Back in 2012 at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Draper company HZO made a big splash.
Then-CEO Paul Clayson wowed attendees by taking his iPhone, which was treated with a chemical process developed by HZO, and dropping it into a tank of water. The screen was still on. The music from the phone was still playing. People were in awe.
That simple demonstration is all it took to reveal the power of the company’s new process. The national news media went crazy, from "Good Morning America" to The New York Times.
"We saw the future of electronics waterproofing," wrote Popular Mechanics. "It’s miles away from the clunky, hyper-rubberized, hyper-masculinized cases that we’ve grown used to."
HZO takes a special chemical that is introduced as a gas in a vacuum chamber, and the chemical coats the insides of a mobile device such as a smartphone or MP3 player. The result is a completely waterproof, gunk-proof and Kool-Aid-proof gadget that is literally impervious to liquids and corrosion, even salt water.
Nearly two years later, the Draper-based private company and its new CEO, Michael Bartholomeusz, are still dazzling spectators whenever he dunks an HZO-treated phone in the water.
"When I’m among my colleagues in the industry and I drop my phone in the water, it truly is one of those things where people freak out," Bartholomeusz said. "I’ve had tables cleared at restaurants, and I’ll drop [a phone] into a pitcher of water, and people will stand up and take pictures and video of it. It’s got that kind of star power."
The process is introduced during a gadget’s manufacturing process — not after a device is sold.
"One of the key parts is we have developed a machine that can sit in the middle of an assembly line at a consumer electronics manufacturer where they can put these devices out at a high rate in a day," Clayson said in an earlier interview.
Bartholomeusz said manufacturers can sell their devices with or without the protection, and the extra cost for a treated device can be decided upon by the manufacturer. What HZO won’t do for now is develop the process for "after-market" devices — for gadgets after they are sold to a customer.
Since the company started two years ago, it has grown exponentially and secured more than 30 electronics manufacturers as clients. They are companies that produce devices for consumers, the medical field, the military and the industrial sector.
For example, HZO coating is found on wrist-sized GPS locators from the company Laipac. For the military, the process is used on electronic compasses used by U.S. Special Forces. It also can be used on glucose monitors for diabetics so they don’t have to take them off while showering or swimming. The next big category of devices that could benefit from HZO’s process, Bartholomeusz says, is in "wearable computing," gadgets that are worn on the body, such as the Pebble watch or Google Glass.
Bartholomeusz won’t say who their biggest customers are in consumer electronics right now, but they are "some of the biggest and most well known brands in the consumer electronics industry," he said. So far, the company has treated about 1½ million devices with the process.
"We are growing in all of these areas. If you look at our growth year over year, we’re encountering triple-digit growth each year," he added. "There is tremendous market demand for this solution. We don’t have known competitors. Our growth rate is predicated on how fast we can grow."
Since the company launched, it has expanded its Draper headquarters, created satellite offices in California, China and Japan, and plans to expand in South Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Europe and South America. The company now employs 100 people, about 80 of them in Draper, but Bartholomeusz expects the company will increase those numbers this year.
Bartholomeusz became the company’s new CEO last summer, taking over for founding CEO Clayson, who is now the company’s executive chairman.
Bartholomeusz, who is a native of Zambia, calls himself "a reformed technologist," earned a bachelor’s in particle physics and a doctorate in materials engineering. He’s since, however, moved to the management side of business and last started up AQT Solar in Sunnyvale, Calif., which produces thin film for solar cells.
"I’m a ‘growth operative,’" he said about his qualifications to take over HZO. "They brought me in too manage the growth phase."
The idea for HZO came from the Northeast Maritime Institute in 2007 when someone died after falling into a river and couldn’t call for help from his cellphone or two-way radio after they fell in the water, Clayson said.
In 2009, Salt Lake County-based ZAGG Inc., which makes protective film for mobile devices, bought a controlling interest in the company but now only has a minority interest.
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