Diplomat, entrepreneur Avi Lasarow to work with EPL in war on Covid-19
LONDON – Avi Lasarow is an entrepreneur born and bred who doesn’t let too much grass grow under his feet. At 43, the multimillionaire UK-resident South African nation is leading his fourth business in the last decade and a half, as chief executive EMEA of Prenetics, a global health diagnostics and solutions company headquartered in Hong Kong, having sold his last business – DNA fit – to the group for US$10 million in 2018.
Lasarow, appointed in 2016 as South African Honorary Consul to the UK, is up for the fight with Covid-19, now, with testing systems which will help people get back to work safely.
Prenetics is pioneering Covid-19 testing solutions in the UK (as well as Hong Kong and South Africa) and has just won a turnkey account to work with the English Premier League (all the football clubs you have heard of in England) on its ‘Project Restart’ to get teams retraining ahead of a remainder, it is hoped, of the country’s soccer season.
Lasarow is no stranger to innovative health solutions with an international profile. He founded Trimega, another UK MedTech business also sold for seven figures in 2012, which won British acclaim for its work serving social services child support teams to establish when vulnerable kids could return to their homes. Addiction issues were rife in many homes, and when parents went ‘clean’, as many became to regain their families, it was important this was medically validated. The company also operated South Africa’s first roadside drug testing research project known as “DrugAlzyer”.
The fast-talking entrepreneur moved to the UK in 2001, travelling between South Africa and the UK on an ongoing basis, before deciding to start a new family near to his current London business in recognising the country as a global hub for medical and technology innovation, the only one which competes with the US Lasarow argues. The time zone and relative ease of travel, pre-Covid-19 at least, made it the logical home for him and his wife and their two children.
Lasarow was like most entrepreneurs not born with any silver spoon. He grew up in a liberal with a strong family culture and focus on education, and Lasarow did well enough in-state school in South Africa to find support to go to a private school in the US for a short period. He already had a burning interest in technology, and like one of his heroes Bill Gates also found himself booking school time on their one PC at three in the morning when it was free. Also like Gates, though Lasarow does not press the analogy, he left education early – in fact at 16 – as he felt that neither school nor university at that time would add to his skills earned in the early hours in his school computer room.
Of that time Lasarow says: “I was very lucky to live in a home which both valued formal education, but also was confident enough in me to encourage me to take risks at key points, recognising my interests were very focused in an area which hadn’t been around enough to find professors fully to teach it!”.
On interview and skills alone, he got a job with Citibank working as part of its technical implementation team, before leaving to begin his career as an entrepreneur, already in the medical tech field with various initial ventures in the UK and South Africa.
His big breakthrough came with his first scaled venture, Trimega, sold for £8.3m to the respected private equity arm of Close Brothers Group. He had the capital for the first time in his life and invested he admits not fully successfully in ‘safe bets’ like real estate.
He says now: “I learned fast that so many business opportunities which look safe so often aren’t, and particularly in areas in which I was no expert even if advised by such. I rather like a motto attributed to Nelson, rightly or not. Sometimes the biggest risk is not to take one”.
“Certainly, there are no safe bets in even in technology, including for vast businesses like the so-called ‘Fangs’ (the five big tech companies which drive the stock market valuations in the US) which have to re-invent themselves or develop constantly in new areas. Entrepreneurship, continually, is at the heart of the sector, which is why it has always suited me so well.”
Lasarow also has mixed views of the US as a market place, having had a run-in with a regulator there in the past which appeared to be particularly focused on overseas businesses seeking market share there.
For now, though, the future for Lasarow seems more set than in the past. He has led the capture of one of the most prestigious clients for Covid-19 private sector testing, a lead story on the front page of the British and international media. He has assembled world-class sub-contractors for aspects of delivery, some of whom are providing the service to the British NHS and German football league. He draws on the resources of a global group, Prenetics, which has the backing of vast investors like Alibaba and Ping An, the insurer. He is leading business development work with some of Europe’s leading companies, as his Hong Kong parent works on accounts like HSBC and Deliveroo and a subsidiary that operated and employs teams in South Africa.
“The great thing about Prenetics is that the Covid-19 crisis has forced us to move fast and well in a rapidly developing situation, barely five months old, all of which require entrepreneurial, as well as big company skills and that, is where I perhaps add the most value as a business leader for now, as CEO for Europe Middle East and Africa.”
There will doubtless be more chapters in the Avi Lasarow story, for a relatively young man who has managed to fit in so much from his great beginnings in South Africa, the country he still values hugely for work and life, and whose interests he represents so many ways internationally.