10 Feb Creating Safe Environments By Purifying Bacteria With Ray Edwards Of Pūrtec
Bacteria are present everywhere, from food services to sports facilities. These germs need to be purified especially with the amount of airborne diseases that can come from it. This is what Ray Edwards, founder of Pūrtec, does for a living. He created a waterless purification method that can prevent the spread of airborne germs and microbes. Join your host Matthew Sullivan as he sits down with Ray Edwards to discuss the science behind Pūrtec. Discover how Ray managed to go to market with his product and find investors. Learn why customer relationship and brand credibility is very important in marketing. Listen in and start purifying your indoor environment today!
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Creating Safe Environments By Purifying Bacteria With Ray Edwards Of Pūrtec
Ray, I wanted to welcome you wholeheartedly to the show because you have a very interesting story about solving a massive problem with air. I can’t help thinking about that Dr. Seuss book. It’s about this guy who makes millions and millions of dollars by selling air. It’s called Thneed or something like that. I got to like all these young kids, so I’m an expert on children’s television which qualifies me to do nothing in real life.
It’s a novel business model. It’s one that I probably could have figured out and didn’t try.
The obvious one is always staring at you in the face but tell me a bit more about what you’re working on at Purtec.
We’re on a holy mission to make the world safe particularly indoors. We embarked on this mission back in 2017. We recognized that in the very early days, sports teams were having a hard time keeping players safe from things like bumps in their knees and infections. Four years later, it’s turned into a global phenomenon given the environment now. Indoor microbial issues will continue to be challenged and we believe that technology is the answer.
I came across this. It must have been in the early ‘90s because I got involved with a company called Alpine Air Products of America, which is interesting. They had created this air purifying system using ozonation. There were these early studies about so-called “sick building syndrome” and how people who are stuck in offices all day are breathing this air that’s recycled and circulated. Is that the thing that you stumbled across too and realized, “There’s a whole universe here of people in all walks of life, in all locations that are day-by-day damaging their health, breathing all these contaminants. This is something that needs to be solved?”
Yes. Stagnant air is probably one of the top three contributors to indoor health being an issue where there’s a risk. If we don’t have proper ventilation, it’s difficult to get things that are naturally occurring byproducts of human occupancy out of the space that we’re in. Odor is one of the easier issues to solve but when you get into things like COVID-19 or even mold, toxic mold, black mold, things that we can’t see in the air, it does have a direct impact on human’s health. Air is a very important part of it.
What you’re working on must have come into the spotlight over the last couple of years with the impact of the pandemic where the transmissibility of disease through people sitting close to each other. How has that impacted your business?
It’s raised the banner for us globally. When I say globally, I meant we’re still an early-stage tech company. We’re not by any means a multinational yet but certainly, right here in the US, we’ve been working with sports teams, office buildings and commercial spaces since the beginning of our R&D process to figure out how to optimize our technology inside indoor spaces very easily and retrofit it in a way that is non-disruptive to the buildings that we work in.
When the pandemic landed, we went from being a solution thought of as, “You killed marijuana smell and cigarette smell in hotel rooms and odors to a legitimate germicidal solution that uses data to protect people in these spaces.” The pandemic certainly did make the conversation a lot more important for our customers.
Tell me a little bit about how you got involved with Purtec. It’s your baby. What’s the genesis? Where did the idea come from? Where was the first big leap where you thought, “I’m going to grab this problem by the collars and get on with it?”
I’m a freak by nature. We call the hyper-germaphobes the world freaks, and I’m one of those guys. I’m the guy who, when I checked into a hotel room, I’ve got to clean it before I use it, even though it’s already been cleaned and sanitized. I’ve always had an appreciation for finding novel ways to keep pathogenic diseases and germs off of people using natural methods like sustainable things.
My first job at fourteen was working at a VA hospital medical research lab doing assistant research and assistant work for a pathogenic disease doctor. I was the kid who loved to watch the bacteria grow in the Petri dish. Never knowing that at some point in the future, I’d spend my life’s effort of work working in areas of dealing with bacterial issues and microbes inside of facilities. That’s not the sexiest thing in the world to talk about.
