Alumnus Makes Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ List of Leaders

Sylvester Lee co-founder of revolutionary augmented reality technology

Sylvester ‘Sly’ Lee shares valuable insights about augmented reality technology. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – As technological advances continue to rapidly turn yesterday’s fiction into today’s facts, a University of Mississippi alumnus finds himself at the forefront of the burgeoning virtual and augmented reality revolution.

Sylvester “Sly” Lee, co-founder of Emerge Inc., an independent technology company in Los Angeles, recently made Forbes magazine’s annual “30 Under 30” list of rising entrepreneurs in manufacturing and industry.

The 28-year-old Oxford native and his two co-founders have invented a hardware and software device that enables users to feel virtual objects in augmented reality without the need for wearables, controllers or gloves. It uses a proprietary technology to create precise force fields mid-air, allowing users to feel shapes, volumes and even textures.

“The Forbes honor came as a huge surprise to me,” said Lee, who earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 2010 and a master’s degree in environmental toxicology in 2012, both from UM. “My co-founders, Isaac Castro of Spain and Mauricio Teran of Ecuador, and the rest of our team celebrate this recognition together.”

Lee’s career trajectory from pharmacist to marine scientist to serial entrepreneur began while at Ole Miss. He credits professors Marc Slattery and Deborah Gochfeld with inspiring critical thinking through his involvement in their underwater drug discovery research.

Slattery remembers Lee being an exceptional student who was interested in the bigger picture.

“It was immediately clear that research was his passion,” said Slattery, a professor of biomolecular sciences. “Sly came aboard as we started into our climate change research and comparative environmental physiology. He was a great help in lab and field work, and always happy to discuss recent papers and/or data.”

As part of their ongoing search for pharmaceutical compounds from the ocean, Lee went on a trip to the coral reefs of the Bahamas.

“My job was to scuba dive, study and use cutting-edge technologies to gain insights and knowledge into one of the least-understood ecosystems in the world,” he said. “That experience made a deep impression upon me and set me on my future career path.”

In the environmental toxicology graduate program, Lee’s excitement and enthusiasm were contagious, to the extent that his younger brother also came to do research in the lab as an undergraduate.

“Sly entirely immersed himself in his passion for the sea,” said Gochfeld, principal scientist in UM’s National Center for Natural Products Research. “He was a teaching assistant and through his passion for understanding and conserving the ocean, he served as a great role model for students and our lab in general.

“He was an important contributor to several of our NSF- and NOAA-funded research projects on climate change and marine diseases.”

Before co-founding his company, Lee was part of a 3-D mapping project at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the first project in the world to combine photogrammetry, lidar – a system that uses laser pulses to measure distances – and sonar to produce a 3-D map of the U.S.S. Arizona, the famed battleship that sank during the Japanese attack that drew the United States into World War II.

Following his work in Hawaii, Lee traveled around the world expanding what he learned in that project to coral reef ecosystems. He eventually started The Hydrous, a nonprofit that pioneered a method to 3-D capture coral reefs in high resolution using photogrammetry. The group’s methods have been adopted by more than 20 academic institutions and more than 10 nongovernmental organizations around the world.

The Hydrous’ work has been featured in WIRED Magazine, TED and Fast Company. It is supported by Lenovo, the Smithsonian Institution and Google Expeditions. For more visit

In 2015 Lee attended Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program, which convenes a talented group of scientists, technologists, designers, entrepreneurs and others with potential to tackle global grand challenges.

Founded in 2008 in Silicon Valley, Singularity University is a California think tank that offers educational programs and a business incubator. Its stated aim is to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

“That program profoundly changed me,” Lee said. “I learned five years’ worth of material in those 10 weeks. That’s also where I met my co-founders who shared my same passion for technology and creating the next level of human communication.”

Compiled by Forbes since 2011, “30 Under 30” is published annually to recognize creative and visionary business leaders across 20 different industries. In 2016, Patrick Woodyard, a 2010 UM graduate, was included on the prestigious list.

To view Lee’s profile in Forbes magazine, visit