscovery – Solutions for Future. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What is your background?
I am a graduate from Amity University, Lucknow. Before starting BioDiscovery, I was studying B. Tech in biotechnology.
How did you come up with the idea of starting BioDiscovery?
I had a very strong research profile. I have attended several international conferences, where I met experienced professionals and scientists. I got the opportunity to work as a PhD fellow in Rostock, Germany, under the alumni of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I decided to give up the offer, as I wanted to do something for India. I knew that there are several colleges in India that offer courses in biotechnology, but more than 90% of their students have a very weak research profile, which would be a huge drawback in their careers. So, I decided to help them by starting BioDiscovery. This has given me the opportunity to lead and show the right path to many passionate students of biotechnology and bioinformatics.
How did BioDiscovery come into operation?
In November 2009, BioDiscovery - Solutions for Future was started as a Google group to help students/young researchers in the field of biotechnology/bioinformatics in India, by bringing them to a common platform where new ideas can be discussed and shared. The idea was to fill in the information gap between the providers and receivers by giving members daily job updates, latest science news, job articles, etc. Looking at the success of the platform, we started similar groups on other social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to reach as many young researchers and students from around the world as possible.
BioDiscovery - Solutions for Future started formally in March 2010, and started its first research project training program.
What is your business model?
We do contract research for the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry, as well as for researchers and scientists. Apart from contract research, we also provide training and research projects. The main aim of our program is to strengthen the profile of young researchers by giving them an opportunity to work on a novel research project. Quality training is given in the newest technologies in drug discovery, as well as practical application of the training in the form of research projects. On successful completion of the project, it is published at an international level, making their profile stronger and opening several doors of opportunities.
Recently, we have also started organizing workshops on drug designing, genomics, molecular modelling, etc.
We have taken research to next level by doing it online. Candidates from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Australia, Greece and Iraq have worked/are working on our research projects.
We are also conducting workshops in other countries. We are in the process of organising such events in Egypt, Bangkok, Italy, France, Malaysia, Mauritius, Iraq and Iran.
What is your revenue model?
We earn revenue from contract research, training, research projects and workshops.
What was the initial investment that was needed to start BioDiscovery? How did you arrange for the same?
The initial investment need was only for the office infrastructure, which was met with from my personal funds. BioDiscovery was started as a group from a laptop computer in a room.
What are the major challenges that you face?
Looking at our achievements and quality services, we have been invited to reputed platforms like IIT, AIIMS and VIT to organize workshops. Very few private institutes/organizations have entered such reputed institutions before, to organize such programmes. We have been faced with the problem of cheap tactics adopted by some institutes/organisations from the same field to tarnish the image of BioDiscovery. These organisations have been creating fake Facebook and Gmail IDs and sending out messages to defame us. We have been able to clear all such issues, and make our workshops a huge success.
What is the scope of the bioinformatics industry in India?
The scope of the bioinformatics industry in India is bright if we focus on research and development of new tools. Computer-aided drug designing can be very impactful. The two aspects of bioinformatics which are growing rapidly are database curation and literature search.
What are the sector-specific challenges?
The biggest challenge is that people who enter this field don’t know exactly what it is. Many candidates enter this field either because they could not clear pre-medicals or because they have learnt that this is a very new field with loads of opportunities. Due to inexperienced faculties, in terms of research and job market, the students end up with a weak research profile, and do not get good job placements once they get their degrees.
Moreover, most of the companies in the bioinformatics field are into marketing of tools and applications, and very few firms are into the development of new tools. Bioinformatics has the potential to make a large impact when a company attempts computer-aided drug discovery. Much of the pharmaceutical industry in India is focused on experimenting with variations of existing, validated drugs.
What are your expansion plans?
We plan is to open offices in the major cities of India, so as to reach out to as many people as we can, help, guide and show them the right path in this field.
Apart from this, we have plans for launching full-fledged research labs, where pre-clinical research will be carried out.