It’s a complicated world. The microbial world is very important. We think of bacteria as a bad thing usually but if you study the microbiome, both in the body and outside of it, you come to find that the delicate balance of healthy, good bacteria and the ones that are not as helpful for us health-wise is a lifelong study.
Taking back to when you were fourteen, the fascination in this VA hospital of being behind the scenes and seeing all the research. That made a big impression on you but where did that take you next? At what point did you realize that this is a field that you wanted to become immersed in?
That didn’t happen until later in my life during my career in business and early stage of technology. Years ago, I fell in love again with the study of oxygen. I had to pawn a body of work from these medical practitioners that are using ozone treatments intravenously to treat stage four cancer, diabetes and pathogenic issues in the bottom effectively, both in many cases.
It’s this documented world of doctors and practitioners that have used oxygen to cure human ailments. That took me down a rabbit hole of research where I realized that if we can harness the power of oxygen, which is readily available in the atmosphere, we could do a lot of amazing things to help promote human health. That’s what led me back to that fourteen-year-old who was in the lab playing with Petri dishes back at high school.
It’s this concept of oxygen, ozone or atomic oxygen because essentially, it’s an incredibly aggressive molecule. If you’ve got three atoms of oxygen, then it’s one of the most active molecules because it effectively tries to attach itself to pretty much anything that’s out there, including all the nasty stuff. Does this all lead us to how Purtec works? Purtec is an interesting technology because it’s not a filter but it’s something that’s far more interesting. How did you develop the Purtec technology?
There are certainly enough air filtration devices in the market that help with cleaning air, but as we look at the power and efficacy of what ozone or activated oxygen does in the atmosphere, it’s three molecules of oxygen that form together naturally atmosphere when they’ve separated. The air that we typically breathe has O2 in it. When you take electrolysis and zap those two molecules of happy oxygen molecules, they separate naturally and form again. There’s O3 in the atmosphere. They look for each other.
What makes it powerful as an oxidizing element is that it’s highly reactive. It has a very short half-life and it likes to attach itself to other molecules that have negative ion charges. That’s where we found that if we could harness the power of oxygen and replicate that process that Mother Nature uses to separate molecules of oxygen in the atmosphere using electricity charges and control the disbursement and the dosage level of that in the atmosphere, that would be remarkably powerful and treating for molecules and microbial contamination indoors.
Purtec was born out of the idea that we make sense of data, look for environmental conditions and contaminants in the atmosphere and use that data as a layer using machine learning to apply all three in UV lighting inside of indoor environments and mirror that in some cases with even ultrasound. We could take ultrasound at 60-kilohertz, aggregate particularly that might be suspended inside of water droplets and then use that to treat spaces where there might be microbes hanging out with all three and UV light as a trifecta. That became the foundation of Purtec.
In the beginning, we were a device company for manufacturing devices you put in rooms that do all those things but as we grow the company, our next mission is to make ourselves a network solution where the network captures data that has predictive analytics. That’s the term and how we’ll treat those spaces using those modalities. That was the evolution of technology.
That means working backward, the ultimate goal is to create a network of these devices in a large building that analyzes the air and learns from what contaminants are in the air. You talk about three different solutions so you’ve got ultraviolet, using ultrasonics and then there’s O2. How did you design this? What was the process where you had this idea that that was a solution? Talk us through because there are loads of people out there that have an idea but are completely at a loss in terms of trying to figure out how to take that idea and put it into something real. Where did you get these things made? How do you design them? Do you go online and type in, “Wanted Purtec inventor. Apply here?” How do you find these people?
The best strategy to get enough money to work on your product is to cold call investors.
I’ve had the benefit of having launched the start-up immediately before Purtec, where we were manufacturing bags that had ozone generators and UV light strips inside them to sterilize sports equipment. This wasn’t my first time working with ionization and UV light. As Purtec was born, I’ve had this idea that if I could bring in IoT capabilities, go out into the world of engineering and design a product that we’d use, start with sensor analysis and data, do more analysis and send data into the cloud about occupancy levels, that would be the beginning of a new network solution where we could have this entire platform essentially connect to HVAC and other industrial cleaning systems, as well as capturing data for sterilization companies and then bring in a hardware layer that could automate that process inside of one platform.
