Healthe taps new CEO with branding kudos to stimulate UV-C business

June 22, 2021
Focus shifting from circadian lighting as the company targets pathogens — not just the coronavirus — emphasizing far UV-C. They call on a food & beverage industry expert.

With the UV-C sanitization market shaping up as a key part of its future, but with the category still searching for its footing across the industry, Florida’s Healthe Inc. has hired a CEO experienced at establishing new product types such as sparkling water machines, and making over old ones such as cottage cheese.

Gerard Meyer took the helm on June 1, and will relocate from his current base in Princeton, NJ, to Orlando headquarters. Privately-held Healthe itself moved house last month, heading inland 70 miles north and west from coastal Melbourne to Orlando, where it now operates from a building on the Tupperware Brands campus.

Meyer told LEDs Magazine that the company will use UV-C to target a wide range of pathogens, not just the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Healthe is also going after flu, SARS, MERS, E. coli, and others.

“It’s not just about COVID,” Meyer said. “My hope is that one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that people take certain precautions that reduce the amount of illness and death that were occurring from other things prior to the pandemic. It’s not just about UV, but other means as well, like hand washing and touchless things. We think we’re one of the solutions that will address this.”

Meyer takes over the top role from a management committee that had been filling in since former CEO Khim Lee left quietly last year.

Healthe — formerly a division of Lighting Science Group but now operating independently — has since LSG’s founding in 2000 been better known as a circadian lighting company, developing lighting to mimic the daily pattern of the sun.

But its emphasis these days seems to be shifting to UV-C, especially to a segment known as “far UV-C.” UV-C and far UV-C are both short-wavelength versions of ultraviolet radiation (UV is not “light” per se because UV is invisible to the human eye), with far UV-C being the shortest typically at 222 nm, and with UV-C products tending to operate at 254 nm (or in at least one case at 265 nm). UV-A and -B have longer wavelengths but are still shorter than visible light.

Many lighting companies in addition to Healthe have embraced UV-C in the battle against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. UV-C has been proven to deactivate coronavirus, and companies including Healthe, Signify, ams Osram, and others now offer a variety of lamps and luminaires in various formats that emit UV-C radiation, aimed at disinfecting air, surfaces, and objects.

But the uptake has not been as swift as some vendors had hoped. Signify CEO Eric Rondolat recently acknowledged that the commercial market has been “a marathon, not a sprint,” although he reported a livelier reception in the home market.

New Healthe CEO Meyer told LEDs that UV-C sanitization is in general a new product category, and is going through the challenges associated with that. Meyer, who was once president of SodaStream, the pioneering provider of sparkling water makers for the home, drew a parallel with his bubbling past.

“We’re going to help build this fledgling category, just I like did with SodaStream, which was sparkling water makers that didn’t exist really in this country as the idea of a machine that makes sparkling water,” said Meyer, who left SodaStream in 2014. “We’re going to help build and drive this category of UV-C based sanitization.”

While establishing the category, Healthe will also endeavor to establish itself as the brand of choice. “We have to do both,” Meyer noted. “We have to build a category, but we have to build a company. We will become the leading, premier brand that people will know and trust.”

One impediment to UV-C has been the safety concerns surrounding it. UV-C is harmful when it contacts skin and eyes. Vendors have developed safe ways of deploying the technology, such as shielding or sequestering the radiation source — as on a Healthe deployment in the Miami Dolphins locker room — or automatically switching off exposed systems if someone enters the room.

Far UV-C is generally regarded as safe in exposed areas — not everyone completely agrees with that — but is more expensive than UV-C, which itself already comes at a premium.

But the perception of “unsafe” is one that Meyer and Healthe will work hard to invalidate.

“We’ve got to do more than create an awareness” Meyer said. “We have to reverse a perception and an awareness of something.”

He again found similarities in another of his past CEO stints, when he headed Princeton-based innovative cottage-cheese maker Muuna, which gave the lumpy stuff a makeover inspired by its Israeli owner, Tnuva.

“Cottage cheese was interesting in that regard,” Meyer said. “I had to not only create an awareness that our cottage cheese was amazingly good and delicious and flavorful in texture and taste, I also had to address the fact that [some] people thought cottage cheese was disgusting.” The mercurial Muuna went of business in 2019 — a few years after it got caught up in an acquisition of Tnuva by Chinese food and beverage giant Bright Food — but it had made its mark, forcing other cottage cheese makers to change their game.

Meyer, who has served in different interim CEO and CEO advisory roles, is confident that he will reverse negative impressions of UV-C, but acknowledged that “this is harder” than altering cottage cheese because “people know this stuff is effective, but they think it’s unsafe because of what they’ve been told.”

Developing a solid market will be especially important, considering that UV-C has taken the priority position at Healthe over circadian lighting, an area where Healthe’s two decades of experience has included work with NASA in equipping the International Space Station with circadian technology.

“Certainly sanitization is the main focus of this company,” Meyer told LEDs.

Indeed, the company’s homepage features more about sanitization than it does about circadian lighting.

Healthe is building a portfolio of products that includes four different far UV-C emitters plus a UV-C troffer — the sort the company provided the Dolphins. The far UV-C products include Cleanse, aimed at upper air in tight spaces such as elevators; Space, a decorative lamp aimed at air and surfaces and deployed at restaurants and retailers; Entry, designed for building entrance ways; and Wand Pro, a handheld device transported on a wheeled trolley and designed for tight surfaces such as in airplanes — Healthe makes Wand Pro under license from Boeing Corp.

The company is building up a user base, such as the Dolphins with UV-C. Far UV-C customers include Boll & Branch retail outlets in Greenwich, CT and Boca Raton, FL; restaurants Mia’s Italian Kitchen and Vola’s Dockside Grill in Alexandria, VA; three production facilities run by organic snack company Nature’s Path; and others.

Healthe is also engaged in a patent-related legal scuffle with a rival far UV-C company, Far-UV Sterilray of Somersworth, NH. In December, Healthe filed a preemptive action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida Orlando Division stating that Healthe does not violate certain patents, and seeking an injunction and damages against Sterilray for alleged unfair competition, citing “bad faith and objectively baseless threats against Healthe and Healthe customers that the Healthe Products infringe the Patents-in-Suit.” In May, Sterilray filed a patent infringement suit against Healthe in the same court, and filed a similar action against another company, Kansas City, MO-based Far UV Technologies, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Meyer declined to discuss the suits with LEDs.

As he sets out in his new role, the company’s relatively new ownership make-up could help him land companies. LEDs hopes to bring you more on this in a separate article.

Khim Lee, the previous CEO at Healthe, left in October, according to the company. His LinkedIn page says he is now head of global markets based in the San Francisco area with Singapore-based electric scooter company Neuron Mobility.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.