Houston’s Rebellion Photonics Helps Spot Dangerous Leaks

Houston’s Rebellion Photonics Helps Spot Dangerous Leaks

It’s not every startup that gets a Twitter endorsement from MC Hammer.

But that’s the sort of year it’s been for Houston-based Rebellion Photonics, which makes a real-time hyperspectral camera that can detect poisonous or potentially explosive gas leaks from oil refineries or rigs.

While the startup has been selling its camera since its founding in 2010, its profile was recently elevated when it won The Wall Street Journal’s “Startup of the Year” competition. Mentors included Hammer, the former rap star, along with entrepreneurs such as Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson and designer Tory Burch.

“We went from a really quiet company in Houston to getting calls from all over the world,” says Allison Lami Sawyer, Rebellion’s CEO and co-founder. “We had to call on people to help us answer the phones.”

The founders are hoping to use that momentum to close on a $10 million Series A equity round this month.

Sawyer, who has a master’s degree in nanoscale physics, was completing her MBA at Rice University when she met co-founder and chief technical officer Robert Kester, a physicist who specializes in optics.

The two paired up to commercialize the technology, winning a few competitions—including second place at Rice’s prestigious Business Plan Competition—and getting grant money, all of which provided both needed capital and a vote of confidence that helped to bring in $100,000 in angel investment.

Initially, the founders did not immediately see the potential for their product in the oil and gas market and instead looked to uses in the life sciences. Its first camera, named the Arrow, was sold … Next Page »

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