To do that, I started working with mechanical engineers and electrical engineers out of Orange County. I also brought in several industrial design teams to help me to take the idea out of my head and apply that to something that’d be a working product. My engineering team is awesome. I outsourced the team out of Reno called Breadware, and these guys were instrumental in helping me go from idea to prototype as I worked on the designs and capabilities.
With 1.5 years on R&D, I spent 9 months of that on clinical validation, working with my friends at UCI and our epidemiology team to determine the right dose levels and how to make the modalities effective as an antimicrobial germicidal solution. There’s a lot of lab work in the process and medical background research that went into developing how much O3 we need to optimize instead of space dimensions to get to the right inflection point where we’d be lethal for microbes but relatively harmless for human health in that same indoor space.
It was a process of a year and a half. I raised a little bit of capital to get from idea to prototype and ultimately, won a contract with the LA Rams to supply our technology inside of their facility. They saw the tech, got excited and bought all the prototypes from us. I had different challenges then. I was out of units with long ideas and had to figure out how I take this and finish this product, make it elegant and get it to market. That’s been the last few years of labored love.
It helps of having that key customer with such a high profile. Did that come from your previous connections or was that a result of pounding the streets as it were?
It is. I had a team. A part of our start-up team was a young gentleman who was great at outbound sales calls so he was calling the number of sports teams to see if we could get some interest in what we were doing years ago at the very beginning of this process. It so happened that he called on Rutgers and their equipment team. The associate athletic director left the Rutgers team and moved back to LA to work for the Rams and became their head equipment guy.
He and I had built a friendly relationship over a year and a half seeing the new technology that I pitched him on the idea. When I showed him the concepts and designs, he’s like, “We should talk about this.” This is before the pandemic landed about six months. It went from idea to very fast. We had to hurry up and get all the supply chain issues worked out, get the engineering done to get enough units into Ram’s facilities so they can use them for the first season during a pandemic. It was a lot of relationship marketing them.
How do you get prototypes built? What’s the process? They can be hugely expensive because they’re very low-volume products. You talked about your outsourcing team in Reno. For people that have these ideas, what are the processes of getting your product to the prototype level?
It starts with design engineering. There’s the idea of what I wanted Purtec to be and what I wanted the network to do, then there are the actual capabilities of what’s available in the market to get from idea to put the concept. In the beginning, I didn’t have any capital or resources to iterate around the hardware side of it.
For any startups that are reading this or sitting in the hardware space, it’s very common that the most difficult part of getting to market is getting through the tooling, engineering and hardware inflection point where you can deliver a product to market at scale with these. What you end up doing is you’re looking for all kinds of hobbyist parts in the very beginning that you could hack together to come up with something that’s a basic functioning prototype.
The very first version of our technology didn’t have very robust software or a lot of smarts. We had enough firmware for it to be automated using scheduler features but not enough where we could capture sensors incentives. Being able to get that prototype done and get the Rams on board with the first season with us, helped us to go out and raise capital so that we could develop the product into being a robust IoT network solution. That was nice. We raised $2.1 million in our pre-seed round to go from the proof of concept to what is our working beta product in marketing.
That’s a fantastic achievement to be able to fund it yourself, but it’s probably because of the effectiveness of the product. It must have worked when you put it into the LA Rams because otherwise, this wouldn’t be a story that you’d be able to talk about. They would have tested it and if it didn’t work, that would be something consigned to the scrap heap as it were. The product works. Is that the feedback you would have got from those guys?
Yes. What helped a lot was part of our technology is the experiential aspects of Purtec. When you walk into a room that’s been enabled with our technology or network, you can tell by the way the room smells if it has been functioning or not. The first reaction we got was that when the units run inside of the offices, in the weight room where these linebackers are working out, they could tell every morning when they walked in that by the fresh smell that we had oxidized a lot of the things in the room. That’s purely from an experiential standpoint.
Most of the important things people do happen indoors. So developing a solution that would eliminate bacteria beats having to spray sprayers across your facility 24/7.
