Goa’s Global Biotech Bet

Tulip Diagnostics (P) Ltd., headed by Deepak G. Tripathi, is one of the largest manufacturers of in-vitro diagnostic reagents and kits in India. The company has its footprints globally with exports to about 80 countries

Tulip Diagnostics (P) Ltd., headquartered at Goa, India has emerged as one of the largest manufacturers of in-vitro diagnostic reagents and kits in India. From its humble beginnings in the year 1990, the company has grown to be one of the largest employers in the State of Goa and has its footprints not only pan India but also globally with exports to about 80 countries. Editor-in-Chief of Business Goa, HARSHVARDHAN BHATKULY, sat down with the President of Tulip Diagnostics (P) Ltd., Deepak G. Tripathi to understand and chart out his entrepreneurial journey.

Tripathi lives in Goa since the last thirty years and has a family side of business that is managed by his wife Namita and sons, Chiraag and Ujjwal. The company is into services, food and retailing businesses and has created multiple Goan brands such as WhiteCloud laundry, Tinto Supermarket, Nanbai Bakery and Sweet Nation, Palm Air Hotel, to name a few.

How would you describe your childhood, schooling and early life at work?

I was born in Kanpur. My father was working with Reserve Bank of India and the job was transferable. This took us to Chennai, Nagpur and Mumbai. Most of my schooling was done in these cities. Fortunately, the last posting in Mumbai lasted over two decades so I could finish my higher studies in Mumbai. I graduated in Chemistry with post-graduation in Management from Bombay University.

Sports were an important part of my childhood with basketball being an important preoccupation, where I represented my school at the State level tournaments. Sadly, after entering Junior college and relocating to Mumbai, sports had to be kept aside with focus only on scholastics.

After finishing my PG in management, I was picked up by Hoechst India Ltd, a German Pharma Company where my corporate journey began. The company had a robust management training programme, covering all aspects and functions of the company’s functioning and provided a fabulous learning ground and insight into the company’s business organisation. I left Hoechst India Ltd and the pharmaceutical finished formulation business.

Subsequently, I joined Ranbaxy India Ltd as an Export Sales Manager, based at Delhi and was responsible for the East African markets, selling bulk drugs to various formulation companies. The Ranbaxy exposure was great as it introduced me to an entrepreneurship driven fast paced corporate culture.

Later, I relocated to Mumbai and joined Johnson & Johnson in their diagnostics division. This was my first brush with in-vitro diagnostics and here I gained tremendous insights into IVD / laboratory sciences business. J&J was a great company to work for. For those who were hungry to perform, it provided a wonderful platform to serve, lead and grow. I tremendously enjoyed the opportunity that the company provided.

After about two and a half years at J&J, I started to feel a little restless and was yearning for freedom to do something on my own. India, at that time, required many diagnostic products and offerings that were not exactly the priority of a global multinational. The disease patterns and problems of emerging market like India did not exactly score high on a multinational international vision. This was the time when the excitement and urge to do something concrete was taking shape in my mind and it was clear that it could only be done, independently. I was around 27 years old then.

How did the initiation into business and entrepreneurship happen?

Coincidentally, Dr. V.K. Naik who was at that time heading the QA & R&D at J&J and N. Sriram whom I had earlier met during my tenure with Hoechst India Ltd shared the same sentiment. We used to meet often at Mumbai to crystallise our thoughts and after much deliberation, we decided to form our first IVD company namely Tulip Diagnostics (P) Ltd., at Mumbai. We were first generation entrepreneurs who came from service class backgrounds. However, the pull and magnetic appeal of making it happen on our own was extremely exciting and strong and we took the plunge to start on this uncharted journey. The great thing was that we were like minded and had a reasonably clear goal as to what we wished to do. It is said that entrepreneurs are those, who jump from a cliff and are hopeful to grow wings on the way, for a soft landing.

In 1990, it was decided to shift our base to Goa which could afford us comfortable life and lots of time to devote to our business, unhindered by distances, time loss in traffic and hustle and bustle of metro life. In 1990 we put up a small 200 sq.mtrs laboratory at Old Goa.

