Avi Lasarow had every reason to celebrate recently as Prenetics International Limited, in partnership with Artisans Acquisitions, became Hong Kong’s first “Unicorn” to list on the NASDAQ under the ticker PRE.
WHILE the world waits in anticipation for the next move by South Africa’s most famous entrepreneur, given Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover bid, another former Johannesburg resident continues to break boundaries and scale new heights within the genetics and diagnostic health testing sector.
Avi Lasarow, who is also one of South Africa’s Honorary Consuls to the UK, had every reason to celebrate recently as Prenetics International Limited, in partnership with Artisans Acquisitions, became Hong Kong’s first “Unicorn” to list on the NASDAQ under the ticker PRE.
A Unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at $1 billion or more.
A delighted Lasarow said: “The NASDAQ clearly is the most famous exchange globally known for tech stocks and is home to the world’s largest technology giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat by way of example. The NASDAQ was the world’s first electronic exchange and operates in 29 markets has one clearing house and fined central security depositories. It’s a dream for many to find a home on the NASDAQ to cement the story of growth vision and future success on a public market.
“It’s clear the macroeconomic climate is tough right now but this does not and should not stop any company from the pursuit of its vision and determination to execute the associated company strategy,” he added .
Lasarow is chief executive of Prenetics’ Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) operations, a role he moved into after his own startup, DNAfit, was acquired by the Prenetics group in early 2018. As Lasarow’s third venture, DNAfit was a self-funded health tech disruptor created in 2013 and one of the first companies to make “at home” genetic testing widely available in a direct-to-consumer setting.
Offering a range of genetically guided fitness and nutrition-based insights, DNAfit has helped thousands of customers to make better health choices related to diet and exercise.
Prior to the Prenetics acquisition, the company achieved various accolades in the UK including two coveted Queen’s Awards in 2018, while also attracting investment and endorsement from former England and Manchester United defender, Rio Ferdinand.
Here in South Africa, DNAfit partnered with Investec Life in what at the time was a first for an African insurer, offering clients access to a range of genetic tests in order to encourage healthier living.
The acquisition of DNAfit brought together two serial entrepreneurs, as Lasarow joined forces with Prentics Group chief executive and co-founder, Danny Yeung. Yeung formed Prenetics in 2014 on the back of a successful term as chief executive of Groupon’s East Asia division, a role he took on after uBuyiBuy, the most recent of his self-started ventures, was acquired by Groupon in 2010.
By that stage Yeung had already gained momentum in Hong Kong with Prenetics’ own range of consumer DNA tests, realising success through several partnerships with well-known insurers including Prudential, HSBC and others. Prenetics had secured significant private funding and was laying the foundation for its lofty vision – namely, to improve the lives of millions of people by allowing them easier access to their own valuable healthcare information. The acquisition of DNAfit offered obvious synergies and a foothold into the EMEA market.
“Myself and … Yeung had a goal to impact millions of lives and create a unicorn and we achieved this. There is always room for the next unicorn, the next innovation and the next success story. Africa is poised to produce many of these in the years to come and hence I am super excited to be South African Hon Consul in the UK to highlight the “art of the possible” to the South African community abroad and back home,” Lasarow said.
In 2019, the Prenetics team launched CircleDNA, billed as the world’s most comprehensive consumer DNA test. CircleDNA uses advanced Whole Exome Sequencing to deliver a clinical grade DNA test into a consumer setting, with customers paying as much as £499 (about R10 000) to understand genetic traits across 23 different categories, including cancer predispositions, brain health, lifestyle diseases, pharmacogenomics, family planning and more.
The product was received well, unsurprisingly, given that just a year earlier Amazon had reported selling over 1 million home DNA tests in just 24 hours during Black Friday, signaling a seismic shift from niche to mainstream for this pioneering new sector.
2020 will long be remembered as the one where everything changed, with the arrival of a new deadly coronavirus, curfews, lockdowns, mask mandates, global hysteria and unprecedented job losses. At a time when whole sectors were brought to their knees, Lasarow and Prenetics found themselves in a prime position to support the multibillion-dollar Covid-19 testing industry which was born overnight.
As Hong Kong sent out early warnings of what was to come, Lasarow and his EMEA team moved quickly and within weeks of the pandemic’s arrival into the UK, secured a contract with the English Premier League, effectively allowing, against all odds, the completion of the 2019 / 20 season. On the back of this success, Prenetics EMEA found themselves supporting various other elite sporting programs, major film studios and cruise ships, while also setting up mobile testing labs in just about all of the UK’s major airports.
It was a year of exponential growth for the company as on the other side of the globe, the Hong Kong head office was just as busy, winning large government contracts which saw millions of PCR tests passing through their in-house laboratory. This included a 2021 contract with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department which was credited for keeping the hospitality sector afloat at the time, as 200 000 restaurant employees were routinely tested for Covid-19.
As the world now begins to look beyond Covid-19, Prenetics has announced plans to launch a range of new “at home” tests in 2022, including SnapShot, a pain-free blood test measuring critical heart health markers and ColoClear, a non-invasive stool test for the early detection of colon cancer. Yeung, Lasarow and all those around them are determined to pick up where they left off prior to the pandemic, in pursuit of creating healthier and better informed global communities.
Now with the backing of Hong Kong’s first-ever Unicorn and with aspirations to achieve revenues of $640 million (R11bn) by 2025, Lasarow is on track to be just the latest example of South Africans shining brightly on the world’s biggest global stages.
While some South African-born success stories are known for not looking back fondly, Lasarow is the opposite. His previously mentioned honorary position has left routes which he can often be found speaking of proudly. Testament to this is the Gauteng-based operational centre which was established by Lasarow in 2016 to support DNAfit’s global services and was later rolled up into the Prenetics Group. The Waterfall based offices now employs over 100 full-time employees.
Lasarow also noted that Sekunjalo’s Sagarmatha had an incredible vision underpinned by an investment thesis and operating model. “In my personal view, the demise of this opportunity was a lost opportunity for South African investors and potentially a very large South African success story that would have gone down in the history books. This could have been the ‘Tesla’ of its sector.”