Leading from the front

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Jignesh Bhate

Self-confessed workaholic Jignesh Bhate describes the foundation and progress of Molecular Connections over nearly 20 years

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

I am academically qualified as the top ranking chartered accountant (CA), which is a prestigious degree in India. I’m also the winner of Gold Medal in CA and the recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Young Indian award in 2003, Ranked as the Star Entrepreneur subsequently - both conferred by the Govt. of India for my contribution to Indian pharmaceutical research. I was also the Top Investment Banker in Asia and an equity research analyst. I was among the most successful investors in the investment banking world. Many who know me personally understand that I am something of a workaholic and my life has been about seizing opportunities in the markets. My natural curiosity paved my way to analyzing the future of pharma companies globally and due to my insights, successful predications at different levels, I was rated as the Asia’s ‘Best and most influential Pharma Analyst’ during my time.

What is Molecular Connections, how/why was it created, and how does it fit in with the scholarly communications industry?

I founded Molecular Connections (MC) early in 2002. The human genome had just been sequenced in 2000, bringing in a promise of personalised medicine through biological and chemical informatics. The National University of Singapore had promising text mining technologies and I bought those technologies in exchange of shares; that’s how MC was born. To that extent, the government of Singapore is a shareholder in MC.

The company started as a curation vendor to support big pharmas and has worked with STM publishers ever since. Having noticed a strong interplay and synergy between both business vertices, MC decided to deepen its value proposition in maintaining publishers’ content as a natural extension of serving existing pharma/bench researcher needs. MC is a key contributor, and is behind many popular secondary databases consumed by academia, pharmas and researchers across content value chain. MC repositioned publishers’ content, and made it more discoverable by bringing in the knowledge of how pharma companies are using published content.

I also decided to make MC a pioneer when it comes to gender diversity. We broke all stereotypes 17 years ago when we hired two senior woman employees to be business unit heads of what was at this stage a start-up. I aimed to lead from the front and continue to believe in an equitable environment that brings better business results. Today, more than 65 percent of MC's staff are women. MC has morphed into a data science company that was created for publishers to unearth and derive more value from their content. We provide services and products that enhance discoverability of publisher’s content through schema.org and SEO compliant backend infrastructure, or by improving linkages and structuring of the knowledge by building customised granular ontologies. Our continued success story is a testimony to this fact, as we grew from 20 employees in 2003 to more than 2700 employees in 2020, while many companies that started alongside MC, rolled shutters.

What would you identify as the industry's most pressing need right now?

The industry has to increase its value proposition in the current open environment amidst changing author expectations and regulatory scenarios. Growing in terms of profits and sales continually, is the key.

What will be the key developments in scholarly communications over the next decade?

I believe that more content will be served open, authors will take the center stage and publishers that provide significant author benefits will continue to grow.

Society publishers need to innovate and provide significantly increased value to their members. While repositioning of content is essential for innovation, sustainable growth comes with the usage of machine learning and AI – especially in production and customer profiling workflows. We are already seeing publishers claim competitive advantage through timely usage of modern technologies and this remains a critical component of growth.

Any interesting facts, pastimes or hobbies that you want to tell us about?

I started undertaking volunteering jobs with NGOs in India, while I was young & I continue to fund many educational institutions and invest considerable time and energy into it, despite my busy schedule. I have travelled to more than 100 countries by now (multiple times) and counting. I am also a big Bollywood buff and run marathons.

Interview by Tim Gillett