From a scientific standpoint, we spent a healthy amount of time in pre-deployment doing what’s part of a quantitative microbial risk assessment. This is a process that we use to determine whether or not to replace units in the right place or to get the right environmental data but also to make sure that the efficacy of the units is provable. Meaning, we would do surface swab tests at the very beginning of our launch using handheld ATP monitoring devices. That would tell us if, whether or not, the treatments running were reducing the microbial count on surfaces in the facility.
It’s a fifteen-second test, it’s a very quick way to know if we got any efficacy inside of the weight room or the spa area. It was great. The team was able to see the data we’ve presented to them and that’s the result of that study. That gave both us and the team enough credibility and confidence to move forward to a full deployment test space. In the beginning, it was a very manual process. Our latest products will take models that pull in bowel accretion inside the facility and automate that process inside of our dashboard for the customer using their floor plumbing when they sign up with us. That’s been a very important thing.
Take us back to that moment when you got the phone call from the LA Rams saying, “We’ll give it a go.” What was going through your head at that point?
That was interesting. We were catching up about life stuff on a call with the equipment team there. I shared with them what I was working on and pulled the designs up on a Zoom call. I didn’t expect to get the reaction to that because you assume that an NFL team has probably the most advanced protocols in the world.
I assumed that this little thing I was working on out of an office in Irvine wouldn’t be remotely interesting where they have electrostatic sprayers and all kinds of equipment companies and solutions. When I pulled back the curtain on the technology, they told me to come up, I go to the facility and in fact, this was what our first unit looked like.
It looks pretty good. It looks like it would scare the microbes to death, more than anything. It looks like something out of Terminator 2 that’s designed in the year 2050 that’s gone back in time and has landed on someone’s desk.
This is my flux capacitor. I wasn’t prepared to show this to anyone in the NFL. The design wasn’t very elegant but we did the pitch meeting. I had it scheduled to run and kick on its own during the meeting. When it went live, the team could smell the effect. They invited us back into the QMR ACE study and then ultimately, I got excited as we did, and we moved forward. It was exciting.
Some problems come with that. The immediate problem is how do we fund this to build the things that the customer needs? What did you find the strategy that you employ to suddenly magic money out of nowhere or magic product out of thin air?
What was a very complicated and very nuanced strategy is I started cold calling investors. It was a hustle. I reached out to over 350 investors. I had a team of advisors then that was instrumental in introducing me to some of the bigger name retail VCs but I tend to be incredibly critical of mental parking that they see a ton of deal flow. It’s very difficult for them to get access to. What is the new forward-thinking or the latest start if that’s going to become something given the amount of sheer volume we get?
I was a little contrary and thought that if I went through a layer of VC and institutional investors that what I call tier-two nimble VCs, I’d have a better outcome. After having met some of the bigger players, I focused the outreach to some of the VCs that had 50 million to 250 million of AUM and maybe 25 to 100 million of dry powder that we’re looking for innovative, cool things. I was very fortunate to have met Blue Collective out of New York City.
When you’re at a hardware startup, it adds another layer of complexity to that. The minute you say that you’re in the hardware business, you lose about 80% of most of the big VCs that we think about because it’s not an easy game to play. I was very fortunate and thankful that Blue Collective did not have a negative reaction to us having a very important hardware layer but they also respected the future of the IoT and software capabilities we were envisioning. Out of the 2.1, they invested two of that. That was enough for us to get from the proof of concept to beta product marketing.
In terms of how you’re going to distribute this because you can build it and sell directly, or as you were alluding working with HVAC companies, is this technology that you see yourself ultimately licensing or do you think you’re going to stay in the manufacturing business?
As we grow, we focus more on being a network solution that is the rails upon which other hardware and equipment devices would live on top. While we do have a very elegant device that is designed to be very effective but also remarkably apparent and visible, we do want to keep our style aesthetic on the brand. We’ll always have some degree of control over how the designs of our products look and feel almost like what you’d envision Dyson to be for the vacuum cleaner space or Apple for the community.
