In Conversation with a Mentor | Interview with Deepanwita Chattopadhyay

In Conversation with a Mentor (ICM) Episode 2 | S1

In this series of podcasts, we chat with mentors across various life-science fields. We talk to mentors who paved their way into unconventional career paths breaking the stereotypes, mentors who successfully led startups/​businesses in the life sciences, mentors who found love for science management and administration, and of course the ones who made research look cool.

In this second episode, of the series, we have Deepanwita Chattopadhyay as our guest. She is the Chairman & CEO of the IKP Knowledge park, Hyderabad which is a premier research park and incubator in India. She is a key figure in developing this first Life Science Research Park.

Deepanwita here talks about her journey at IKP and her inspirations going forward.

Podcast duration: 16 min

Note to listeners: This recording was done during the COVID-19 lockdown over a zoom meeting call. This has resulted in a slightly diminished audio quality with some mild disturbances in the recording, compared to a studio-quality recording.

[00:00:01] — Intro 

You’re listening to IndiaBioSpeaks. Your one-stop resource for science news and careers.

[00:00:12] — Suchibrata Borah 

Hello, and welcome back to In Conversation with a Mentor’ on the stories of some pathbreaking mentors across the life science research community. In this series, we talk to researchers, science managers, administrators, and entrepreneurs based in life sciences.

[00:00:29] — Suchibrata Borah 

We have seen excellent scientists turning into successful mentors across different fields, but we have mostly heard them talk about their work. In this series, we’ll delve deeper and bring to you many untold stories about each of these mentors. Stories that may have shaped them into becoming what they are today. Enjoy listening, and please send us your feedback. Your feedback is important to us. 

[segue music]

[00:01:06] — Suchibrata Borah 

I’m your host Suchibrata from IndiaBioScience and today we are talking to Deepanwita Chattopadhyay from IKP Knowledge Park, Hyderabad. Deepanwita is the Chairman and CEO of IKP Knowledge Park, which is a premier science park and incubator in India. She is a key figure in developing the first life science research park in India. Hello, Deepanwita. 

[00:01:30] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Hello, how are you?

[00:01:31] — Suchibrata Borah 

Yeah, I’m good. Hope you’re doing well in these difficult times.

[00:01:35] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for inviting me to this conversation.

[00:01:40] — Suchibrata Borah 

Thank you for joining us today and welcome to In Conversation with a Mentor’.

[00:01:46] — Suchibrata Borah 

Deepanwita, in your diverse career path, you have worked in many different sectors such as academia, the banking sector, private organizations, and so many others. So in this path, you have played many roles as a teacher, advisor, writer, and editor. So how do you like to introduce or define yourself? What is that role you think suits you the best?

[00:02:12] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

If you ask what defines me, I would say a lifelong learner, maybe trying to understand and learn how I can make a difference in this world. And that itself is changing. My understanding of the world is changing, depending on the exposure and my work. The current role, if you ask me, is that of a builder, and I would love to say a gardener. So the role is of creating platforms, creating institutions, and tending people and ideas.

[00:02:48] — Suchibrata Borah 

You are the chairman and CEO of the IKP Knowledge Park, which is both a research park and an incubator. First of all, what is the difference between a research park and an incubator?

[00:03:00] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Okay, a research park is an innovation ecosystem of large and small companies and businesses that work for regional development and competitiveness. An incubator nurtures fledgling ideas, innovators, and ventures in their journey to become established. So incubators deal with very small companies, new businesses, and innovations, whereas a research park is a whole ecosystem of innovations.

[00:03:36] — Suchibrata Borah 

Could you please also tell us a little bit more about the IKP Research Park and also shed some light on your experiences in establishing this?

[00:03:45] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

So IKP originally was called ICICI Knowledge Park. It was founded by ICICI bank way back in 1998 as a not-for-profit company. And the government of then Andhra Pradesh, and now it’s the Telangana government gave us 200 acres of land, outside Hyderabad. It’s now called Genome valley to set up the sites. I was working with ICICI in Mumbai and was pulled into this project. It was not my brainchild. It was the brainchild of Mr. Narayanan Vaghul who was then the chairman of ICICI bank. And, of course, the other partners were Dr. Ashok Ganguly, the chairman of Hindustan levers, and Dr. Bala Manian, who is a senior entrepreneur from the Bay Area. And Dr. Mashelkar — DG, CSIR.

[00:04:41] — Suchibrata Borah 

You started your career as a faculty at BITS Pilani. Then you were freelancing to write for children. After that, you worked at ICICI, then became the CEO of ICICI knowledge park or the IKP knowledge park nowadays. What drove you to embark on such diverse career paths?

[00:04:41] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

I like doing things that I really enjoy doing. And I’m just grateful to life that it gave me a chance to do what I thought I wanted to do. Not everyone gets that chance, that kind of freedom or opportunity. And each of these work, each of these work experiences, be it as a researcher at IIT Delhi, faculty at BITS Pilani, or doing NGO work, each of these experiences taught me so much.

[00:05:34] — Suchibrata Borah 

So now, when you look back, do you think that you have achieved what you wanted, or have you achieved even more?

[00:05:41] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

I can’t say I’ve achieved a lot. But I have to say that it gives me a lot of satisfaction to say that at least I’ve been able to create an institution like IKP from scratch. Definitely, it gives me a lot of pleasure.

[segue music]

[00:06:09] — Suchibrata Borah 

You might have faced many challenges on your way. Everyone does. Especially when you start something from scratch. You are with IKP since the beginning, and what are the roadblocks you faced in this process? And what helped you overcome this?

