Purency makes microplastics visible

Katharina Kittelberger

Startup Stories

Small, oftentimes invisible microplastics can be found almost everywhere in nature and products today. Of course, it doesn't belong there. But how can you reliably and quickly detect the particles that are invisible to the bare eye? 

The software of the Viennese startup Purency, the Microplastics Finder (MPF), analyzes measurement data from FTIR & Raman microscopes based on machine learning models and identifies the type, number and size of microplastic particles within minutes, even in complex samples. The time-consuming data analysis is thus automated and laboratory technicians receive, fast, reliable and comparable results on which they can focus their interpretations. With this, only two years after Purency's foundation in 2020, the startup ensures its customers a scalable measurement of microplastics.

In an interview with 5-HT, Michael Stibi, co-founder and CEO of Purency, provides exciting insights into the work of the young startup. He also gives an outlook on future projects and opportunities that arise from the collaboration with 5-HT. 

Michael Stibi, co-founder and CEO of Purency

Purency's innovative solution: Making the invisible visible

Microplastic measurements in laboratory environments usually consist of three steps. First, the samples are prepared, followed by the actual measurement with FTIR or Raman microscopes and the subsequent data analysis. However, it is precisely this analysis of the data that is highly complex. To simplify it, Purency's software is needed: 

"The Microplastics Finder is software that uses machine learning to automatically analyze µFTIR images for microplastics in a matter of minutes. With just one mouse click, MPF measures the size, number, and type (over 20 species) of polymers and gives the certainty of the result for each measured value. The data thus measured is robust, i.e. precise and reliable - completely without human bias. This makes the MPF an indispensable assistant with expert knowledge for every laboratory," Michael explains vividly. 

The Microplastics Finder creates data security

"With the Microplastics Finder, we solve a complex technical problem and enable analytical chemistry as well as society to have a solid data basis for the assessment of microplastics in our environment and products.

This requires tremendous technical understanding, expertise and cross-functional competence. Our growing customer base of sophisticated and established companies as well as the receipt of highly competitive grants speaks for itself. In pilot projects, we quickly understand where we can deliver the most value and support corporates to achieve their goals more quickly and painlessly than within their own capabilities."

Making the invisible visible: Purency's MPF evaluates a microplastic sample in up to 20 minutes, delivering excellent results

Laboratories within the focus of Purency

Purency's customers are always laboratories that measure microplastics. More specifically, Michael defines them as follows: "Our current customers are private and publicly operated laboratories that analyze samples for microplastics. At the moment, the analysis focus is on complex environmental samples. But our solution is also already being used on food and other sample matrices." 

These new applications are expanding the startup's customer base: "As we move forward with standardization, our future customers will include industrial labs in the drinking water, food, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical industries."

Purency already has paying customers. Year-based licenses are sold to them, allowing them to perform a certain number of measurements. "You can think of it this way: The lab buys our software to measure different microplastic samples. In doing so, it can decide for itself how many measurements it would like to analyze with our software, for example, this could be 500 samples. After the time has expired or the number of samples to be analyzed has been used up, a new license can be purchased if necessary."

Bridge Knowledge: What makes Purency unique

"Apart from our technological USP, what makes us stand out as a company is our bridging knowledge in chemistry, software engineering, machine learning and data analytics. In terms of our business case, we have developed a holistic approach. This goes hand in hand with our goal of creating a comparable data set for microplastic analysis," Michael says. 

The team behind Purency (f.l.t.r.): Michael Stibi, Valerie Hengl, Aurelia Liechtenstein and Benedikt Hufnagl 

He goes on to explain how Purency's international network also makes the startup unique: "Not only do we work with the most important and largest stakeholders around the world, but we also participate in microplastics regulatory international bodies, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). In addition, we are part of the workshops organized by various EU stakeholders, which also allows us to participate at the EU level. Finally, we are also involved in major international research projects," Michael summarizes.

A look into the future: Purency as a player in data analytics

"Currently, we have received our first major round of funding and plan to expand our core competencies. This includes, among other things, expanding our team of seven."

The Purency team has ambitious goals for the future: "In the coming years, we will cover the complete data analysis of microplastics so that we are number one in this field. In the long run, we aim to become the player for data analysis in analytical chemistry in general, so we cover more business cases similar to microplastics."

5-HT as a door opener  

Connecting with companies is often challenging for startups. That's why Michael sees many opportunities in working with 5-HT. "Our main problem is that the market is so intransparent. That's why it's difficult to locate laboratories that measure microplastics. But we want to get in touch with companies that have problems that we can solve quickly and easily. By working with 5-HT, we hope to stop having to knock on 70 doors ourselves but get connected to the right three ones right away."   

In addition, Michael has found the previous cooperation with 5-HT to be consistently positive. That's why he is also looking forward to the future cooperation and expects many advantages from it: "So far, the communication has been super professional, competent and accordingly pleasant. Thanks to your good networking in the chemical industry, we can imagine discovering even more business cases where our core competence is needed."

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