Dr. Sandhya Sriram, PhD has been involved with Global Biotech Revolution (GBR) and the GapSummit in nearly every way that one person can be. Seriously. After being selected as a Leader of Tomorrow (LoT) for the 2016 GapSummit at the University of Cambridge (UK), Sandhya served as Vice President and head of Finance for the Singapore Leaders of Tomorrow Forum just six months later. The following year, at GapSummit 2017 at Georgetown University, Sandhya assumed the role of mentor for the Voices of Tomorrow competition. Suffice it to say, Sandhya knows a thing or two about GBR and the GapSummit.
Q: What inspired you to apply for GapSummit?
Sandhya: At the time I applied for Gapsummit, I was a research scientist. It was interesting to come across a summit that wasn’t a typical science or research conference. GapSummit was different; which was great – I was looking for such inspiring summits or events. This was run by scientists like me for scientists like me – the topics were so relevant and crucial.
Q: What was your favorite part of GapSummit?
Sandhya: Meeting diverse individuals from all over the world and brainstorming with them. The theme and structure of the summit. Face-to-face access with prominent speakers. Any small idea can become huge.
Shortly after GapSummit 2017, Sandhya combined her extensive scientific expertise with her passion for ethical and sustainable food to co-found Shiok Meats, a cell-based clean meat company- the first of its kind in Singapore and South-East Asia.
Q: What sparked your interest in cell-based clean meat?
Sandhya: In 2018, when I started Shiok Meats, it was about 13 years since I was working with stem cells through my undergrad, masters, PhD and postdoctoral research. In 2015, I first came across cell-based meats and ever since have been obsessed with it. I did a deep dive into the field and in 2018 decided to take the plunge. I have been a vegetarian all my life due to the unethical and unsustainable aspects of the meat and seafood industry. But if I can contribute to the food industry using stem cell technology to provide sustainable options, why not.
Q: As CEO of Shiok Meats, which aspects of your job do you enjoy the most? Which aspects do you find most challenging?
Sandhya: Surprisingly, I actually enjoy fundraising – it is fun and interesting to see what investors think and where they want to put their money; and also their vision for a future world. I enjoy people management as well and it is an important part of being a CEO and running a company. And since I have a background in science, I understand almost every aspect of the technology and can help troubleshoot as and when needed.
Challenging aspects are asking and getting the scientific team to start thinking business and money. It is very hard for academic scientists to do this as we are never trained for it.
Q: What are the opportunities and challenges of biotech in Singapore?
Sandhya: I can speak for food biotech currently – the opportunities are huge as the Singapore government is pushing its 30 by 30 mandate where they want to increase in-house food production using food technology from the current 10% to 30% by 2030. Various grants, support and help is being offered by the nation.
Challenges – lack of Asian money/investment for such technologies for growth. This is a capital intensive industry and needs more investments to be poured in – the grants offered are not sufficient.
As with GapSummit 2020 going virtual, Sandhya and Shiok Meats certainly aren’t immune to the impacts that COVID-19 has had on businesses and economies around the world, but that isn’t going to stop her from pursuing her passion.
Q: You mention you enjoy the fundraising aspect of your job. How has the global pandemic impacted this portion of your job? Not only in available or willing dollars, but the general approach?
Sandhya: Make the most of the virtual world and hope things get back to what they were. But as an entrepreneur, you need to learn to push it as much as you can and survive any given situation – so all of us can complain about lack of funding, investors want face-to-face meetings etc. but you need to learn to grow out of it and make sure you raise money if your company needs it. Just go for it with more passion and conviction and it will happen.
Q: What’s next for Shiok Meats?
Sandhya: Setting up our first manufacturing plant and commercializing in the next 2 years or so!