With that being said, we do see a world where we don’t have to necessarily be the OEM for all of our devices. The same way that most of our smartphones are manufactured from licensed components from all kinds of suppliers around the world. I obsess over user experience. and over the customer relationship and the customer experience. The inherent part of that is as we get people back into buildings safely, they’re going to want to see something that is not behind the walls. It’s doing the job of keeping them safe. With that, we’ll continue to stay in front of our designs and make sure that we do control the look and feel the experience of Purtec in these spaces.
That is important because to physically see something on a desk or in a room that you know that when that thing is buzzing and the lights are flashing, it’s making the air better for you. There is that physical element that is still quite attractive to the customer.
If you talk with the facility’s managers, I spend a lot of time with facilities’ directors and managers that are inside of big spaces. They’ll tell you that worker attrition is the conversation when it comes to getting out of what’s called the great awakening. You would have seen the announcement that Google has delayed their office field turn to work beyond the January 10th, 2022 date. That’s a very extreme, large example of what facilities have to deal with.
If you are a team of engineers looking to get back into collaborative space again, you’re going to want to know that there’s something more than a hand sanitizer or maybe a plexiglass partition keeping you safe. A layer of technology that can do the job is going to be our answer to making workers feel that way going back into that space again.
In terms of what’s on the immediate horizon, this is not just a US solution. This is something that can provide solutions across the rest of the world because the air is pretty much the same in most places. I would’ve thought so you’ve got a global marketplace on your hands.
The interesting thing about humanity is that as much as we’re different around the world, we are very much the same. Most of the things that we do that are important happen in built spaces. They happen indoors from eating, to time with family, to working out. If you’re in a place like New York City, being outdoors is a little challenging because it’s freezing.
The minute you say that you’re in the hardware business, you lose about 80% of your big VCs. It’s not an easy game to play.
We developed a solution we thought would be unique enough, and that we would solve a problem in a novel way without you having to spray sprayers across your facility 24/7. Ubiquitous in that, we knew that if we could protect NFL players in locker rooms, we could probably handle odors, food smells and cigarette smells in hotel rooms pretty easily.
That’s part of why we started in sports facilities. That’s probably one of the more challenging environments to get purification technology into effectively. We don’t sell to consumers yet. There is a pivot to consumers a few years out. We started in commercial spaces because we believe if we can protect you when you’re flying, travel, working, doing all the things you do in public spaces, we can work back into the environment very easily without having to over-invest on marketing and advertising.
If that is the case, what is your approach to marketing this? If you’re marketing on a B2B basis, that has a whole different set of challenges compared to marketing direct to the consumer. What have you found has been your most effective B2B strategy?
It’s relationships and more relationships. We have a few large locals that are coming on the network next top. It comes through having relationships with someone. They’re in a position of being a business leader or C-Suite, or they’re responsible for the workplace experience and worker safety. Purtec becomes very infectious to those employed on that term.
When people see that we have the ability to deploy within days an entire network of devices across 100,000, 200,000 square feet and have them on the network activated and cache from data on the facility risks and they can see all that in a single access point on the phone, it’s not very difficult to sell the product into commercial environments. Where we spend most of our time is building credibility a bit.
We’re in a world where there’s a lot of Hygiene Theater. There are a lot of solutions that are promising that they can keep people safe with all types of different devices. We do spend a lot more time in that relationship building with pallet opportunities and also working with our facilities, customers and operators, helping them understand the science of what’s happening and doing these ATP microbial assessments as well in cases where we have large deployment. That’s been our strategy.
What we’re going into next is the scale of the company, which is channel partnerships. We’re going to introduce the relationships to big industrial cleaning companies, stabilization companies, large service providers, even security companies that do smart locks because they’ve got the footprint of buildings and customers. We’re a nice natural layer of technology on top of their current service offerings. That’s a nice thing because they’ve got the customer relationship and it keeps us in the technology bucket where we can be innovators more than we’re market engineering. As a startup, it’s very important.
Is that the pivot point? Is that the moment when suddenly you thought, “We’re onto something here?”
