by Allison Wollam for Houston Business Journal
Spurred by an influx of investment dollars last year that is continuing in 2012, the Houston biotech scene is growing as companies bulk up on staff and expand product lines.
While Houston doesn’t yet share California’s reputation as a mecca for biotech companies, local industry leaders say the sector is getting a needed shot in the arm from the funding boost.
Allison Lami, who started Houston-based Rebellion Photonics Inc. right out of Rice University in 2009, said investors have previously suggested that she move the company to Austin or California to attract more capital, but she intends to stick around.
“Houston is a cheap place to do business and we do business in biotech and energy, so why would we leave?” she said. “Our customers are here, and we think the money is here, too.”
Rebellion Photonics uses real-time imaging to detect chemicals throughout the whole field of vision using a microscope or camera. The company has also found a niche market in Houston’s medical center where scientists are using the imaging for cancer research.
In the past year, the company has grown from two full-time employees to eight, and Lami is gearing up to hire additional engineers and sales staff. The company has raised $1.1 million in venture capital and $400,000 in debt funding to date. In 2011 the company reached $500,000 in revenue, mostly selling to researchers in the Texas Medical Center.
“The money is there, but the process took a little longer than we thought it would,” she said. “But we have found that it’s definitely a healthy market.”
Lami expects more growth this year as the company debuts a new camera, designed to detect oil spills in the oil and energy sector, with demos expected to be lined up with large oil and gas companies by late summer.
The MoneyTree Report, a national venture capital survey published quarterly by the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers, shows that energy and industrial investments made up the majority of deals in Texas in 2011, at 38.8 percent. The next largest industry was biotechnology with 16.4 percent, followed by medical devices and equipment with 13.4 percent.