By Erin Chan Ding
In March 2022, microbiologist and startup founder Ari Gargir was on a stage in Dubai when he found out he would be receiving $500,000 from the Aviram Foundation.
Gargir won the foundation’s inaugural Aviram Awards—a first-of-its-kind competition launched this year to recognize startups in the Middle East and North Africa with the potential to benefit society. The mission of the Aviram Awards is to encourage promising entrepreneurs to combine business with social impact.
The Aviram Foundation was founded in 2021 by businessman and entrepreneur Ziv Aviram and his four children: Gili, Nir, Noa and Gal. The foundation’s work reflects its worldview and values — a combination of innovation, entrepreneurship, and the provision of opportunities to improve the daily reality of the citizens of Israel and the Middle East.
Since the win, business life has moved fast and slow for Gargir.
First, the quick part: A $500,000 infusion for his company, RedC Biotech — launched in 2015 to mass-produce red blood cells — which Gargir is pushing to increase lab space and staff salaries. The funding also serves as an important confirmation: he and his colleagues are building a company that can make a significant difference in people’s lives.
But it’s still a marathon process, Gargir said. Since the launch of RedC – and the start of its lab work three years ago – it has set out to develop stem cell lines in bioreactors that will eventually produce universal red blood cells. The long-term vision is to produce and distribute this produced blood to hospitals and non-profit organizations so that life-saving transfusions are not so dependent on human donors.
“We’re doing biotech, so it’s not a fast-paced industry,” he said. “It’s not fast-paced research – it takes time. There [are] always challenges, but always progress.”
Gargir currently has three team members working in the lab to develop stem cell lines and hopes to expand as much as possible. It will continue to invest the prize money in procuring laboratory space and materials, paying salaries, and researching and developing quality stem cell lines.
Funding also helps build long-term momentum, Gargir explained. The goal is for RedC Biotech’s first blood bags to hit hospitals and nonprofits in about five years. To achieve this, Gargir hopes to raise $25 million over the next three years, scaling up by bringing on more scientists and engineers and expanding the company’s lab space.
His experience in competition led to new discoveries about securing funding. In looking for investors, for example, Gargir said he learned to look for specific traits and expertise: people who have patience, understand biotech and aren’t looking for super-fast returns.
“They need to know that [startup] he is not one of those fast ones,” Gargir said. “It’s not a unicorn that’s going to pop up in a year or two. He’s a pony — a pony with a bump on his forehead right now.’
Gargir On Mentorship
Gargir also harnesses the power of mentoring. Every company and its needs are different, he explained, but mentoring remains a key resource for any entrepreneur.
For his own professional development, for example, Gargir seeks out mentors with expertise in other areas in which he can learn and grow, as well as those who can help him tackle challenges in both business and biotech.
Today, one of those mentors is Ziv Aviram—one of Israel’s most notable managers, who, in addition to running the Aviram Foundation with his children, co-founded the successful companies Mobileye and OrCam. Gargir received Aviram’s mentorship as part of his win and says the relationship is a lasting asset.
Since the Aviram Awards in Dubai, Gargir and Aviram will meet regularly to discuss business challenges and opportunities. “I’m really honored,” says Gargir. “It’s nice to know you have someone with such knowledge and experience that you could just call on.”
Gargir On Storytelling
The genesis of RedC Biotech began decades before Gargir launched the company seven years ago. The inspiration for RedC dates back to the 1990s, when Gargir suffered a serious paragliding accident in northern Israel that required a helicopter to extricate him.
He suffered severe lung damage and received a blood transfusion to save his life. These blood units not only spurred the creation of RedC Biotech, but also became an essential part of the story Gargir shares with potential investors. “Personal history is something that is important [and] efficient,” he said.
As for the scientific specifics of RedC’s work, however, Gargir—who holds a Ph.D. in biology—has learned to keep explanations tight and consumable for a broad audience. “Because [of] my background, I get carried away with the science part. I have to hold back and be concise in the details,” he said.
Still, many people respond to the RedC story with such intrigue—interest that sometimes borders on disbelief, even as Gargir genuinely wants to help them understand the basic science behind his work. To succinctly share origin stories, Gargir advised focusing on narrative preparation. “Present clearly,” he said. “You have the ability to make your case.”
Gargir credited the recent funding with helping him generate even more interest and respect for RedC’s impressive work. “On the exposure side,” he said, “it’s been very helpful. I can talk to a lot of people who are impressed. [They] understand that this is for humanity – that it is for a good cause.’
The Aviram Foundation, created by Ziv Aviram, co-founder of the world-changing Mobileye and OrCam solutions, is rooted in the mission of combining innovation and technology with social responsibility and participation in an effort to improve the lives of millions of people in Worldwide. The Aviram Foundation’s first initiative, the Aviram Awards, is a first-of-its-kind annual competition dedicated to young and promising entrepreneurs from the Gulf and Middle East who are actively committed to creating change through technology and innovation in various fields. including health, transport, community, environment and more. The Aviram Foundation, together with Forbes, will soon announce the registration of the Aviram Awards 2023 competition.