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Alumnus Gerald Rea’s Lighting Creations in High Demand
September 12, 2013
As an undergraduate, Gerald Rea spent three years providing engineering services and building prototypes at Rose-Hulman Ventures for four startups and one mainstream corporation. This led him to conclude that a small company would offer more challenges and excitement.
“I went into business for myself immediately out of college doing contract research, development, and design for large multinational corporations,” says Rea, who earned bachelor degrees in mechanical engineering and optical engineering in 2005. “They would outsource some of their more wild ideas to people like me.”
After doing interesting research projects for others, Rea longed for ownership of his own ideas. In 2009, he joined another Rose-Hulman graduate, Robert Drake, a 2004 mechanical engineering alumnus, in founding Stray Light Optical Technologies, an energy-efficient lighting. Today that Scottsburg, Indiana-based startup employs 25 people and has earned federal and state innovation awards.
Energy-efficient lighting “was a high-growth area,” Rea explains. “We could make money by saving our customers money and by saving the environment. So, we could always feel good about a sale and about the products we were developing.”
The company’s high-efficiency plasma lighting system has illuminated the red carpet runway for the 84th Academy Awards Ceremony and the grounds for NASA’s last manned shuttle launch. A new municipality street light program is cutting energy use and saving cities thousands of dollars each year.
Rea never thought being an entrepreneur was all that risky because his optical engineering skills have always been in demand. Rose-Hulman Ventures provided experiences that gave him the confidence to meet high-level technical professionals right out of college and feel like a peer. He also was accustomed to working hard.
“I love my job,” Rea says. “Every day is a challenge. It’s about how fast can adapt, how fast you can change, and how fast you can stay ahead of the competition.”
Rea remarks that the Mainstream Economy may be an environment for engineers who need a more structured environment. Meanwhile, those who are creative should consider joining an innovative startup.
“It’s definitely not for everybody, but for the people who have the spark of creativity and want to be masters of their own destiny, I really recommend it,” Rea says.