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Trimega Laboratories: Avi Lasarow

A biotech entrepreneur starts a multinational company and becomes the gold standard in a cutting-edge industry.

Juliet Pitman

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Avi Lasarow is riding the crest of a wave. In the past year, his UK-based biotech company, Trimega Laboratories, has opened a world-class R12 million hair substance abuse testing lab, begun a research project to formulate a hair test for anti-retroviral compliance, and been recognised at the inaugural SA Business Awards in London where Lasarow was named the 2010 Business Leader of the Year.

The last year, however, is just one in a series of high points for Trimega since its inception six short years ago. With facilities in the UK, South Africa, the United States and Germany, the company has developed a range of innovative techniques for testing substances of abuse.

It’s core business is hair testing that detects drug and alcohol abuse, and is recognised  internationally as a gold standard in the industry. “Urine and blood tests can only provide you with so much information, whereas hair testing reveals a pattern of abuse over a period of time,” explains Lasarow. The Hair Alcohol Testing product provides an accurate historical record of an individual’s alcohol dependency over a one to 12-month period, while urine, blood and liver function tests only relate to recent consumption.

Understanding the market

The science behind the products is complex and yet Lasarow has no formal training in biotechnology. But quite apart from finding this a hindrance, it’s something he believes has given him an edge. “The science is one thing but making a successful business out of it is another. Because I’m not a biotechnologist I could translate the science into what the market needs and understands, and then commercialise it. As an entrepreneur you need to become a subject matter expert in your area, but you don’t necessarily need to have a qualification,” he says.

He might add that you need to understand your market, and this has undoubtedly been one of Trimega’s key success factors. In most cases, the information obtained from hair testing is used by family law specialists, social services and the courts in child custody cases where decisions need to be made about the future of vulnerable children whose parents are substance abusers. In the UK alone, for example, around 20 000 hair and alcohol drug tests are requested in child custody cases each year.

Expanding horizons

But Trimega’s products are commercially viable across a wide range of other applications and in a growing number of countries. The company receives requests from doctors who need to test a patient’s suitability for transplant surgery, and lawyers involved in employment tribunals, or for routine testing in safety-critical jobs such as aviation and for steroid testing among athletes. In Germany, its products are used to assess the eligibility of banned drink-drivers to get their licenses back, while in North America they are used to confirm suspected cases of foetal alcohol syndrome, where mothers have drunk excessively during pregnancy.

Bringing it home

Lasarow has actively grown each of these markets, familiarising himself with the opportunities for Trimega’s products in each of the countries in which it operates. Describing himself as a ‘global South African’, he’s particularly passionate about ‘bringing it home’ to South Africa, and two of the company’s latest innovative developments focus on the key needs of the South African market.

In 2008, in a joint venture with Real World Diagnostics, Trimega launched its DrugAlyser product in South Africa, which allows traffic officials to test drivers for drug use via a sample of sweat or saliva. “I knew that road fatalities were also the result of drugs, not just alcohol and I knew if I could get the data to prove this, it would be extremely valuable,” says Lasarow.

Thanks to excellent stakeholder relationship communication, Trimega Labs was afforded the opportunity to work in partnership with the Department of Community Safety and Traffic Law Enforcement to test over 500 motorists at roadblocks for various drugs, including cocaine, opiates, ecstasy, dagga and Tik. The survey not only has the potential to impact South Africa’s traffic laws – it provided Trimega with the data it needed and established it as the brand of authority when it came to roadside drug testing. This has opened up new opportunities for the company, which has since been involved in drug abuse trials among industry heavyweights such as DeBeers, Transnet and BHP Billiton.

Most recently, Lasarow has turned his attention to South Africa’s challenge of HIV/Aids. “One of the exciting things about our new lab is that we’re busy formulating a test to measure ARV compliance, which will help to highlight patients who are not taking their medication and are therefore at risk of developing viral resistance,” he explains. The research project is part of a bilateral biotechnology skills transfer that Lasarow hopes will benefit South Africa in the long-run. “The South African Government has sent expatriate entrepreneurs a strong and welcoming message to ‘bring it home’ and that is precisely what I hope to do,” he concludes.

Seeing a gap for reduced rental

Lasarow has an entrepreneur’s knack for spotting an opportunity. When the company was looking for space to set up its new laboratory he approached other tenants who were locked into a four-year lease, negotiating with them to take over their lease for 70% of its value, thereby saving Trimega a considerable sum.

Legal lessons

Lasarow knows from first-hand experience just how important it is from a legal point of view to keep certain things documented. “Early on, I did a lot of things on trust with a former business partner in South Africa and was unfortunately let down.

But because I had certain legal documents in place I could go to court and be assured of having clean hands. These things are never pleasant, but my advice to other entrepreneurs would be to document agreements, decisions and meeting minutes for later reference. Hopefully they won‘t be needed in future, but if you ever have to go to court, they are invaluable.” Entrepreneurs often go into business with someone they trust and not expecting that they might run into a dispute later on, which is why they don’t formally document things like partnership agreements. Having things written down and agreed upon helps to make expectations and deliverables clear. It pays to invest in a lawyer to get these documents drawn up.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Boris Hailes

    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:53

    How can it be classed as the ‘gold standard’ when the company doesn’t even register for ISO 17025 accreditation for it’s drug testing service? It makes you wonder about the systems that have been implemented when the company refuses to conform to an internationally recognised testing laboratory standard. There are others with this accreditation status who would be much more trustworthy.

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27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

From the individuals that made the 27 of the richest people in South Africa list, actual entrepreneurs and self-made business people dominate the list; while those who inherited their fortunes have gone on to do even bigger and better things with their wealth. Over the years, some have slipped off the list, while others continue to climb higher and higher each year.

  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
  15. Adrian Gore
  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
  22. Allan Gray
  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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