The business of biotechnology

Penelope Shihab is out to prove that Jordan can become a leading hub for scientific research in biotechnology and development.

Penelope Shihab is the founder of MonoJo, the only biotechnology research firm in Jordan, and Skinue, an American skincare line that utilizes the antibodies in camel’s milk to treat acne conditions.

Shihab, who has a bachelor’s degree in laboratory medicine, a master’s in hematology, biotechnology and immunology, and a PhD in chemical engineering and biotechnology, was recognized in 2017 as one of the most influential Arabs in the world in Arabian Business magazine and as EY’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.

How did the idea behind your ventures come about?

After spending eight years at Dako Technologies, a biotech company, I had enough experience with researching cancer and running a business. I traveled back and forth between Amman and Copenhagen. Being in the West and coming back to the East, you can understand the gaps between here and there in terms of the industry. I quit my job in 2005 to begin my business.

Why do you believe MonoJo is an important contributor to Jordan’s economy and why don’t you sell your products in the Jordanian market?

I think it’s important because it’s local. It’s sourced from camel milk which we innovated and it’s going big outside. We’re so used to imports as we import most of what we have and use, but Skinue is a Jordanian product that is made by us to be exported to the world. Why not get everyone to know about this? The cost of selling Skinue in the pharmacies with the agencies in Jordan right now is more than the cost of the product because of the cost of taxes, customs for the packaging and raw material, labor and social security. The market is also very small so there is no volume to cover, which is why we’re not selling in the Kingdom yet. This year, however, we are putting Jordan on the plan. This is my land, my people, my place. There’s no volume of sales in Jordan yet but if we get and, then definitely we will sell it here.

What are your short to medium-term plans for the companies?

Financially, we will go to IPO or acquisitions. I’m not sure yet. I will keep growing my companies in the coming five years and I will definitely start another business because I feel like I am a serial entrepreneur. I’m focusing on growing sales and revenues. We are also going to be in the Latin America market because we are registering the brand and we will go for more and more markets and of course market the brand more.

What advice do you have for anyone starting out in this field?

You have to create a team and start from a small place. I got that and people started believing in me. I used all of my connections and got people to support me here. I personally want to create more leaders in the science and technology sector in Jordan and be part of this ecosystem enhancement and support. I will not stop and will keep going till I get what I want.