Happy 20th Anniversary to Us: A Business Parable
Twenty years is a significant milestone, particularly for a specialized, independently owned business like Alkemist Labs, so of course I’ve been thinking about where we started, how history has shaped our company, and where we are headed.
The name Sudberg is said to be derived from the word Südberger, which roughly means South Mountain Herder. It was most likely chopped upon ‘Ellis Island matriculation’ to the current form Sudberg. That’s just a cute anecdote if you are into genealogy like my mother-in-law, however it will prove relevant later on in this story.
Alkemist Labs started back in the early 1980’s as the manufacturing division of Cooperative Healing Arts, a clinic started by Alkemist Labs Founder and CSO, Sidney Sudberg. Patients could see a chiropractor, have acupuncture performed, get allergy testing, live blood cell analysis and be prescribed herbal medicine. Over the years, the manufacturing division took on its own brand. The vision was to produce high quality liquid herbal tinctures for patients of practitioners. So Alkemists Pharmaceuticals was born.
Things took a significant turn around 1996 when there was a serious adulteration issue in the herbal industry: Digitalis lanata was used in place of Plantago lanceolata. One worked the gut while the other worked the heart, and significant adverse events started manifesting. After the FDA responded by offering some courses on self-regulation using botanical Microscopy and HPTLC, we started to perform some quality control on incoming material using these affordable techniques. Once we started to reject incoming raw materials based upon our test results, our vendors became cognoscente of our growing skill with these test methods, and our internal lab services became highly sought after for those who cared about quality. To this day we kick ass at those methods, and everyone knows it.
We existed for another decade scrounging for business from those in the industry who cared more about quality, efficacy and repeat sales than quick profits. Even today, Brugmansia flowers take me back to the early years of working very long hours to build the company, and the aroma of those nocturnal flowers that greeted me when I left the lab after midnight. While GMPs were called for under DSHEA, the specific guidelines were not issued for well over a dozen years. Only a handful of companies with particularly high standards invested in testing, most of which are still our clients today. In 2007 the FDA finally released cGMPs guidelines so companies finally knew what was expected of them and couldn’t use that as an excuse anymore; our sales have grown year after year ever since. As the company CEO, that year after year growth is more than just music to my ears, it’s also a testament to the increased commitment to compliance by the industry.
The last 10 years we have been very strategic in our marketing and taken a leadership role in the industry. We now have 35 employees and sustained growth, while never compromising the very high standards implemented when the only things we were testing involved Sid’s line of products.
Now back to Südberger… One of my favorite stories is that of David and Goliath so my own surname indicating that my people were once sheepherders in eastern Europe gives me enjoyment. Although there are many interpretations of the David and Goliath story, at heart it’s the righteous underdog who wins against the powerful giant through faith and skill. To take that analogy further, there are testing lab Goliaths that scream across the fields, ‘am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks and stones (oldy but goodie fit for purpose technology HPTLC)?’ ‘Come to me that I may give your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field’ said Goliath (aka we will replicate your service offerings and undercut your prices and you will cease to exist).
David said to the Philistine (Alkemist Labs to Goliath Labs), “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin (huge service offerings, endless funding and the ability to undercut on price as if it were a sport), but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty (Quality), the God of the armies of Israel (client support and experience), whom you have defied (failed).
As testing in the dietary supplements industry becomes less specialized and more homogenized, and competition more cutthroat, that faith and skill will continue to guide us for the next 20 years.
Alkemist Labs CEO
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