How the start-up Purency detects microplastics

It’s not just white men like Elon Musk who are shaping the future. There are also women in Austria who have plans for the world. About 28-year-old Valerie Hengl from Lower Austria.

This year she was voted into the coveted list of 30 under 30 by Forbes magazine. She is co-founder and co-managing director of the Austrian start-up Purency.

The search for the microplastic

The young software company was only founded in August 2020. It addresses a pressing problem on this planet, the measurement of microplastics. The small plastic particles are less than five millimeters in size and are caused by the disintegration of plastic. They are everywhere: At the lowest point on earth, in the Mariana Trench, in the sea ice in the Arctic, at the highest peak, Mount Everest. Researchers found microplastic residues everywhere, some of them serious. But it is also found in cheese, drinking water and baby food. It affects everyone and everything.

“We have to know where it is in order to be able to take initiatives against it,” explains Valerie Hengl in an interview with KURIER. The problem with this is that until now there have only been very rough and laborious measurement methods to detect microplastics in samples. This is exactly where the company of Valerie Hengl and her four co-founders comes in.

technology

Samples are irradiated with infrared, the data from infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy are visible and automated using machine learning software.

The declared goal of the entrepreneur and her team is to increase awareness of the danger posed by microplastics and to modernize the laboratory industry using software solutions in order to find solutions to this environmental problem.

Microplastics and the urgency of their measurement is no longer a purely niche topic. “It was different two years ago. We are now on committees of the International Standardization Organization (ISO) and are part of an EU delegation because this problem is being addressed, ”says Hengl.

Where it comes from

“It’s a global environmental problem and a symptom of climate change. At the moment the focus is on CO2-Reduction. However, microplastics are also created when tires wear – also from e-cars – or in the textile industry. We want to increase the pressure on industries to recognize where they produce microplastics. This also avoids greenwashing. Companies can then no longer act according to the moto: What I don’t know doesn’t make me hot. “

Your efforts are bearing fruit

Interest in industries and science is broadening. Purency has just completed a financing round through which they were able to gain an investor and a total of one million euros in investments.

“Our goal is to make all possible particles in the environment precisely measurable in the long term.” Hengl is not alone in this. The economist is part of a four-person founding team made up of two chemists and two economists.

The expanded team now consists of four women and three men. “We are a software company. So it is completely possible to achieve a gender balance if you really search and try to address women with your job advertisements, ”she explains, who actively advocates a women’s quota.

Women in science and business

She has been the spokesperson for the Forum Alpbach Network since 2019. “The Alpbach Forum is open to young ideas. But I know how difficult it is to sit at the table with old white men, to contradict, to hit the table and to fight against the old economy. I also notice that women are more likely to dare if they are not the only woman in the group of old men, ”she says. It is important to get women into these positions and into this discussion group.

“As a woman in the start-up world and in the Alpbach world, it is often depressing when you notice that certain things fail because I am a woman. You can tell the difference, ”reports Hengl.

The diversity in business and science only starts with women. “It’s also about the fact that not only white Europeans sit at the round tables.”

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