Sisco Research Laboratories Pvt. Ltd aka SRL is the brainchild of Mr. S.K. Agarwal & his brothers. The Company has been pioneering the Indian research and laboratory space since 1975. The Company has completed more than 36 yrs. of manufacturing highly complex and international quality reagents & biochemicals in India at a time when few other Indian companies had the technical expertise to manufacture complex chemical compounds. Their initial manufacturing lab in Mumbai was the first in the country to produce Molecular Biology grade products at 1/10th the cost of an equivalent imported product. The first list of offerings consisted of only 200 specialty biochemicals but the drastic difference in costs enabled the cash-crunched Indian research scientist to do much more with their post-doctoral research projects.
This vision remains intact even today. Except they’re now present in 60 countries, offering more than 7000 products and cater to thousands of global scientists, empowering them to achieve the highest quality of research with pocket-friendly economics.
The unmatched leadership of SRL, Mr. Surendra Kumar Agarwal/ MD, Mr. Akash Agarwal/ Director, Mr. Vikas Agarwal/ Director, are the pillars of the company’s long-standing growth.
In a talk with Mr. Akash Agarwal, we discussed the current industry scenario and how SRL is transforming the biochemical sector across the globe.
- What were the initial challenges you faced?
In our target markets, there has always been a very strong global mindset that ‘products manufactured in the West are superior’.
Until the year 2000, scientists refused to believe that advanced chemical molecules could be manufactured anywhere except the USA or Europe. We’ve spent painstaking decades educating the industry that Asia has been the true manufacturing hub of all specialized chemicals for the last few decades. Initiatives like the Make-In-India, BIRAC, National Biopharma Vision, and others have come to a tad late in the growth story of our country. Nevertheless, the next 5-10 years are critical.
- Which was that point that triggered the growth of the company?
In 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government set up a separate Department of Biotechnology (DBT) within the Ministry of Science & Technology. India was one of the first countries to have a separate such department. Soon after between 1986 and 1994, new many institutions surfaced, which focused research on plant genome, tissue culture, cell culture, DNA fingerprinting, agricultural crop science, and medical biotechnology. This period was the beginning of the Indian Biotechnology story. This was the period that triggered growth for SRL. Government-backed scientific funding grew multi-fold in number. The Indian scientists now had infrastructural access to many advanced scientific streams. Initially, these scientists were very hesitant to use an Indian product and preferred to use a “made in Germany” or “made in USA” product. It was during this time, armed with an unyielding promise of quality products that SRL became the brand of choice.
By 2003, we were present in 25 countries and had indigenously developed dehydrated culture media for microbiology & fermentation sciences. This division of the company was inspired and strategized by our father, Mr. Ramesh Agarwal and we were amongst only a handful of global companies to do so.
Somewhere in 2006, we were scouting for a stronger foothold in the biotechnology areas due to the upsurge of biotech start-ups and a substantial increase in the funding for biotech projects by the various bodies under the central government. This is when we made our first 100% buy-out of a Chennai-based biotech company. The acquisition helped us to offer a broad spectrum of DNA, RNA & Protein tools and has established yet another business vertical for core biotech products. In 2009, we pioneered Nanopowder and carbon nanotubes production in India, a time when the world had just begun using buzzwords like ‘Nanotech’. Our current portfolio makes us the only native Indian company with such an expansive product range.
It’s a matter of great pride for us when the growing class of Indian Microbiologists, Biotechnologists & Nanoscientists chooses our world-class products on merit for their research and quality control.
It’s a matter of great pride for us when the growing class of Indian Microbiologists, Biotechnologists & Nanoscientists chooses our world-class products on merit for their research and quality control. In the last 10 years, we have aggressively been focusing energies and investments towards Renewable Energy products, Hydroponics (the science of growing plants without ‘soil’), and Aquaponics (recirculating nutrients between farmed-fish to growing plants hydroponically) through our range of Tissue Culture chemicals.
This describes our story and some turning points in our history.
- How have the company graphs changed since the foundation? Can you share a few statistics?
Our growth over the last 5 years has been very encouraging. We have increased our Capex to upgrade our scientific laboratories, as well as improve our logistics and operations. Our Central Warehouse, with an installed capacity of more than 10 million SKU’s, boasts state-of-the-art storage facilities for our cold-storage products and even enables same-day dispatches to more than 400 distributors and customers across India.
Over the years, we have consistently increased our people capital and our product offerings. SRL has registered a CAGR of 21% over the last 5 financial years. The beginning of COVID since Jan 2020, caused a bit of an initial slow down, but we see 2021-24 to be years of strong revenues.
- What is the reason behind your company’s long-standing success?
Micro-attention to all our operations gives us an edge over our competitors. Training, coaching, and continuous motivation lead to collaborative work environments. As a 3rd generation Entrepreneur, I cannot stress the importance of this in direct correlation to the success of any Company.
Our efforts have been awarded many times by industry stalwarts, various industry publications as well as the institutional honorary awards we have received. I’d say we’ve had our precious moments.
