Startup Pitch onCyt: Monitoring microorganisms in realtime


Zurich-based onCyt was launched in 2017 and has had paying customers for two and a half years. Based on their feedback and with the help of a Series A round, the existing product will now be adapted to fully exploit its potential. The goal is exponential growth.


Laboratories in several countries in Europe and the Middle East are already using onCyt's equipment. It monitors water quality continuously and in real time and can also be used to monitor the quality of processes in which microorganisms such as bacteria, microalgae or yeast play a role. “Microbial monitoring – keeping an eye on microorganisms always and in real time is a big thing, a clear trend”, explains onCyt CEO and co-founder Michael Besmer. The technology of the start-up is based on his PhD thesis and on years of fundamental research and applied experience at EAWAG (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), which is part of the ETH domain.

With the cultivation-based methods still used today the detection of bacteria is slow, inaccurate, cumbersome and expensive. To detect microorganisms, samples are added on top of a nutrient medium and incubated for 24 – 72 hours. Subsequently, the number of colonies that grew are counted. The method detects only a small part of the bacteria and needs manual sample handling and counting.

A paradigm shift

With onCyt’s device water quality can be measured directly allowing the customers to accurately monitor bacterial concentrations 24/7 up to every 5 minutes and hence to see what is happening in their system in terms of microbiology in real time. The product can also be used for accurate, real-time measurements of the bacteria, algae or yeast in bioprocess reactors or experiments.

“Our technology is not a better version of something that already exists, it’s a real paradigm shift”, explains the CEO. The onCyt device generates much more and much more valuable information than the traditional method. “That is exciting but needs more explanations”, comments Michael Besmer.

It was therefore important to understand the needs of the market. The best way to achieve this is through feedback from real customers. This is precisely the path that the Zurich start-up has taken. The first customer was acquired just six months after the incorporation of the company. In the meantime, onCyt completed 20 projects with customers ranging from sales to measurement campaigns and consulting. A second generation of their device was introduced End of 2019.

Aiming at exponential growth

Now the company is working on the third product generation. “Our goal is to take away the key limitations hindering exponential growth”, says Michael Besmer. To finance the development the start-up is looking for CHF1 million. Up until now onCyt was financed by the founders.

With its fast development, the early gathering of feedback from customers and the ambitious goals it is obvious that onCyt had not been founded by a group of technology obsessed nerds. From the beginning the team included members with business development and financial experiences. The funds from the planned financing round will be also used to hire salespeople.

When it comes to recruiting, Michael Besmer also takes his business experience from the past three years very seriously. In his opinion the biggest challenge for an entrepreneur is finding the right people. His most important insight in this regard: “I learnt that intuition is more important for selecting new employees than rational analysis.”     

Apply for the next Startup Pitches

This is the second article of our start-up pitch series. Until the summer break startupticker in collaboration with Swisspreneur will introduce Swiss start-ups on the search for investors. Find out how to apply in a separate article.

(Stefan Kyora)