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Molecular Connections: Pioneers in Scholarly Publishing

Embarking on the journey of knowledge and innovation, our CEO took the stage at the recent STM Annual Innovations Day to share insights, experiences, and the vision that propels our organization forward. In this exclusive interview, gain a glimpse into the dynamic landscape of our industry and the future our company envisions within it.

Molecular Connections has cemented its position as an innovative scholarly publishing solution provider with a history spanning more than 20 years. Since its inception in 2002, the company has consistently differentiated itself from outsourcing firms, emphasizing the effective use of technology to address publishing challenges. This commitment to innovation is exemplified by their sponsorship of the STM annual Innovations Day, most recently in December 2023. In this discussion, we discuss with  Jignesh Bhate, founder and CEO of Molecular Connections, about the background to the company and its culture of innovation. 

Tell me a little more about how MC was founded.

 Founding and Growth: A Journey from Humble Beginnings 
The company officially registered in Bangalore, India, in 2002, and operational activities commenced in 2003 with a team comprising myself and two other employees, both of whom remain integral to the company. Initially housed in a modest 150 sq ft office in Bangalore, our roles were delineated, with my focus on business development and my colleagues managing technology and finance. However, collaboratively, we handled diverse responsibilities, with vivid memories of personally opening the office shutters each morning. Presently, our company has expanded to four locations, encompassing over 200,000 sq ft (18,680 sq m), with our senior leadership consistently based in Bangalore. 

Vision Beyond Borders: Expanding Globally 

From the outset, our corporate vision extended beyond India. In the early years, cost-effective travel was prioritized, exemplified by my purchase of round-the-world tickets intended for students. These tickets facilitated extensive travel, spanning destinations from Japan to San Francisco, and onward to New York and London, eventually looping back. Despite enduring lengthy layovers of ten to fifteen hours, this approach enabled active participation in conferences, fostering valuable connections with customers. 

 Innovation Journey: From Technical Solutions to Hybrid Models 

From day one, our emphasis was on providing technical solutions, rather than mere outsourced labor to address research challenges. However, recognizing the immaturity of technology in 2004, we pivoted towards a hybrid solution. This innovative approach amalgamated technology with a “human-in-the-loop” strategy, acknowledging the need forhuman intervention in conjunction with evolving technological capabilities.

Today you are active in two main areas, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and scholarly publishing. Is this a deliberate choice?

Our initial venture into client services focused on the pharmaceutical industry rather than the broader landscape of scholarly publishing. The introduction to this sector occurred at a pharmaceutical event where I met David Rubin, a connection who remains a close friend. Rubin, in need of a team to develop a solution, approached us. Interestingly, shortly after finalizing the deal, Rubin’s company was acquired by the pharmaceutical giant Merck. To fulfil this project, I recruited my first PhD researcher from Harvard Medical School in Boston, persuading her to join our efforts in India. 

Subsequently, our expansion extended beyond pharmaceuticals to encompass broader scholarly publishing domains. Recognizing the versatility of the tools initially designed for medical data, we applied them to diverse academic subjects. This realization led to our acquisition of our first non-medical publishing client in 2007. 

 The connections between our informatics work  in the pharmaceutical sector and general academic STEM publishing is evident. Both domains share researchers with analogous objectives, establishing a clear synergy by using our technological solutions across these diverse yet interconnected fields. 

You started without any external investment, so why take Venture Capital funding?

Venture Capital, Expansion, and Innovation Hubs 

While we achieved success, the imperative to foster growth prompted our decision to seek additional funding. In 2005-2006, we secured financial support from Barings Private Equity, who proved to be excellent partners during our early expansion. Subsequently, in 2013-2014, we opted to buy out the private equity investment. The necessity for additional capital was grounded in three key objectives:  

  1. Staff Expansion: At the time, with a team of 20, we aimed to enhance our workforce by attracting researchers from prestige institutions, such as the Universities of Bern, Oxford, MIT, and the Fraunhofer Institute, persuading them to collaborate with us in India. 
  2. Marketing: Recognizing the importance of strategic promotion, we allocated funds for marketing initiatives to bolster our brand presence and reach. 
  3. New Product Development: In 2007, we embarked on pioneering efforts by launching the first Indian patent database, featuring comprehensive full-text Indian patent data. Today, our database is integral to global patent collections, reflecting the success of our commitment to innovation and product development. 


In 2012 you founded MC Labs, a separate group within Molecular Connections, to expand your products and services. What was the thinking behind that?

Cultivating a Culture of Innovation: Lessons from an Established Organization 

MC Labs exemplified a prevailing trend, discarding traditional silos of expertise and embracing a collaborative approach where diverse specialists—chemists, biologists, and informaticians—worked together in a shared space. Recognizing the growing significance of data as the new oil, we established MC Labs as a center of excellence in the burgeoning field of Data Science. Within the lab, we fostered an environment where software developers comprehended chemical structures, chemists utilized Python, and data scientists operated in a cross-functional capacity. Initially comprising 10-12 members, the team expanded over time, today reaching approximately 100 individuals across various disciplines with the advent of machine learning. 

In 2012 you also bought an abstracting company. That must have changed the make-up of the company quite substantially.

The abstracting company used to write abstracts manually, but we transitioned them to a hybrid model. The rationale behind this decision is evident: Indian wage inflation has consistently exceeded 10% annually over the past two decades. Remarkably, despite this trend, we have refrained from raising prices for our customers. Instead, we have consistently leveraged technology to control costs, steadily shifting our operations towards increased technological integration. 

