Startup of the Week: Parx Plastics (Wired UK)


Michael van der Jagt
Michael van der Jagt

Cofounder, Parx Plastics


Parx Plastics has
created the technology to make plastics antibacterial and
biocompatible. The invention — a treatment sold by the kilo –
stands to impact all industries, from household goods to the
medical sector, and got the team behind it to this year’s Tech All
Stars final, a startup competition run by the European
Commission. 

Founders: Michael van der Jagt (Rotterdam,
Netherlands) and Michele Fiori (Bologna, Italy)
Staff: 12 
Launch: Registered in 2012, publicly launched
October 2013
Funding: Self-funded with a first funding round
imminent

What is your USP?

We have the world’s first — and only — biocompatible and
non-leaching technology to make plastics antibacterial, derived
from a trace element found in the human body. We can make sure that
99 percent of the bacteria on a product are killed within 24 hours
without using heavy metals, chemicals, nanoparticles or other
harmful substances. 

What problem do you solve?

Our technology can offer cleanliness for any day-to-day product,
for instance on cutting boards, light switches and toilet seats.
But as the technology is biocompatible and we have no substances
leaching from the material it can also be used for food packaging,
where it improves the shelf life of food, and it can be applied in
medical implants, where it reduces the chance of infections.

Where did you get the idea for the
business?


This is the result a passionate discussion and brainstorming
between Michele and the professor that has lead the research
project. Both are passionate about bio and eco solutions and feel
we need to make changes to preserve or improve our life and planet.
A discussion on reducing the use of chemicals and using nature’s
tricks led to the idea of using a proven antibacterial effect and
applying it to plastics. 

How are plastics made using your patented
treatment?


We apply it to existing plastics. We do not make an additive or
powder, but we treat the existing plastic that the customer is
using to process into products. We do not need to treat all the
plastic that the customer needs, we just need to treat a small
portion of it that is mixed with untreated material.

When did you finalise the method?

In the last six months of 2013 we were able to produce stable
results and we finalised all the necessary tests to scientifically
prove the non-leaching and non-toxicity characteristics of the
technology. Development, however, is an ongoing process and we will
continue to try to improve and perhaps finds ways to achieve even
higher killing rates in even less time.

Has the technique been published in a scientific
journal?


Not yet, we are working hard on a publication of our own.

Which industries have shown an interest
already?


The food packaging industry and the medical device market are
particularly interested because of the fact that currently
available technologies cannot (or very limitedly) be applied in
these areas as they are toxic and leach out.

Can it be applied across different plastic manufacturing
methods?


We have tested the results with different processing technologies.
Plastic articles are made for instance via injection, extrusion and
blow moulding. It is very exciting to see that we can achieve great
results with a blow-moulded film of just 30-40 microns-thick.

Who do you view as your competitors?

There are several solutions out there that can make plastic
antibacterial. But as I mentioned roughly all of these are toxic
and leach-out and people are starting to notice the hazardous
downsides. In the US, for example, the antibacterial ingredient Triclosan is being banned right now. Big players like Procter
and Gamble, Johnson&Johnson and Walmart are publicly walking
away from this additive because it has been found it can cause
infertility and cancer.

Also, directives and regulations are getting stricter and
stricter. The market wants something friendlier and safer offering
protection against bacteria, and in this area there is no real
competition yet.  

Have you taken any investmen?

Not yet, but we are in the middle of talks and negotiations right
now. We are attracting capital, as we want to set up a strong sales
organisation to serve different markets and territories.

How would you sum up your company ethos?

Enjoy what you do! That’s the best motivator.

What’s the biggest misconception about your
business?


We sometimes have a hard time to convince people that what we say
can be done. People find it hard to believe we have found a
technology that does not leach-out and can effectively kill
bacteria. But than we have the external TÜV certifications to prove it.

What pushed you to stop talking about launching a
startup and actually doing it?


Michele and I were simply ignited by the opportunities with this
technology. At first we planned to market products using the
technology, to provide them with a USP. But realising the potential
of the technology, there was no doubt that we had to pivot our
strategy and take a broader approach. Especially during the
research and development stage, it was never a question of if we
would start, the question was always when can we
start. 

Can you tell us if you’ve secured any
contracts?


We already have eight companies from the Fortune500 list that have
signed NDAs with us, and four of the world’s top 40 medical device
makers. But getting on the same page about the terms of such an
agreement with these corporations can take up to three months.
After that we need to prepare their material and do the necessary
testing to see how efficient it is. So we are really just getting
started. 

What has been the most challenging time for the
company?


The most challenging part of the business so far, is managing
funds/cashflow. Lots of expenses have been made and patenting a
technology is really expensive. We have to arrange all this without
any money coming in yet, so that is challenging. 

How did you overcome that?

The great thing about it is it makes you creative and it makes you
consider what is really necessary and what can wait or can be
achieved in some other way. And it is really motivating to see that
you can ignite others with your passion and that it makes them help
you and bring you further… for free. A great example is the
support we received from Deloitte here in Rotterdam, where we are
based. They are really passionate about getting more innovation in
the city and there is always a lot of plastic-related activity here
in the harbour that they are in some way involved in. They have
been providing some great advice and have linked us to some
disruptive companies in the US that brought valuable advice and
inspiration.

Do you have any advice for dealing with potential
investors?


Building up the relationship is really important. You will be
“stuck” with each other for a pretty long time, so you better make
sure that it energises you, working with each other. Another
important consideration is the difference in value of money and
“smart-money”. Money is not the only asset that an investor can
bring to the table. 

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given
you?


Never give up.

Which businessperson do you most admire
most?


I have had the pleasure of seeing Peter Diamandis present on disruptive technologies at
Singularity University. It is inspiring to learn about the
possibilities and speed of disruptive technologies. It can be
frightening, but very stimulating and inspiring. I just hope that I
wasn’t born too early — the future looks so exciting! 

How do you plan on expanding the
business?


We need to start somewhat slow, doing lots of tests to see the
behaviour of our technology with different processing techniques
and variables. But once one of these large fields of applications
are ready to go to market things can move really fast, as the
volumes in these business are huge. Right now we are expanding on
sales staff to deal with more projects and fill up our pipeline.
The next step will be expanding on production capacity.

What projections do you have for the pickup by
industry?


As soon as we have a clear view on the physical effects we can
achieve on the shelf life of food, a large worldwide market will
open up. Also in the market of medical devices and implants we can
make a significant impact. However this is an industry where the
time to market is very long, so we have to be somewhat patient.

Where do you see the company in 10 or 20
years?


Our technology has become the standard for specific food packaging
and areas of the healthcare sector. If you buy vacuum-sealed cheese
or meats, it is very likely you hold a package containing our
technology, and when you go into surgery you will benefit from a
reduced chance of infections because the technology is integrated
in the sutures, the surgeon’s apron and gloves. We will be what
Gore-Tex is for waterproofing clothing.  

What impact do you hope to make with your
technology?


Personally, it is an inspiring thought that we will be able to
touch peoples’ lives in a positive way. Keeping food well for
longer can make an impact, just imagine.

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Source: wired.co.uk
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