InternXperience @Ascent (AHWSPL)- by Vidhi Dimothe #50

Ascent’s inception took place with an idea of creating value within the pharmaceutical supply chain by adding some harmony among all the chaos and ensuring the affordability of health care to all. With Make in India embedded in its spirit, Ascent is determined to consolidate pharma supply chain by providing one-stop solution with a full-stack model across Warehousing, Logistics, Supplies, and Credit to connect all the leading pharmaceutical companies and retailers. Ascent has an annual GMV in excess of US $ 300 Million, growing well over 100% YoY through a combination of organic and inorganic measures. Ascent works with a number of top pharmaceutical companies such as Zydus Cadila, Cipla, Sun Pharmaceuticals, Abbott, GSK, Pfizer, Torrent amongst a host of others and provides seamless platforms to ensure integrity in supply chain: leading to easier access to affordable medicines.

Interview preparation and Process:

Before pursuing my MBA, I was closely associated with the construction sector at Shapoorji Pallonji Co. Ltd. My experience was primarily in site execution, planning, and commercials. For someone with that background, getting into the Pharmaceutical sector was going to be a completely new experience. During my summer internship interview with the company’s Cluster Head, I was asked various questions to test my creativity and agility. The most surprising one being – “You have mentioned paper quilling in you CV, can you create something now?”. Art and paper quilling were a few aspects I was passionate about, attempted to make small strands of a rough paper eventually creating petals of a flower. During the conversation, we discussed the importance of maintaining sanctity in chaos. I was asked to describe the most difficult experience and how I was able to manage it. The conversation then led to my work experience in the construction sector and its complexities. Finally, the HR round was about culture checks and challenges faced due to long working hours in my work experience. The HR could empathize with the difficulties one faces while working at the site. I had a gut feeling that I would be selected for this company following a few failed attempts before.

Understanding the chaos: Link between laboratory and the marketplace

Aiming to understand the pharmaceutical sector, I came across numerous upheavals the industry is facing. India is the largest provider of generic drugs globally. The level of competition is obvious by knowing the fact that there are 2,500 salts sold under 60,000 brand names at varying prices. Each well-known top pharmaceutical company has 4,000-6,000 company stockiest on average and with the help of distributors, they cater to over 8 lakh pharmacies or chemists, on average. The manufacturers lose sight of their products when they get past the stockiest or distributors. The average inventory is around 231 days in the supply chain and a minimum product hand change is 4. This is the space that Ascent is determined to innovate. Offering solutions to the Brands having increased visibility across the supply chain. 

The concepts learnt in the previous semester came handy in analyzing numerous reports covering various aspects of supply chain in the Pharma sector. I began preparing for the internship by studying the history of government policies right from pharmaceutical policy to NPPP to draft National Logistics Policy.

Leading with Example:

Given the pandemic, there was a disruption in the supply chain across the sectors. Ascent is one of those rare companies that focused on adapting quickly and committed to delivering in any given scenario. Amidst the disruption, they were able to deliver urgent requirements to even remotely located pharmacies (300 km away). They ensured to motivate their team on a daily basis, which led to over 90% attendance rate. A few employees even rented apartments near their respective warehouses to protect their families during the lockdown. 

Impact on Interns:

The company did not delay our joining date and from day 1 we were made aware of the difficulties faced during those challenging times when we joined the team virtually. Ascent with its idea to provide e-passes, insurance, digital order management, e-payments, tie-ups with lenders for their partners made them a preferred choice for pharmacies to place their orders online. Inherently, it a B2B company, they focused on creating a hassle-free experience both for top pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies. 

The interns were not restricted by any particular project rather were given an opportunity to contribute as much as possible. It gave me great learning insight into branding and digital marketing even during the virtual internship. We also conducted market research for popular OTC brands and came up with recommendations. Gaining consumer insights is equally important for a B2B marketplace as well. On a personal level, I became quite a part of the family and started contributing until late hours when required. As rightly quoted “It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos”, even after completing the internship, the interns from various colleges are still in touch with each other and with the team at Ascent. I feel that a positive work environment led to better productivity and reliability.

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