Five Questions For … Allison Lami Sawyer, Rebellion Photonics’s CEO

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wanted to be a tech entrepreneur. I’m 32 and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were really hitting peak fame when I was a kid. Even as a kid in Alabama, I knew them. Entrepreneurship in the ’90s was really getting sexy. To me, for any kid interested in math, that was pretty rock star.

I did applied physics for my undergraduate [degree]. I never thought I would work in a lab.

X: Where do you think your drive comes from?

ALS: I don’t think I’m any more driven than anyone else. But I do think I’m efficient. I do pick areas that I think are scarier to other people. Physics scares a lot of people. I was the only woman in applied physics at the University of Colorado. That’s pretty ridiculous. They were all just scared off by it. I think I don’t scare easy. And I have a pretty high threshold for pain. That’s all you need really.

X: If you got stranded on a desert island, what’s the one thing you would have to have with you?

ALS: My husband, he’s the best-est. I love him. We could make do on an island… I think we’d just be fine.

X: How do you define success?

ALS: I have not figured that one out yet. The ironic part is when you’re getting the most praise, it’s not necessarily the times you feel proudest. It’s usually the times you feel most stressed. I don’t know; sometimes it’s just a feeling. I’ll be walking around, we’ve got 20,000 square feet now, I’ll be walking the halls and that makes me feel proud. I’m very much the journey kind of person.

I’m pretty interested to see where it goes—it being life. I’m 32. We’re living in an extraordinary time. One thing I’m also doing because I have more free time now, I am running for state representative of west central Houston. [The process] has been fascinating because it’s outside of my comfort zone. [My district has] been Democratic; then it flipped Republican in 2010. I keep expecting a good Democratic candidate to step in and take it back. We have extremely poor representation. No one really pays attention to state politics; it’s all federal or city. They don’t understand how much the state affects the day-to-day. We’re really going to have to transform our economy over the next 10, 20 years.

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