We started working with them on top of 2020, right around when the pandemic landed. We were already in conversation in 2019, but the prototypes were ready right around the summer of 2020. In May 2020, we did a deployment with them. We knew at that point that we had a solution that if we could get it right with their facility, it would be repeated at least across games, not realizing that every sports team and league in the world would be dealing with the pandemic level issue within a year. Our challenge has not been creating the demand at all. It’s been meeting that demand-supply and quality control.
The size of your market is unfeasibly large, I would imagine. If you look at the amount of built space or office space, that is fantastic. You’ve got all these great challenges. Be careful what you wish for. You’ve got to try and deliver. That’s the next challenge.
We did it. In all frankness, that was our biggest challenge, even with the Rams. I over-promised and under-delivered the actual beta version of our tech would be ready. We had supplied them with the prototypes. As part of the gift and curse of the pandemic, the supply chain was completely throttled. We had suppliers that were promising those parts and components at prices that were pre-pandemic prices and delivery dates that were pre-pandemic delivery timing. That all went left on us.
We ended up missing almost an entire season with them with the upgrade because of some of these challenges. Thankfully, I’ve got a great relationship with my key points of contact there. They’re great guys and super supportive. We also did a lot of work to discount and make this as premium as possible for them given those challenges. Having the relationship and use case was so critical for our storytelling.
One of the challenges that we all are dealing with in any type of equipment or hardware-based solution device is those electric vehicle companies are buying all the parts that are smart off the market way ahead of when we get there. We work with Arrow, helping us figure out how to get ahead of large volume supply chains so we continue to meet the market.
You’ve got to learn a whole new world. That must be intellectually quite stimulating having to learn all of the dynamics of the supply chain, manufacturing and all of the nuances within that. You don’t get to sleep much.
There are a few sources I didn’t have before the pandemic. I’ve been very fortunate to have an amazing team of experienced manufacturing supply chain experts here at Purtec. They have helped us navigate some of these challenges.
It would be a good idea to switch gears as they say in America, which is where we both are, to the Hooked On Startup’s quick-fire questionnaire. Question one, what is your favorite word?
Question number two, what is your least favorite word?
Question three, what are you most excited about now?
In one word, reopening. I’m a traveler. I love to be on the road. The idea that we can travel again is exciting.
Question number four, what turns you off now?
In one word, I’d say politics.
Number five, what sound or noise do you love?
The sound of my son’s laughter.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of my son’s whining.
Question seven, and you may plead the Fifth, what is your favorite curse word?
Are there any curse words left?
It’s usage. If we take F*** as an example, we’ve had variations of that word, which is one of the primordial molecules of life. Is there a favorite curse word that you deploy? For example, when your supplier says, “You know that price that we quoted you? It’s changed slightly.”
“Bull***.” I can use that one. The word that came to my mind immediately was waiting. For me, that is a curse word. When my partner owes us parts or led lights, and we haven’t gotten back and I was waiting for an email from someone that supply chain gets back to me, that’s the word I’d use.
Question number eight, what profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
This goes back to my earlier thing, politician.
What profession would you not like to attempt?
Ray, my final question is if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Go back again.”
Ray, final question. How do people find out more about you? What’s the best way to contact you and find out more about what you’re doing, what you’ve done with Purtec, and what you’re going to do in the future?
We’re building more media assets every day. The best place to start would be my LinkedIn, which is where most of the updated content is. I’m searchable under Ray Edwards. My website is Purtec.com, and folks can also reach me through that site by joining our community as well.
Ray, it’s been such a pleasure having you on. Thank you for sharing your story about how you invented and created this fantastic device. That’s probably going to be as ubiquitous as one can imagine. I’m looking forward to staying in touch and following your progress.
What an honor. Thank you for having us on the show. It’s great hanging out with you. No BS.
About Ray Edwards
Orange County, California, United States
- Chief Executive Officer @ Purtec
- Chief Financial Officer @ The Players’ Tribune
- Chief Executive Officer @ Paqtech
Bachelor of Science (Business Administration, Management, Accounting, Finance, Business Administration and Management)
1998 – 2002
- Talent Management
- Digital Media
- Social Media Marketing
- New Media
- Strategic Partnerships
- Marketing Strategy