Carbanio – Digitising the Chemicals Industry in India and Beyond

Dr. Rafi Shaik | Founder & Chief Scientific Officer | Carbanio

Can you imagine what happens when a young and aspiring student loves a subject in his undergrad years? A whole industry can be disrupted to be digitized. Read on to join the entrepreneurial journey of Dr. Rafi Shaik, who has built the digital platform Carbanio for the Chemicals industry.

How did you come to know and become part of the world of chemicals?

“Thank you. That is a great question to start our conversation. 

As a student, I loved Chemistry. I particularly liked Organic Chemistry. I would always score very high grades in Chemistry and passed my bachelor’s with a distinction in Chemistry. 

Naturally, I was thinking of research in Chemistry. So, I was all charged up to ace my entrance examinations for the master’s programs.

I stood among the top candidates in the entrance exams at Andhra, Sri Venkateswara, and Osmania universities. So, I got to choose. 

In 2000, Sri Venkateswara University introduced a Medicinal Chemistry concentration in M.Sc. I realized that this course has applications in research and business. The course content was advanced compared to that of a master’s in Organic Chemistry. So, it was a no-brainer for me.

After completing the master’s in 2002, I found a berth on the GVK Biosciences team of 12 scientists recruited from across India. However, within a couple of months, Pondicherry Central University selected me for conducting research. So, I packed my bags for Pondicherry. 

Studying medicinal chemistry was my first step into the world of chemicals.

The Chemistry department at the university collaborated with the pharma industry’s big names, such as AstraZeneca, heavily and actively. Processes, methodologies, innovations filled my world even as the industry’s big names kept discussing with us many challenges they faced. 

I focused on the most pressing problems in the industry. Five and a half years flew by. And I was awarded the doctorate for my thesis, Studies on synthesis and stereochemistry of selected saturated heterocycles

Also, we developed many patented materials, and the university benefitted from the royalties. During my research, I participated in three industry projects and published 14 papers in national and international scientific journals.

My grounding in the Chemicals industry grew from my research.

Where did your journey take you after completing the research?

I opted for post-doctoral research with National Health Research Institutes (NHRI), Taiwan. It was a nodal agency for 16 healthcare organizations. Multi-layered research from exploring a molecule to developing a drug was part of NHRI’s capabilities. I was part of the team that developed the first anti-cancer drug. It was sold to an MNC and NHRI benefitted through royalty payments.

After my postdoctoral research, I moved back to India, worked with a pharma company, worked as a process innovation scientist at the University of Hyderabad. Later, I threw myself into the thick research testing more than 350 molecules for drug development. This was exciting for me. I got to hear the pressing challenges of the industry.

How did you hit upon the idea of Carbanio?

I was lucky to be observing the pharma industry and academic research extensively. I understood the pharma industry’s pressing challenges. They ranged from the commercialization of new products to sourcing. I started spotting some key disconnects in the ecosystem. 

In the Chemicals industry, there is no seamless way to buy and sell chemicals. Universities, pharma companies, bulk drug manufacturers, research scholars – all of them need chemicals. 

And the process of obtaining chemicals is time-consuming. 

The industry faces supply-chain challenges. Sellers don’t know who to sell to, and buyers don’t know where to obtain chemicals at optimum prices. In other words, buying and selling are happening in pockets. 

Even the disposal of chemicals is a challenge and resource-heavy. 

Above all, the industry is not digitized. 

I thought I should create a platform to address these very problems. 

How did Carbanio take shape?

I am no techie. I started attending conferences and courses related to the application of technology in the Chemicals industry. This was to develop an understanding of what challenge I was bracing for.

After spending some resources on acquainting myself, I hired a firm to develop my idea into a prototype. The prototype contained 10% of the functionality I wanted. I took it around, and the buyers and sellers showed some interest.

The next step for me was to come up with a full-fledged version of the platform.

Along the way, I convinced Vijay Devarakonda to join me as the CEO. We met at a conference. Later, my mentor put me in touch with Vijay when I started looking for someone to support my idea on the technology front. 

On a pleasant evening, we both sat down for a talk. It lasted 6 hours and then Vijay agreed to join me. Vijay has a long career in product management and brings in a wealth of technical expertise. After Vijay came on board, there is no looking back.

How did you get the traction during the first 2 or 3 years?

After the successful development of the prototype In 2017, we launched Carbanio.

After the launch, we started approaching sellers in person. All they knew about digital was the listing directories. However, the sourcing, orders, and logistics followed the same old paper-based systems. 

We educated them about the benefits of joining the platform. We explained what internal processes need to change to adopt Carbanio into their business. In firms where the processes are minimal, the adoption of the platform was easy.

We demonstrated the product. We helped with sign-ups. We set up a very strong contact center to handhold the buyers and sellers. 

Two of the key challenges we faced in this period were with supply-chain and payments. Most of the supply-chain players were concerned about the safety and legal aspects. We had to educate them in a big way. After a long trial of trial and error, we found our logistics and payment partners. Finding the payment partner took some time and effort.

Can you tell us something about Carbanio?

Carbanio enables chemicals manufacturers and buyers to buy and sell seamlessly. 

Carbanio takes care of logistics. All that the seller has to do is to package the chemicals as stipulated by us and maintain the quality of the chemicals.

For the buyer, we guarantee the purity of products, on-time delivery, refunds, and returns. 

Apart from many small and midsized companies, universities across India and IITs, NITs, and IISERs are using our platform. 

One can donate chemicals or ask for chemicals that are not listed on the platform. 

Do visit the Carbanio page, Why Carbanio, to know more.

Carbanio is an Online B2B marketplace for listed and On-Demand Chemicals. Through Carbanio users can easily source a vast variety of chemicals in just a few clicks. It serves as a One-Stop shop for all Chemical needs. 

Carbanio empowers its users to order Chemicals that are tailor-made as per their requirements.

For the buyers, we guarantee the purity of Chemicals and receive them in the shortest time.

Apart from many small and midsized companies, universities across India and IITs, NITs, and IISERs are using our platform.

Do visit Carbanio, Why Carbanio, to know more.

What is your revenue model?

Our revenues are based on commissions charged on sale volumes.

Can you talk about the product roadmap?

Today we are focused on the Indian market. But we will extend our services to include global markets. We will also diversify the products and services. As far as product usage goes, we already have buyers and sellers inquiring from neighboring countries.

How did you manage the funding?

I started with my savings. Later, the family and friends pitched in. Last year we received seed investment. We will soon be looking for angel funding.

When we add big data and AI to the existing mix, it will get even more exciting.

What are the trends in the Chemicals sector?

Globalization and digitization are two huge waves transforming this sector. No doubt, there are challenges. But these trends are here to stay. 

According to Statista, Asia accounted for 78.5% of the global B2B e-commerce gross merchandising volume (GMV) in 2017. 

Coupled with the fact that the younger, tech-savvy generation is taking over the stewardship of businesses, we are looking at a major upswing in the usage of platforms like ours.

As with the other sectors, firms that embrace globalization and digitization will lead the industry. There is a catch here. Firms cannot overlay digitization on top of the existing processes and routines. That calls for an overhaul. The sooner firms start their journey on this path, the higher are the chances to lead the industry.

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