The first fully women-owned biotech company in the state, Aeka Biochemicals, is turning three next month. As its founder, the high-points of my fledgling entrepreneurial journey include the successful establishment of my startup, and the satisfaction of having launched 18 products in the market.
The spinal judders come from the view ahead, of hills to climb and the battles to fight. On a personal level, the past three years have been a revelation. I could never have imagined the amount of grit, work, sweat, blood, pain and tears that were involved in trying to build something of your own. The flip side – the joy of giving life to a dream, the thrill at achieving your first sale, the pride and thankfulness when a customer praises your product – has definitely been worth it.
Kerala, the new breeding ground of unskilled startup founders
I’ve made friends with new people, experienced new things, done things I always wanted to attempt, and some that I had never even thought of trying. I have been able to interact with industry leaders, learn from seasoned experts, and be a part of events that help both enterprise and entrepreneur realize their goals.
As I look back over the past three years, I realize that I am most definitely not the same person I was when I started this company in 2014. My deepest, staunchest, most abiding longing had always been for a way to never have to "grow up". I’m not saying that’s necessarily a sane thing to wish for, but it would have been very gratifying to stay blithely, blissfully unaware and uncaring of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. My startup has made me a grown-up. Or the closest to one I can be.
A major perk of being a rare, local breed of entrepreneur (young, woman, biotech, green) is the many opportunities that one gets to interact with a large number of lovely people, young and old. Many young students and graduates that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in recent times have enquired about how exactly one goes about becoming an entrepreneur. I usually offer very basic advice such as “find your passion”, “be prepared for a lot of hard work", "do your background research" and "be focused".
I also insert gems such as "keep your eye on your finances" that have been bestowed upon me by my most excellent mentors and well-wishers. I cannot stress enough how often these pieces of seemingly obvious and mundane advice have stood me in good stead.
I have also had the good fortune of having been “pitched” at. Now, this is not necessarily a comfortable experience. Especially if one has no clue about the industry of the project that is being pitched to them, such as artificial intelligence, nano-materials or e-commerce platforms. Having been the eager pitcher on many occasions, I do, however, appreciate the zeal and fire of these would-be entrepreneurs.
All mentors everywhere trying to guide young entrepreneurs and enthusiasts are wonderful and vital. We need you.
It's my experience that the entrepreneurial, tech and business communities are largely supportive and encouraging of rookies, so to be a true member of said communities, it is vital to learn how to pass on what you know, in concise terms that the would-be entrepreneur shall remember with clarity after making a profoundly bad decision. That is the circle of life.
For those looking for information to help them take the plunge into entrepreneurship, I would like to conclude with my take on what is important to keep in mind when setting off on your startup journey:
» Entrepreneurship is like having a child - the sheer joy, the absolute frustration, the unpredictability, the highs and lows. Also similar are the hours, the exhaustion, and the mandatory increase in breadth and scope of associated skills that years of experience bring with them. Simply put: a startup is a serious commitment.
» You don’t need to have a path-breaking idea to start an enterprise. Good research, solid information, a decent understanding of your skill sets and how it matches the industry of your choice are all invaluable. In other words, know what you plan to do, and make sure you know how to do the key parts of it, or how to get it done.
» You need to be ready to do as much work – of whatever nature – as may be required to keep your startup alive and growing. So it would help to choose a field that is either something you are very, very passionate about, or that has good returns on investment. So, follow your passion, or follow the money – whichever will push you through the tough times.
» Good advice is as precious as gold and diamonds. Mentors and guides are essential to startup success, and can make the difference between up or down.
» Keep it simple, at least in the beginning - startup ideas, teams and directions evolve and change rapidly. Clarity and simplicity can help you keep your focus when everything is in flux.
» No two entrepreneurs or enterprises are alike, because the way each of us approaches ideas, problems and goals differs. Learn from others, but try not to compare yourself to them. Every startup is unique, and yours could be the next huge success.
» Most importantly, take the support of those who care. Entrepreneurship can often be a lonely journey, and a good support system helps you recharge, regain your balance, and refresh yourself for the next challenge.
(The author is the founder and managing director of Aeka Biochemicals. Views expressed are personal).