What were the initial challenges faced? How did you overcome these hurdles as an entrepreneur?

Considering our modest background and being first generation entrepreneurs, ‘capital’ was a major challenge. Availability of capital for capex, team, building, salaries and expenses etc. – the list is endless. The banks were extremely conservative in lending and ‘wary’ if I may say so. We overcame this to some extent by manufacturing and import substituting some materials and would sell the same to other IVD companies. This helped us to raise money and also invest in our own sales team and manufacturing capabilities and R&D. From 1990 to 1998 we struggled a lot to keep our head above water. The funding shortfalls were met through unsecured advances from distributors at exorbitant interest rates or temporary overdrafts from banks. Post 1998, the fruits of our research started yielding a steady stream of new products. The company started to grow in revenues and bottom line and we could then focus on growth and strategic issues and were relieved somewhat of the constant financial pressures.

Tell us about your partnership.How did you cement your business in Goa?

The great thing about our partnership was that we brought to the table a diversity of expertise and experience that was complementary. This created a technocratic board that was seized with the nitty-gritties of the diagnostic business, end to end. The interdependence created a strong bond and a unique work culture amongst the partners who could trust each other for their designated deliverances and insights. The high trust environment amongst the partners was responsible for taking on the next phase of growth and challenges.

Till 2001, the company was present mainly in the blood banking sector, immunology, coagulation and rapid testing.

By 2005, the company had diversified into clinical biochemistry, microbiology and disinfectants. During this phase, four new manufacturing plants were built and sales team and distribution expanded. The company’s malaria products were being exported to global buyers for their healthcare programmes and the domestic and international sales growth was robust.

By 2006, the company was debt free and most expansions thereon were self-funded. Today we have grown to be one of the largest IVD companies in India with eleven manufacturing plants that are GMP compliant, about 2000 team members nationally and distributors of our products in over 80 countries, globally including advanced economies. The company today manufactures over 500 products and SKUs. About 30,000 customers are in our monthly contact programmes that are fed through a distribution chain of 800 strong distributors.

What were the highlights of the growth stage of your business?

True to the initial idea, the company’s products and technologies continue to be home grown. This affords the company a significant control over the product quality, performance and consistency end to end. This also affords us the capability to design our products from scratch so as to meet customer requirements.  This also allows us to be cost competitive as well as to conserve our margins in a better manner. We have had a stable sales force that is bound by the belief in our value systems and continues to deliver great performance year after year.  We have now started to add boots on the ground in South East Asia and Africa to grow our service levels and customer support in international markets. It could be said that we have been able to anticipate trends and tried to be ready with answers about the time they are required in terms of appropriate products. An integrated and consultative approach between R&D, manufacturing, sales and marketing has been the highlight of our business process and strategy, which is customer centric.

How did the company make a huge impact in the International market?

In our vision for Tulip, we were bent upon making our brands popular in the international market, apart from dominating the domestic one. In the international market, the competition was essentially from well entrenched European and US based companies that dominated this sector. In the early 1990s, at the start of our export journey, Indian biotech products were not exactly associated with high quality or performance, and Indian origin products were viewed in a dim light. Earlier experiences with few Indian companies by users internationally was not an extremely happy experience. Not only did the products suffer in terms of deliverance of quality but also lack of service and technical support.  It must be remembered that it was a pre-internet, email and mobile scenario! We promised to change this perception by building our products and promotion by tailoring the performance, packaging and service and technical support to achieve equivalence to international offerings. I was personally engaged in international travel to meet buyers and distributors on a one on one basis in their home markets, holding seminars and one to one meetings with the users and decision makers, both in the private laboratories, hospitals and relevant ministries. I must admit that it was a backbreaking travel yet exciting to build a network of committed users and distributor relationships across South East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, Europe, Russia, Middle East, Africa and CIS countries. I have personally travelled around over ninety countries and have built a strong user and trade relationship in each country. These relations have served the test of time. This has also helped the company to emerge as a strong, reliable manufacturer and supplier of biotech based laboratory science products internationally. All these elements put together made an impact for Tulip in the international markets.