[00:06:27] ‑Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Okay, so, you know, I have to tell you that there was tremendous learning because every step was new. I had no idea about construction and projects, I was not really knowing how to deal with technology and companies. So, every little bit was new and that was so exciting. So I’m just again lucky to have great mentors. It’s been such a fantastic journey because of all the mentors I have. Apart from Mr. Vaghul and Dr. Bala Manian, Dr. M. K. Bhan has been a great mentor. And it’s been such a pleasure to learn from all these stalwarts. Once Mr. Vaghul taught me something very nice. It was more of an operational thing, and I was unable to handle it. So I told him, Sir, this is something I’m unable to do well, and I’m a little worried”. And then he said — Deepanwita, whatever you can do very well, you do. Keep this problem aside. Don’t worry about it. Maybe you will be able to sort it out. Maybe the time has not come. Maybe you will sort it out later. Don’t waste your time giving so much attention to this problem. Do whatever you do well. Do it excellent”. I think that’s great learning. Whatever you do, do it very well. And the rest of the things will be there to just fall in place. So that was great learning for me. I’ve seen competition coming. But if you have perseverance, if you are sincere in what you’re doing, you can overcome all those challenges.

[00:08:10] — Suchibrata Borah 

So you are a leader, and you’re working at IKP for 20 years as a CEO. So you have mentored many people, what is your mentorship philosophy or your leadership strategy?

[00:08:23] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Again, I’m quoting, that when I moved from ICICI, I was told — Be ahead of the curve. This is a new domain. There are not enough research parks in India at all and you have to make the path. There are no examples that you will find. So you have to define the path. You have to define the indicators of performance. So you have to be ahead of the curve. And if you see that whatever you have done, others are setting it up, you should actually be happy. Because if you have followers, it means that you are successful. And then move ahead, do something else. Do another initiative that’s pathbreaking. And that’s how you’re always a leader and you have people to follow you”. And I think that is my philosophy. Remain ahead of the curve.

[00:09:22] — Suchibrata Borah 

Okay, so far we have talked about your success and your career. So have you faced any failure also? Because everybody does and if you have, how has failure impacted you in your life?

[00:09:35] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Many of the projects that we took, failed, but that is not a failure of IKP. Because when you’re trying to do new things, some things are bound to fail. And I can give you an example. Early on, like in 2002, we had decided that IKP should have a research institution on campus, and with Dr. Bala Manian, I had planned and we had great thoughts about what to do. It didn’t happen. For various reasons, when we made the presentation to the state government, it didn’t work. And then Mr. Vaghul came out of the meeting and told, Deepanwita, let’s drop the proposal, the time has not come, we will do it again later”. The other thing, and I’ll tell you how it happens. So we always knew that a virtual Information Centre, which is basically like an online library, would be very good. So right from 2001, we organized one, and we talked to various CSIR institutions and IISc. We had signed up with their library to see that the researchers and the companies at the park get the benefit of the libraries that are there because though, there were still online publications that could be accessed. But somehow, the publishers were not happy with it because there are companies in the park, and they felt that they cannot allow that license that an academic institution is using. So we could not get that ultimately. We used our good relationship to get the material. But it was not a formal structure that we could set up. It’s really nice to know that now the government is thinking of a national license for all academic journals. So it takes so much time to happen. But then at that time, it was too early. So it is perseverance that matters, and you have to be at it. You cannot say that I’m not going to do it, you keep it on the back burner and pull it out when required. So I think that is how I go about solving some of these problems.

[00:11:53] — Suchibrata Borah 

So what is the process for companies or startups to apply at IKP?

[00:11:59] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Okay, they have to submit a research proposal, what are they? It’s a proposal on what kind of product they want to develop. What is it? And then we go through it and if we see that there is merit, and if we can help them in any way. What do they need from us? And if only we can help, we take them in. There is virtual incubation that’s possible. We support through funding, we support through various other services like mentorship, and providing access to funding, and so on and so forth. It could be physical incubation. So first thing first is we have to figure out, what do you want to do? And can IKP help you move from where you are to the next level? And if we feel we can, we onboard them. It doesn’t happen to one proposal. There are several conversations before onboarding happens.

[00:12:55] — Suchibrata Borah 

Do you have any comments on what changes we need to see or policies we need to bring to encourage women entrepreneurs?

[00:13:04] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Women leaders or women entrepreneurs?

[00:13:06] — Suchibrata Borah 

Yes, women leaders and entrepreneurs, women founders.

[00:13:11] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Just give them equal opportunity. If there are biases or inherent biases, take out the inherent biases. I think women are as good as men in all aspects and there is no reason for discriminating in any way if it is about funding or anything. Really, there is absolutely no reason for thinking that a woman will not do so. I don’t think women are asking for special seats or special positions. What they are asking for is being given the same opportunity. It’s equity that’s important. But at the same time, people who are not privileged, need a lot of hand-holding. That is where I think we need to probably help them come up.

[00:14:01] — Suchibrata Borah 

Before we end, any advice for the scientists who want to branch out, because there are many maybe. So do you have any advice for the scientists who want to branch out?

[00:14:12] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Listen to your heart. If you really think you want to do something, you can. The world will conspire to help you achieve what you want. Dream big. You have to overcome your fears. It’s so beautiful to be out in the world and do things that you really want to. That is the crux. I think you have to shed your inhibitions. You can do whatever you want.

[00:14:40] — Suchibrata Borah 

Thank you Deepanwita, thank you so much for joining us today. It was a lovely chat and we wish you all the best. Hope to do something more together with IndiaBioscience in the future.

[00:14:50] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay 

Thank you so much for inviting me to this talk. I really loved the flow of the conversation. Please keep in touch and would love to discuss more. Thank you.

[00:15:01] — Suchibrata Borah 

Thank you all for listening to IndiaBiospeaks In Conversation with a Mentor’’. We look forward to receiving your comments and feedback. Thank you.

[00:15:10] — Outro

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