Connecticut-based BIC, which has sold more than 100 billion ballpoint pens in its history, is acquiring a Boston company that makes “cloud notebook” devices that allow users to jot notes and drawings and upload them easily into apps like Google Docs — then erase the page for reuse.
The company, Rocketbook, was on an episode of “Shark Tank” in 2017 but failed to win any investments.
Rocketbook devices are sold on Amazon for between $30 and $45 depending on features, as well as at the company’s Amazon 4-star retail stores including at The SoNo Collection mall in South Norwalk.
Rocketbook, with 33 employees, $32 million in 2020 sales (up 35 percent from 2019) and significant outsourcing for manufacturing, was founded in Boston by two partners who sketched out the idea six years ago while at a pub. Appearing in orange spacesuits on a May 2017 episode of Shark Tank, the pair did not sway Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and other judges to back the startup.
Instead, they raised nearly $2 million in seed money on the crowdfunding websites Indiegogo and Kickstarter.
Rocketbook has patented its system, which allows users to write on synthetic sheets akin to paper and wipe them clean with a damp cloth. In addition to Google Drive, documents can be uploaded to DropBox, Evernote, iCloud and Slack, among other apps.
The sale price on the deal, confirmed in Europe on Tuesday and announced in the United States Wednesday, was $40 million. Both co-founders will remain with BIC, which has its U.S. headquarters in Shelton.
It’s unclear how and whether the acquisition will affect BIC’s Connecticut operations, which also include a large disposable lighter manufacturing plant in Milford and 500 people at the two locations combined. In September, the company CEO said the coronavirus pandemic had created “long-term structural changes” in the way consumers use the company’s products.
Global sales for France-based Societé BIC were just under $2.38 billion last year. The company also makes shavers that compete with the Schick brand of Edgewell Personal Care, which has its own headquarters just up the street in Shelton.
One Rocketbook founding partner, Joe Lemay, worked previously for Salesforce. The other, Jake Epstein, worked for or led a string of startups after spending the early part of his career as a hardware engineer for Juniper Networks.
In a BIC press release Wednesday, Epstein said the company is “going to do for notebooks ... what Tesla did for cars.”
In September, BIC disclosed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its stationery division which has a big business selling pens, colored pencils, glue sticks and other products to schools.
“Consumer habits fundamentally changed due to lock-down measures, where an increasing number of people worked from home and parents spent time with their children at home playing and learning,” said Societé BIC CEO Gonzalve BICh, speaking on a conference call in September. “We expect these new consumer habits to persist, and this will lead to long-term structural changes in the way they shop our products.”