You have repeatedly won awards for “the best company in India for women to work in”. How is your company different to more typical technology companies, which are typically not known for promoting equality?

Inclusivity has been ingrained in our company culture since its inception: even when our team numbered just 20, 15 of them were female. Today, a significant proportion of our senior management consists of women, including the VP of business development and the VP of projects. Currently, 73% of our staff is female, and our commitment to retaining female employees is evident in our below-average staff attrition rate of 9%, compared to the industry average of 18%. This commitment is deeply rooted in our corporate culture. 

 The prevalence of women in our company has a tangible impact. Many of our team members have been with us for an extended period, fostering a family-like culture with strong bonds and an extensive institutional memory. This family atmosphere extends to our interactions with clients, who often recall the projects and staff they’ve collaborated with. 

 In terms of corporate social responsibility, we have implemented various initiatives. These include annual health check-ups, vaccination programs for staff, and regular blood donation camps. We actively contribute to social causes such as donating used computers to schools, supporting a school for the blind, and participating in tree-planting initiatives. These efforts are well-received by everyone. Moreover, we adopted flexible working hours well before the Covid era, and our strategic central location in the city ensures easy accessibility. 

Next, let’s talk about innovation. Startups, by their very nature, have no choice but to innovate, but when you have an established organisation with thousands of staff, how do you encourage and promote innovation?

Innovation cannot be forced; it must be ingrained in your organizational culture. Given the dynamic nature of the publishing and pharmaceutical industries on a global scale, constant adaptation is essential. Staying ahead of the curve necessitates a commitment to innovation. Our approach involves strategic investment, allowing teams the freedom to make mistakes. While our lab generates four or five significant ideas annually, the majority are discarded. 

 A fundamental aspect of our vision involves reinventing ourselves every four to five years. We actively seek new services, products, and skill sets. Innovation, whether in existing processes or new offerings, requires continuous improvement. What is visible today will evolve over the next five years. In the past six months, we’ve expanded our team with individuals knowledgeable in large language models (LLMs). 

 Customer feedback is another avenue for innovation. Each year, we conduct a comprehensive “voice of the customer” survey, featuring a ten-point Q&A. This direct engagement with our customers, addressing project sentiments and management perspectives, yields valuable insights. I personally send out these questions, and the responses often spark ideas for new services. 

Molecular Connections recently sponsored the STM Innovations Awards, and I shared three key recommendations with the startups present: 

  1. Maintain a commitment to innovation. 
  2. Identify and strengthen your competitive advantage by creating a distinctive “moat” around it. 
  3. Persevere and be persistent in your endeavors. 

I emphasized the importance of flexibility and responsiveness to customer needs. Just as a tree bends in the face of a storm to avoid uprooting, a startup must adapt and learn. After weathering challenges, it can stand tall. Establishing and defending a unique competitive advantage is crucial, especially for Indian companies, where cost efficiency often serves as an advantage. Automation and moving up the value chain are effective strategies to maintain margins. 

 Lastly, having faith in oneself and knowing when to transition are vital. This requires a flexible mindset, recognizing that success is a marathon, not a sprint. While shortcuts for quick profits may seem tempting, prioritizing quality over the long term is essential for sustained success. 

If you were assessing a startup’s chances of survival and success, what questions would you ask them?

Startups generally lack significant revenue or a large customer base. When evaluating them, I consider three key criteria:

  1. Founder’s Background: Does the founder possess a distinctive background, and are they genuinely passionate about their product? 
  2. Addressable Market: Is the market they are targeting substantial enough, and does the startup hold a competitive advantage within that market? 
  3. Achievements to Date: What tangible progress has the startup made? If the concept seems too abstract or lacks substance, it may not be viable. I often encourage startups to revisit after six months with more concrete developments, although most do not follow through. 

Do you have any other suggestions for existing organisations in scholarly communications on how to encourage technical innovation?

I offer two recommendations: 

  1. Foster Collaboration: Avoid attempting to handle everything independently. Recognize your core competencies and seek collaboration with specialized centers of excellence. 
  2. Allocate Resources for Experimentation: Despite the mature nature of the publishing industry, it is crucial to have a designated budget for experimentation. The CEO should personally oversee this budget, ensuring a proactive approach to innovation, rather than delegating the responsibility. 

As CEO of a large company, you are unusual for the time you spend at events and on the road. Why is this?

I aim to stay connected with both my customers and the industry. Without travel and face-to-face meetings, there’s a risk of losing touch with customers and failing to grasp industry trends. Additionally, I genuinely enjoy traveling and meeting people. While virtual platforms like Zoom or Meet have their merits, I believe they have limitations in fully capturing the essence of personal interactions. You might consider me old-fashioned, but I value the unique benefits of in-person engagements. 

Do you see generative AI as a boost to innovation, or a threat?

Generative AI is undoubtedly influential, and its immediate effect is evident in our internal workflow. We employ a Large Language Model (LLM) akin to ChatGPT, allowing our employees to inquire about our staff policy. In the long run, our company has consistently operated on a hybrid model, incorporating a “human-in-the-loop” as an integral aspect of embracing generative AI. This ensures increased reliability, offers a sanity check, and mitigates the occurrence of hallucinations. This fundamental approach remains unchanged. 



Media Contact


Krishna K.

VP, Business Development & Marketing

Molecular Connections Pvt. Ltd.
Heritage Building,
#59/2, Kaderanahalli,
100 feet road, Banashankari 2nd Stage,
Bangalore 560070, Karnataka, INDIA

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