When Allison Lami Sawyer first heard about Robert Kester's fluorescent light imaging technology when both were graduate students at Rice University, she had the same reaction as most of their classmates: "That's . . . nice."
But as she dug deeper and began to investigate the technology's potential applications, Sawyer realized her physicist friend was onto something big.
"From there I said Robbie, can you just put [the technology] on a regular camera and image outside? And he said, 'Sure,'" Sawyer recalls. "That's the moment where the obsession for me began."
Rebellion Photonics, the resulting company, of which Sawyer is now CEO and Kester is chief technical officer, uses real-time chemical imaging to detect chemicals not just at a single point, but throughout the whole field of vision in a microscope or other camera.
After dedicating herself to the company full-time just 14 months ago, Sawyer has found an eager market in Houston's medical center, where scientists are using chemical imaging for cancer research.
On track to reach $1 million in first-year revenues, Sawyer says a major potential market also exists in rig safety, where the technology could be used to image the size and direction of leaks.
Although some investors have encouraged the company to consider moving the headquarters to Austin or California, Sawyer says that's simply not in the cards.
"It's not just because we love the barbecue — which we do — but also because our customers are here," Sawyer says. "We are a B2B business. We sell to other businesses, the bigger the better, and the largest number of Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Houston — in the world."
In this continuing series, Profiles of Innovation, Sawyer tells videographers Douglas Newman and John Carrithers about Rebellion Photonics' future plans to implement their advanced imaging technologies in other markets.