ELLSWORTH — Hydro-Photon Inc. — best-known for its ultraviolet, hand-held water purifier SteriPEN — is being acquired by Katadyn Group, a Swiss company.
Katadyn (pronounced “cat-a-dine”) announced July 20 it had “signed an agreement to acquire the assets of Hydro-Photon” and that the deal was expected to close by the end of this month.
The acquisition means Hydro-Photon’s marketing and distribution operations will move to Katadyn’s North American headquarters in Minneapolis. Hydro-Photon “will maintain a small technical office in Ellsworth,” according to the news release announcing the acquisition, in the Union River Center for Innovation (also known as the business incubator) on Water Street.
Hydro-Photon was founded by Blue Hill resident Miles Maiden in 1997. On the company’s website, he said he started the business because he “thought that there were better ways than filters or chemicals to purify water in the wild.”
Maiden went with ultraviolet technology “after years of research” and got the first patent for a SteriPEN in 1999. The first SteriPEN was sold that same year through outdoor outfitter Recreational Equipment Inc. (better known by its acronym, REI).
Using the UV technology, a SteriPEN device rapidly “destroys viruses, bacteria and protozoa” and makes water safe for human consumption. As of 2015, the company had eight U.S. patents and it sells a variety of water purifier models. In 2011, Time named the SteriPEN one of the “Top 100 All-Time Gadgets.”
In 2015, Hydro-Photon got a $3 million equity investment from Asahi Kasei Corp. based in Japan. Maiden said then that the investment would be earmarked for “increasing sales, new business development and development of ‘cutting-edge’ products.” At that time, the company was still based in Blue Hill and employed 15 people.
In late 2016, Hydro-Photon moved to the business incubator in Ellsworth. Though the incubator “exists to foster and assist new ventures, products and processes in the biotechnology field,” according to the application form for tenants, it also allows for more established businesses to operate there as market-rate tenants.
That is what Hydro-Photon is classified as, according to Ellsworth Economic Director Micki Sumpter, and the company pays a rate of $12 per square foot for the space it leases.
Sumpter said Hydro-Photon’s current lease is good through December. She said her understanding, from talking with Hydro-Photon staff, is that the company intends to remain in the incubator and negotiate another one-year lease, though it may need less space than it currently occupies.
Katadyn and Hydro-Photon officials each praised the other company in the news release announcing the acquisition and said coming together made for a good fit.
“We’ve long admired SteriPEN products, especially for travel and virus removal,” said Shawn Hostetter, president of Katadyn North America. “SteriPEN has established itself as a true leader and innovator and we are excited to welcome them into Katadyn Group’s family of brands.”
Maiden, for his part, said the two companies “share a dedication to excellence, a set of core values, goals for the future and a passion for water safety.”
Katadyn said its focus is “in the area of self-sufficient nutrition and drinking water supply.” In addition to Hydro-Photon it has also acquired other companies in the past decade, and the company describes itself as “a one-stop shop for your 360-degree outdoor kitchen needs.”
Katadyn said it has about 200 employees worldwide. In addition to offices in Europe and North America it also operates in Asia, with offices in Singapore and Shanghai (the latter opened for business on July 1).