However, a couple of awards remain closest to our hearts. One of them was when our Founder and Managing Director, Mr. S.K Agarwal was awarded the ‘Indian Achievers Award’ in 2014 for Industry Development in the field of CSR and Sustainable Development. The other was more recent and we were conferred with the prestigious ‘SME of the Year 2020’ at the hands of Shri R.M. Mishra – Special Secretary and Development Commissioner, Ministry of MSME, Government of India at the SME Chamber of India Conclave.
- What are the products/services the company focuses on? How are your services different from those in the market?
Whether it’s education or pharmaceuticals, food or cosmetics, we are surrounded by the need to test quality and validate finished products. This requires Laboratory Fine Chemicals and this is where our products and services are consumed.
Today our ‘Knowledge Chemicals’, i.e. biochemicals, biotech reagents, nano chemicals, and microbiology solutions in roughly 18000 SKU’s are broadly used to further science and improve quality control within the industry.
Our core strength lies in innovating rare and difficult-to-find products and bringing them to the market. Due to proprietary technologies developed by us, our products are superior to those generally available by our peers. And although this sounds cliché, it is the singular reason we have been featured in more than 10,00,000 journal publications like the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), Accounts of Chemical Research, ACS, Science Direct, Elsevier, and others.
- How do you decide to take the company a step further in terms of your products/services?
The next step continues to be to aim higher, whether it’s impeccable service levels or on-shelf availability. We also need to constantly adapt to improve our own testing methods to upkeep with the latest industry standards. Whether it is pharmacopoeial or endotoxin-tested material, testing critical aspects have always been the need of the industry.
We see a plethora of opportunities in the nanotechnology and life sciences areas, especially virology as a potentially vast growth area. We’ve recently introduced our range of antibodies (monoclonal and polyclonal) and are already working to expand our manufacturing capabilities for cell culture reagents.
- Can you please brief us about your professional experience?
SRL at its core is a professionally run family concern. Mr. S.K. Agarwal and Mr. Ramesh Agarwal head the board, while me and Mr. Vikas Agarwal (my brother), handle various aspects of the Company and projects in our capacity as Directors.
I have completed my B.E. (Chemical) from D.J Sanghvi College of Engineering in Mumbai and then went on to do my MBA from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (Ohio). I have also spent a few years with a Biotech incubator, BioEnterprise Corp. (Ohio) where I received valuable entrepreneurial and business experience. I returned to join SRL in 2008 and since then have been involved in technical as well as commercial operations.
My brother, Mr. Vikas Agarwal completed his Bachelors of Management Studies (BMS) from Mumbai University before joining the company as a Director. Having completed three years of working in SRL, he realized the need to gain international exposure and went to complete his MBA at The University of Nottingham Business School (NUBS), UK, with a specialization in Entrepreneurship.
- How do you look after your employees? What makes your team unique?
Our current objective is to improve our services by improving the quality of people we work with. We call this our “People Capital”. Our team is a mix of industry veterans, as well as eager youth. This combination, although not unique, gives us a more rounded approach to any task we undertake. Most importantly though, we strongly believe in investing in the culture and training strategies within the Company.
- Is there any special experience with your clients you would like to highlight?
The diversity of our clients make a single-solution approach impossible for us. Our customers range from an IIT Research Scholar to a QC Scientist at Unilever, and even an R&D scientist at the Serum Institute of India (SII) or Bharat Biotech.
During this pandemic period too, we have made our contributions to the diagnostic & vaccine industry specifically in the production of Covaxin as well as the numerous COVID Test Kit. All of these achievements were made possible by brave and courageous SRL team members who made sure our facilities stayed open even during the peak of the pandemic.
- Kindly brief us about your views on the current Biotechnology and Healthcare sector scenario.
We are very enthusiastic about the potential of the Biotech industry. For example, the Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) states that the Indian Biotech industry in 2019 was pegged at around USD 64 billion, with a 10% CAGR estimated till about 2025 (amounting to USD 102 billion). This growth is estimated to be a result of various government initiatives including Biotech Parks across the country, SEZ’s in high-growth regions, etc. In India alone, there are ~2500 biotech companies and more than 2700 biotech start-ups. We have observed similar trends in many other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Turkey, UAE, South Africa, Brazil, etc.
With all of this emphasis on growth in Life Sciences, Healthcare, and Biotech, the global testing regulations are becoming more stringent and extensive. This is where our prowess comes in and supports our positive outlook of the robust growth ahead.
- Constant vigilance- a need or a strategy? Please share your views.
The ability to adapt has proven more important during this challenging time.
As an example, having a clear strategy has helped us steer into the limelight when it comes to our COVID-related offerings. We have been critical KSM (Key Starting Material) vendors for more than 12 manufacturers of COVID-VTM, RT-PCR, and RNA Purification Kit manufacturers. Most importantly we have sustained our growth only by strengthening our core products and focusing on quality. If we have given in to the temptation of branching our business during this time for more COVID-centric offerings, we may not have been able to contribute as much as we have to India’s needs during this time.
My advice for other Entrepreneurs would be having a sound strategy but also to ‘digging your heels in’ for a reasonable time before you expect any reasonable results.