Today about 30% of our revenues come from exports. Tulip has been the No. 1 exporter of IVD products out of India continuously for over three decades.

What is the product portfolio of Tulip today?

The company today covers almost all areas of laboratory science such as Immuno-hematology, Biochemistry, Immunology, Immunoturbidimetry, Immunochemistry, Hematology, Clinical biochemistry, Microbiology, Disinfection, Bacteriology etc and products built on these essential platforms including biomedical instrumentation.

What are your ideas of marketing for your brand?

Our brands are essentially sold to laboratories and hospitals and are the tools based on which patient results are derived. They become the basis for objective and informed diagnosis of disease and disorders based on which therapeutic or surgical decisions are taken. ‘Reliability’ is the cornerstone based on which ‘good products’ are perceived by the users. Reliability encompasses accuracy, precision and consistency. It is our endeavour to build these attributes in our products so that the products are perceived in this light by the users. This is definitely not a day’s work but a very hard and disciplined journey, undertaken every day to reach the goal of a preferred brand.  Tulip pursues this goal relentlessly by upgrading and improving continuously our products and processes to stay ahead of the competition.

What has been the innovative streak of your company?

The biotech dependent IVD products are research intensive and have a relatively short life cycle. Before a better and more efficient technology is introduced and competes with your existing offering, there is a constant struggle to invent and innovate across products in terms of improvement in performance and reliability. It is an ongoing and continuous endeavour across our offerings. This is at the heart of what we do and why we succeed by inventing, innovating and commercialising continuously.

How do you look at the growth of your company in the next 5 years? What plans are on the board that you are at liberty to share with our readers?

In 2017, the company was acquired by PERKINELMER INC, a large listed global IVD and analytical science company based in USA. Since the acquisition, the company has doubled in size and added four more manufacturing plants in Goa and Mumbai and expanded its operations in Rudrapur  (Uttarakhand), too.  In the last two years, we have added a new portfolio of ELISA and CHEMIE based immunoassays including antigen and antibody tests for covid-19. Two more plants are being constructed in Goa to fulfill the increased demand and accommodate backward integration into biomaterials like antigens and antibodies that are used to manufacture our products. The outlook for the next five years look strong and we expect to continue to grow at a fast pace organically and wherever required inorganically.

What business advice has been of help in your journey?

‘Engage in customer centric work’ is perhaps the best advice ever received during the journey.

What attributes, in your opinion, should an entrepreneur possess?

An entrepreneur must be a ‘lifetime student’ engaging and absorbing a myriad of concepts and information in this ever-changing world. He or she must walk the talk and as they say, ‘Do what you say and say what you do’. They should be able to demonstrate trust worthy behaviors with both internal and external stakeholders in order to be able to assemble a high performance team around them. Entrepreneurship puts high pressure and time demands on the leadership. An understanding and supportive family is a prerequisite to sail through the work pressure and the time deficit that affects the availability of family time. Lastly, a high level of self-discipline is required to engage with important priorities and disengage with distractions.

What is the secret for making a business financially strong and viable?

Usually in the initial stages of the companies that are underfinanced, the struggle keeps the entrepreneurs grounded and intense. As the financial success starts, the first instinct is to utilise the overflows for personal gratification. This often leads to expansion programme of the company to be underfunded and compromised. Diminishing of commitment of the founders toward the business is another problem. The secret is to keep the company priorities well above personal ones. Only this can ensure that the company continues to be adequately funded and adequate time spent on its affairs. At the end of the day ‘More for less’ is the mantra for any business e.g. more income at lesser costs. When this mantra of ‘more for less’ applied to each and every aspect of the business functions, viability and financial strength of the business can be ensured. A viable business can only be created when all stakeholders within and outside the company are able to fulfill their aspirations and expectations associating with the company. Any leadership is duty bound to deliver this.

This is a snapshot of my entrepreneurial journey and I would like to take this opportunity through your medium to thank my family, partners, associates and team members, for making this journey possible and enjoyable

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