Marathons are not enough

Making SPACE

Marathons are not enough

Kavitha Iyer Rodrigues enters a room called ‘Think Tank’ clutching a laptop. She looks immaculate in a semi-formal dress, as do the interiors of Theramyt Novobiologics, a biologics development company - she co-founded in 2013 - that combines drug designing with platform technologies. As the COO and director of the company, she is due for a meeting shortly and one can tell the entrepreneur’s morning is well into business. With a set R&D team to take care of scientific work in the labs, she is keen “to do future thinking for the company”.

 Kavitha recently featured in Fortune India’s ‘40 under 40’ 2014 list for herentrepreneurial success. This is her second venture; the first was Inbiopro, a bio-pharmaceutical company. But if numbers are to go by, here is a notable addition: At 37, she runs or cycles, often, to cover the 25-km distance between her house in South Bangalore and the office in Yeshwantpur. “That’s how I train distances for marathons,” she says, with hopes to advance to triathlons next year. (Where does this leave marathon as a metaphor?)

Her love for sports and the outdoors has made its way to the workplace, where her team of 30 has “a full-fledged gym to kickstart the day... or to unwind after work.” Besides the zumba classes, yoga, meditation and night treks, the team is now gearing up for a football tournament. “We’ve become a ‘sporty’ company. When the culture of having physical activities is built into work days, it ensures greater productivity, better mental health with quicker reaction time and sharpness,” maintains Kavitha.

 What women bring to the workforce is sheer diversity, she believes . Unlike in the previous venture, which employed experienced professionals, the team here is a blend of academia and experienced industry hands. “Half our employees are women, an excellent space to show what is possible,” she says. The office is located in an industrial area “because the space was affordable with subsidy and necessary approvals from authorities to set up labs.”  In such a case, to assure the safety of female employees is not to ask them to leave early, insists Kavitha. What is needed is a protective space that lets women stay back and work late, when needed. And having this system in place is what makes the lady happy.

With the experience of having returned to work after childbirth, she sees it fit for women to look at flexibility at work places, where they can breastfeed the child. “It’s the first requirement for a woman, apart from its obvious nutritional benefits for the baby,” she notes. For those who are hesitant to return to work, bogged down by the notion of
competing with colleagues who have zoomed ahead or assuming an unchanged work atmosphere, Kavitha assures that these are challenges worth approaching by fine-tuning expectations. “Because women bring in great perspective of work-life balance. That’s worth supporting, and our company encourages women who come back to further their career,” says the entrepreneur, who worked with Biocon after a Masters in Clinical
Microbiology from KMC Manipal, followed by an exposure to pure R&D work at Millipore India (where she met Suhang Chatterjee, the co-founder of Theramyt). She also has an executive MBA from IIM Bangalore.

Among the coast of influence is her mother, who Kavitha credits with bringing about financial discipline in her ventures; her husband, who quit the IT industry and is now into early child development and education; her sister, a doctor - all going after what is close to their hearts. And the books Born To Run by Christopher Mcdougall and Wild by Cheryl Strayed, for being hugely inspirational.

“The biotech space is rather new in India, hence the competition is less. It was easy to establish myself here, but not by means of technicality. There should always be an aim to increase the competence level. Everything we have achieved has been through immense hard work,” she explains. Her company is now poised for second round of funding, to help commercialise its platform technologies to take new molecules to markets outside India.

Kavitha - who asserts that hard work, transparency, prudence, along with sound guidance, are needed to progress - is not dismissive of the luck factor.
“In biotech space, we were positioned at the right time. Had we been five years late or early, we would not have got the funds. Also, one has to be lucky to survive the streets while running or cycling, right?”

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