by Molly Ryan for Houston Business Journal
The votes are in: Houston officially has a hot, nationally recognized startup.
Rebellion Photonics Inc., which has commercialized a video camera technology that can detect gas leaks in real time, captured a major victory Nov. 4 when the Wall Street Journal named it as the winner of its inaugural “Startup of the Year” competition. But the victory isn’t just for Rebellion — it’s also being hailed as a win for Houston’s emerging technology startup scene.
Both the Houston Technology Center and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, two local technology incubation groups, are touting Rebellion’s win as one of their own. This makes sense since Rebellion is both a product of the HTC and the Rice Alliance. Also, Rebellion’s win on the national stage that the WSJ set up will put these organizations, and the local technology scene as a whole, in the spotlight.
I got to talk to Allison Sawyer, Rebellion’s CEO, both before and after the 20-week competition, which pitted 24 startups from around the country against each other and measured each company on its scalability, long-term vitality, originality, utility and its ability to perform designated tasks.
At the beginning of the competition in June, Sawyer said she was looking forward to getting advice from mentors the WSJ provided to startups. The mentors included big-name celebrities and business tycoons.
After the competition Sawyer said two of her favorite mentors were Kate Mitchell, a co-founder and partner at Scale Venture Partners, and Lynn Tilton, CEO of Patriarch Partners LLC. Part of the reason Sawyer was drawn to these mentors was because she had never met such powerful female investors, she said.
Besides the winning the recognition of “Startup of the Year” and receiving mentorship from business bigshots, Rebellion’s two co-founders also got to ring the New York Stock Exchange bell this morning and received two hand-drawn WSJ-style portraits.
These portraits were the highlight of the competition for Sawyer, who said it was one of her life goals to see her portrait in the signature WSJ ink-dot style.
Despite the win, Sawyer said she believes Houston’s technology startup scene needs more recognition.
“I don’t think people outside of Texas understand how big the market is,” she said.
Still, the win is one step in the right direction for the local startup scene, and Sawyer gushed about the support she has received from the existing community in Houston.
“As I said on Twitter, it takes a village to raise a startup and we have the best village in the world,” she said.