Tell us about your organization and it’s role in the advanced bioeconomy.
We manage ~$315 Million of venture capital, building new businesses in the Advanced Bioeconomy sector. Our investee companies are technology driven, addressing unmet and underserved opportunities across the entire value chain – from feed stock to specialty/fine chemicals. We are entrepreneurs, seeding new businesses where appropriate.
Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.
MLS Capital Fund II is a new fund with first closing a few months ago. Increasing the pool of capital while deploying the capital on hand to grow companies in the Bio Green Tech sector is a major objective: Agriculture, Food/Feed, Nutrition, Sustainability and Energy/Renewable Chemicals sectors are major thursts. Scientific breakthroughs in Genome editing, RNA regulation, Genome evolution, Molecular Breeding, Big Data Analytics, Robotics, Analytical Technologies and 3 D printing are spawning new businesses and we are actively evaluating where we should participate and also the people who will help us translate these to profitable businesses. I am interested in understanding the Big Unmet Needs and establishing if the science is mature enough to tackle the opportunity. I am very sensitive to Capital Needs for production scale up and looking at ways for technology to provide solutions to this problem. Harvesting our investments is another important area of focus.
What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?
The industry needs to move from dependency on subsidies to being independently competitive. First generation of commodity products have to reach the market and generate revenues. Also, fine and specialty chemicals where biology has a natural fit – a pipeline with products that illustrate the power of the technology have to reach the market.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change?
Current focus has been too much on “drop in”. Price becomes the primary tangible determinant in this model. More important is for biochemicals to target new applications that chemicals have not delivered and difficult to produce otherwise – these are hard and if accomplished, it is a different landscape. We need to innovate in applications.
Of all the reasons that influenced you to join the Advanced Bioeconomy industry, what single reason stands out for you as still being compelling and important to you?
The science behind Bioeconomy is not only about making everything around us renewably and sustainably but also about understanding about who we really are – at a molecular level. As we unravel the marvels of living systems, it permits us to address all of our needs differently than we have ever done in human history.
Where are you from?
My formative years were in India – I grew up in a city called Mysore, visited my grandparents in a village near Mysore and Mumbai. It gave me an appreciation for both rural and urban India. I studied at Indian Institute of Sciene, Bangalore before joining The University of Texas at Austin and immigrating to USA.
What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway?
I studied Physics and Chemistry as Majors for my Undergrad degree with a minor in Maths. I studied Biochemistry, Microbiology and Chemistry in my graduate and postdoctoral education. The pioneering discoveries in Biology in the 1960’s-70’s and that a strong foundation in basic sciences was essential to make a mark influenced my pursuits.
Who do you consider your mentors. What have you learned from them?
My family has been a mentor to me in strong and silent ways: tolerance, empathy, seeing things from a different perspective have sharpened my thinking and actions.
My own family wanted me to give up sports and focus on engineering – especially electronics, an up and coming field in the Seventies. It shaped my powers of logic and persuasion and also discuss my own passion for biology.
My teachers – especially those who taught chemistry and biochemistry inspired me to think both creatively and critically. They helped me understand that it is the optimism that allows us to pursue, the immediate failures that can potentially drown that optimism and if we manage to navigate that valley into the realistic phase, there is a possibility for new endeavors to persist and succeed.
I have been lucky in my professional pursuits – I have always been surrounded by extra ordinary talent. They have taught me that creativity coupled with great communication is essential for success.
What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?
A period of adversity is just that – it is a period or time, a passing phase which allows one to look at the core issues and assumptions and to pursue things differently or “park the pursuits” for another time. There are things that one can control and others one does not. To shape the things that one does control and also understand to what extent one can at least shape or influence things one does not control. And not to despair or succumb to emotions although it is natural and to recognize it early and, create the opening for moving ahead instead of looking backwards!
What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry?
I play tennis – have been playing for more than forty years and I can feel that I am slowing down! I enjoy watching sports and admire the sheer athletic talent of the super stars and in team sports, successful coaches work with the talent on hand to produce extraordinary results. And, I am a fan of great movies – old and new.
What 3 books would you take to read, if stranded on a desert island?
I would probably not read any books if I was stranded on an island. There is too much to explore and besides, I would too busy nourishing and protecting myself!
What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?
I am reading Zero to One and re reading Innovators Dilemma. It is interesting that in Maths the discovery of Zero was after One to Nine! It is interesting to read about the views of different people and their experiences because there is so much in common across the economic sectors and human pursuits.
What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?
A tough question since there are so many marvelous places on this planet. The African Safari touched my inner core in many ways – to see the “human” in animals and “animal” in human. I like historic places or places with natural beauty – like mountains and glaciers. I do not like to be in hot, humid places and no physical activity!