by Tom Corrigan for Wall Street Journal
Maker of Cameras for Gas-Leak Detection Selected from 24 Companies
Rebellion Photonics was named “WSJ Startup of the Year” Monday night, beating two dozen other young companies during the five-month-long documentary.
The Houston-based startup, founded by Allison Lami Sawyer, 28 years old, and Robert Kester, 32, builds cameras that can spot poisonous and potentially explosive gas leaks on oil rigs and at refineries. The cameras can detect at least 20 different gases simultaneously and in real time.
Rebellion was one of 24 startups chosen by editors of The Wall Street Journal to participate in the “WSJ Startup of the Year” documentary, which premiered in June. Founded in 2010, Rebellion began its first full-scale installation earlier this year, offering a monthly subscription service to oil and gas companies based on the number of cameras needed to cover a particular rig or refinery.
The companies picked for the documentary—from more than 500 applications—spanned a wide range of industries. The finalists for the top spot included SwipeSense Inc. of Evanston, Ill., which makes portable, trackable hand-sanitation devices; and Daily Muse Inc. of New York, which collects online job listings, career content and profiles from a range of retail, tech and media companies, to help people find jobs.
During the course of the documentary, the Journal editors paired the participating startups with more than 40 business leaders, experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors. Richard Branson , founder of Virgin Group Ltd., Steve Case , co-founder and former chief executive of AOL Inc., and Tory Burch, CEO and designer of Tory Burch LLC, were among the mentors and advisers providing guidance to the participating startups and editors.
The CEOs and their teams performed tasks and challenges over the course of the project, including an elevator pitch and a debate. The Journal editors periodically decided which startups to eliminate, after evaluating the startups’ scalability, long-term viability, distinctiveness and social good.
Rebellion received a full-page advertisement in the Journal as well as two of the Journal’s iconic stipple drawings, one for each of the co-founders. Ms. Sawyer, who regularly speaks at high schools and mentors girls interested in technology, says she applied to the documentary project in part to increase the exposure of women-led startups.