"When I was growing up, I thought my heroes were Bill Gates, Steve Jobs," Allison Sawyer said.
Sawyer and her business partner, Robert Kester, have created a company they hope will revolutionize the way oil and gas companies monitor their plants and refineries.
"I like having an idea then -- poof -- a few years later, it actually existed," Sawyer said.
Their company provides cameras detecting gases and chemicals not visible to the naked eye, alerting workers if there's a problem.
"They have been trying to get something like this for the past 15 years and they told us that this was the most sensitive and fastest imaging they've ever done," Kester said.
It began when Sawyer was working on her MBA at Rice University.
"For a year and a half, I volunteered for free to help local scientist write business plans, and I did this so that I could meet other scientist," Sawyer said.
One of those scientists, Kester, was trying to bring his idea on fluorescent imaging to life.
"Right when that idea hit me, I knew it was going to work. I didn't even have to build the system, I just knew it was going to work," he said.
Like many entrepreneurs, they initially met with resistance.
"I had a teacher in business school tell me, took my shoulders in his hands, looked me right in the eye, and says you know you are not good enough right? I'm just telling you this because I care," Sawyer said. "I think he thought he was doing me a favor and in some ways he was."
It was the motivation needed to start approaching huge companies, like BP and Shell. They also entered a business contest and won enough money to help them start.
Now four years later, they company is grossing millions -- over $2.5 million this year alone.
"I hope in five years we are on the off shore rigs, we are on the refineries, we're on the frack sites and this partnership we've created with oil and gas, it really has been wonderful, and I hope that continues," Sawyer said.
And as they look back on their beginning, they offer three lessons to other young entrepreneurs:
- Provide a family environment at work
- Hire top-notch people who support your company's goals
- Believe in your product
"Has this start up been all daisies, no! It's been the most unbelievable heartache at some point, but it's also been the making of me," Sawyer said.
Sawyer encourages young women not to be detoured if they enjoy math and science. She says she's experienced alot of people who discounted her as a female, but she enjoys having proved them wrong.