Creating Petroleum Free Cosmetics: Dr. Pratish Gawand, Ardra Bio


Dr. Pratish Gawand is one of the founders of Ardra Bio, a company that produces petroleum-free, natural bio-chemicals for the cosmetics, foods and pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Gawand obtained his Doctorate Degree from the University of Toronto and founded the company with his doctoral supervisor Prof. R. Mahadevan. The company, originally based in Canada, is now based in the United States of America. The startup is an incubatee of IndieBioSF.

The company is a bio-based chemical company that focuses on creating petroleum-free chemicals by using artificial pathways and metabolic engineering. The first product that the company is currently working on is a substance known as butylene glycol.

I (AB) had the opportunity of interviewing Dr. Pratish Gawand (PG) and hearing his viewpoints on his company and the startup scenario in general.

AB: Could you please tell me a little about yourself and your company?

PG: I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s from Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai. Post my Masters, I worked in Biocon for a short while prior to moving to Canada for my Doctorate Degree. Upon the completion of my PhD, Dr. Mahadevan and I founded Ardra, based on the work that was conducted in his lab. The company was originally based in Canada and was funded by the University of Toronto’s accelerator program UTEST. We then secured funding from IndieBio and shifted base to the United States. Currently, the company comprises of our co-founder, Dr. Mahadevan; a scientist who is based in the United States,  Jonas Muller, and myself.

The company is a bio-based chemicals company that focuses on creating petroleum-free chemicals by using artificial pathways and metabolic engineering. The first product that the company is currently working on is a substance known as butylene glycol, which is almost exclusively made from petroleum based products. Our alternative makes use of sugar as a raw material. Our product can be used as a natural humectant and a solvent for fragrances.

AB: When can we expect a product from your company in the market?

PG: We have a prototype that makes butylene glycol in the laboratory. We are partnering with Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory here and are scaling up our technology. We hope to have a product in the market in approximately 12 to 18 months.

AB: What edge does your product have over other commercially available alternatives?

PG: Butylene Glycol can be synthesized from petroleum based products. However, in the cosmetic industry, there is an increasing consumer demand for natural products. Being a consumer driven industry, cosmetic companies are trying to incorporate natural ingredients into their products. Hence, they prefer to not use products derived from petroleum. Our ingredient can replace this petroleum based ingredient.

AB: How has the response to the product been? 

PG: We have spoken to multiple cosmetic companies in India, USA and Canada. The response has been positive. Companies are interested in testing our product by making use of it in their formulations. The demand for natural products is high, and hence companies want to make the product as naturally derived as possible.

AB: What is the business model of the company?

PG: It is a B2B business. We will not be catering directly to the end user, but to the cosmetic manufacturer. In most cases, cosmetic companies purchase raw materials from distributors in a well-established supply chain. In such cases, we intend to sell our product to the distributors and integrate our company into the supply chain. In my experience, the cosmetics ingredients supply chain is quite fragmented. In some cases the ingredient manufacturing companies directly sell their products to the cosmetic manufacturer, without a distributor. It ultimately depends on the size of the cosmetic company. Our main channel to enter the market will be through liaising with the distributors.

AB: Which countries are your target markets?

PG: We are mostly focused on US and Canadian markets. India is one of our target markets. The awareness about natural products is high in Europe and China and we perceive that they will be among the countries we aim to release our product in.

AB: Do you foresee any regulatory challenges that you may encounter?

PG: There are multiple products that have traversed these challenges. It is a road not untraveled. Several companies have released products similar to ours. We are not using very different technology. We make use of traditional fermentation. Hence I do not foresee any regulatory challenges.

AB: You have been in India for a good portion of your life. What do you think are the challenges that a startup in Asia-Pacific faces?

PG: To be frank, I am not well versed with the Asian scenario. I have interacted with people while I was in India. It is very challenging to run a biotech startup as a large amount of capital is required. I am unaware of the current trends in Asia. I have seen a lot of Venture Capital Firms coming up in the last few years and believe that this will be very helpful to the industries. We need fast money to sustain in Biotech. Singapore and Malaysia have attracted a lot of interest in the bio-based manufacturing sector.