Healthtech company Prenetics has entered into a merger agreement with Adrian Cheng’s Artisan Acquisition Corp, and will become the first Hong Kong unicorn to be publicly traded.
The merger transaction is expected to close as early as the fourth quarter, and the combined entity will be traded on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol PRE. The deal marks a stunning rise for the seven-year-old firm, which just last year was valued at ‘only’ US$300 million, but which now has an enterprise value of US$1.25 billion and an equity value of US$1.7 billion.
But, how did founder Danny Yeung reach such dizzying heights? Well, if you ask him, he would tell you it isn’t exactly rocket science. And the secret sauce to his success boils down to three ingredients: Passion, creativity and humility.
“You have to be passionate about what you do. You can't hide passion. And then it becomes infectious to other people. People want to follow passion and be around people that are passionate,” says Yeung, speaking to Tatler in an exclusive interview.
Yeung, who started working at the age of 12, says he’s always “loved coming to work”. But, passion alone isn’t enough. The former Groupon CEO says an entrepreneur has to be creative and resourceful, especially when a company is still small.
“Nobody gives you a playbook for what to do in every scenario. So you have to be creative about things.”
So far, so good. But why humility, then? Isn’t a certain moxie, a swagger, or perhaps even a sense of braggadocio, important in the cut and thrust world of big business?
Well, in Yeung’s case, humility is in his DNA. The son of an immigrant family which moved from Guangdong, China to the US when he was five, Yeung didn’t grow up wealthy. Even when he started his first business, a San Francisco franchise of Hong Kong’s famous Hui Lau Shan dessert shops, the then-25-year-old Yeung could be found in the kitchen, making desserts.
“I had to make sure I knew the business and needed to learn to make everything in case my chef quit,” he explains, adding he still remains a very “operational CEO”.
This “very average” background, he says, is the reason why he values being humble.
"I appreciate everything I have today; I certainly appreciate everybody’s time. And certainly, I’m always hungry to continue to create milestones for the company.
Hunger for success
While Yeung and Prenetics have certainly hit a significant milestone this week, it seems like more are beckoning in the not-too-distant future – which is also one of the main reasons why Prenetics’ is valued at over a billion dollars.
The testing firm initially shot to prominence on the back of its swift pivot to providing affordable and reliable COVID-19 testing kits. Prenetics successfully conducted over 3 million tests in Hong Kong and more than 2 million in the UK, including for London’s Heathrow and the Hong Kong International airports and perhaps most impressively, for over 3,000 players and staff involved in the English Premier League.
Yeung is already reimagining testing for a variety of ailments and diseases. Prenetics, which started out with the CircleDNA health test prior to its Covid kits, recently launched the Circle HealthPod in Hong Kong, which by next year will be able to detect influenza and sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. Also in the pipeline are products which will allow for non-invasive colon cancer tests as well as at-home blood testing.
This steady pipeline of hotly anticipated products is expected to be a gamechanger for Prenetics. Already the number one genomics and diagnostics testing company in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, with revenues growing 215% year-on-year from US$65 million in 2020 to US$205 million in 2021, the company is expected to hit revenues of more than US$600 million by 2025.
What makes all this remarkable though, is that Yeung doesn’t have a science or medical background at all. The inspiration to move into the healthtech sector came to Yeung in 2014, shortly after his daughter was born.
“I saw that there weren’t many companies in this space. If I wanted the easy path, I could have easily done e-commerce and made a lot more money at the time,” says Yeung, adding that he had to read a lot of scientific papers and journals after starting Prenetics.
“People ask me today, are you a doctor or a scientist? But not having a healthcare background has allowed me to think outside the box in terms of how to translate very scientific or medical products to everyday people, which is the biggest challenge in science,” he says.
But it’s not just about reading scientific journals. Yeung has clearly not forgotten the lessons learned in the kitchen of his dessert shop, and even now doesn’t shy away from diving headfirst into the grittier aspects of Prenetics’ work. When Prenetics was doing Covid tests in Hong Kong, Yeung personally went to some of the worst-hit parts of Hong Kong to help conduct tests. Why? Because, he says, he wasn’t going to ask anybody in his team to do something he wouldn’t do himself.
“You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself. My philosophy in business is give first and take later. If you do well, there’s certainly a significant upside opportunity.”