Determination thy Name: A Scientist's Experiment with Startup Life

When you do an interview of an entrepreneur, you expect heart-stirring drama. The life story of Dr. Shrilakshmi Desiraju, the Co- founder and CEO of Triphase Pharmaceuticals, did not disappoint. Triphase is a pro-biotic research and development company, heralding the vision of “Prevention versus Cure”. From being an established Scientist in Canada, her life took a dramatic turn when she moved to India. Coming from a science and academic background, she had to pick up the ropes of business really fast. Just how fast, HerMoneyTalks decided to find out.


Shrilakshmi started her journey as a service provider and later teamed with the Pharma CRO business in India, in November 2009. She always wanted to establish her dream venture, and to succeed both in terms of name and money. An advice from her mentor Dr Gautam Das, ex–COO of Syngene, inspired her to express her entrepreneurial skills through Triphase.


Her company was awarded with a Global patent [US and Europe awarded, Canadian and Indian – awaited] on Thermostability of Probiotics. With a few products now in food industry, her business is gearing up towards the pharma industry.


The right ingredients: Determination and confidence


“I will never forget that one moment in life. This was when one of my clients decided to exclude me from their second project, stating that the shipping charges are very high. They talked to me as if I am a vendor and that gave me a huge heartbreak,” recalls Shrilakshmi of her challenging days.


In response, she shifted from services to products and formed Triphase Pharmaceuticals. Cash flow was the biggest inhibitor of early growth. In India, the 30-day credit period changes to 120-days. This resulted in lesser profits or no profit for quite a long time.


I will never forget that one moment in life. This was when one of my clients decided to exclude me from their second project.


The investment on R&D to create products was a huge risk that she undertook in her career. “If you enjoy the work you do by throwing yourself to the winds, you will surely witness a positive outcome in the end.” The confidence in Shrilakshmi's smile is unmistakable.


Brewing the right startup formula with the right risks


When an interview of an entrepreneur heats up, you know you are talking about funding challenges. Women in business usually shy away from debt and then venture funding, be it in India or Silicon Valley.


Surprisingly, Shrilakshmi, on the other hand, embraced it during her initial career. She opted for debt funding as she always wanted to put discipline and accountability into her business. This ethos came from her salaried academic middle class family upbringing.


“The pressure of the monthly EMI outgo inculcated in me a financial discipline along with passion for my business. This gave me an opportunity to learn various business models from others and motivated me to implement them in my industry. Apart from the debt funding, I even had my own funds sunk into the operations. I certainly had my skin in the game.”


“Accessing funding from banks is a meticulous task for all entrepreneurs. Initially, I had to convince the bankers to give me the debt under CGTMMSE Scheme [2011] without any collateral. I persisted with the banks for 6 months to get this scheme."


Academicians and Scientist usually take time get into sales side of the story. But sales numbers rule for all startup founders. So Shrilakshmi requested her investors to become JV partners for the manufacturing and sales. This drove her to new research areas.


Formulating success with financial discipline and planning


Shrilakshmi’s philosophy of life and finances is straightforward. “Simple plan and bold execution is the best money management strategy that I have practiced in my life,” confides Shrilakshmi. She opines that risk is an entrepreneur’s all-time companion in life. To ensure clarity and stability in life, she keeps her personal finances totally separate from business finances.


Shrilakshmi adds that in every woman lies a risk taker, who marries and comes to a new life, a flexible human who adjusts herself to unused situations, a financier who plans the expenses for a steady growth of her family and a leader who is unwilling to quit when life gives challenges.


“Absence of big dreams and efficient planning puts you on a shaky ground. Only when you understand your balance sheets and make financial decisions do the wheels turn smoothly,” declares Shrilakshmi.


Shrilakshmi's money hacks for women:


(1) Money saved is Money earned - look for all the MSME schemes offered by the Government


(2) Never ever do anything for free - it devalues your contribution and undervalues your efforts


(3) Financial discipline is a must - de-risk your investments


(4) Keep your personal and business finances separate. The bread on the table cannot be from the business. The butter can be.


With a patented technology to its credit, Shrilakshmi Desiraju’s Triphase is currently making significant strides in the pharma and nutraceuticals domains.


That was an interview of an entrepreneur who definitely did not disappoint! HerMoneyTalks wishes Shrilakshmi the very best in her entrepreneurial endeavors.