Mark Owen was an honor student and a hall of fame athlete in gymnastics as a high schooler in Portland, Oregon. After graduating from Oregon State, he joined Tektronix as a design engineer. The Portland-based company pioneered engineering tools like computer-aided design and finite element analysis, and Owen was one of the first engineers to apply these powerful tools.
In 1985, he and his wife Anne moved to Ireland, where he taught mechanical and production engineering at the University of Limerick while completing a master’s degree in advanced manufacturing technology.
Owen is an inventor at heart, and after a few years teaching he was “itching to get back to product development and solving industrial problems,” he said. For the next five years, he led a team at the Irish Department of Science and Technology, developing new programs that would allow industry to quickly adopt new manufacturing technologies.
Returning to the states, he joined Electro Scientific Industries, a world leader in laser production tools. “I was fortunate to arrive just as they were pioneering new ultraviolet lasers,” he said. He developed and patented several laser applications that led to the development of entirely new industry segments.
While at Tektronics and Electro Scientific Industries, Owen saw many intrapreneurial businesses succeed and fail. “I realized that what I really wanted was to be an entrepreneur starting new businesses based on my own inventions,” he said. “You know, your inventions don’t have a chance at life unless you take the next step.”
Over the next four years, he and a small group of engineers he had met in Ireland took a series of inline circuit and circuit assembly automated inspection systems to a $100 million acquisition by Agilent Technologies. At the time, it was the biggest technology deal in Ireland’s history.
Next, he formed Phoseon Technology, which pioneered the use of ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (LED) to dry or cure industrial adhesives, coatings, and inks. Phoseon continues to grow rapidly in Hillsboro, Oregon. Owen, however, still wasn’t content, so he founded another new company, Puralytics.
“With Puralytics, I wanted to solve one of the world’s great problems — the world water crisis — using advanced technology, and that led to the pioneering of UV LED activated nanotechnology for purifying water,” he said.
Either directly or through organizations like Engineers Without Borders, the Roddenberry Foundation, and faith-based groups, the company works with local communities in Africa and other regions to provide solutions for sustainable water purification. “We provide them with the tools they need to check their water, set up training for treating it, and provide water treatment devices,” said Owen.
Puralytics’ sunlight-activated personal water purifier, SolarBag, has shipped to 60 countries. The product received the Oregon Entrepreneur’s Network 2014 Game Changer award, having been voted as the product most likely to change the world. Puralytics products have won 17 industry awards and are deployed in disasters by organizations like the Red Cross and the Roddenberry Foundation.
Puralytics is also developing sunlight activated water treatment for ponds and stormwater. OregonBEST is funding a current research project to test new technologies in a rain garden facility at Oregon State.
Owen’s inventions and entrepreneurial efforts have yielded more than 50 patents on technologies that have been incorporated into products generating more than $1 billion in revenue, mostly for companies located in Oregon.
For Owen, the entrepreneurial itch may still be there — he keeps thinking of new ideas and new businesses. “My wife keeps saying, ‘This is the last one, right?’ There might be a point where I am a mentor to young entrepreneurs; I’m meeting with a few now. Maybe that and investing and coaching will become more of my hobby.”
With Puralytics, I wanted to solve one of the world’s great problems…