Edison Awards’ Celebration of Black Innovators Honors Two Madison Team Members

Ron Billups of Porex and Chelsea Newton of Purafil have been recognized in honor of Lewis Latimer, an inventor who helped develop the telephone and the incandescent electric light bulb

February 18, 2021 – Lewis Howard Latimer (1848–1928) was a patent draftsman and inventor who worked with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison in the post-Civil War era. His name will be forever associated with two of the most revolutionary inventions of all time: the telephone and the incandescent electric light bulb. In his honor, the Edison Awards honors modern day black innovators with the passion and dedication that Lewis Latimer stood for.

We are proud to announce that two members of the Madison family have been named as honorees in this Celebration of Black Innovators: Ron Billups, Senior Process Engineer at Porex, and Chelsea Newton, Assistant Lab Manager at Purafil.

Learn more about Ron and Chelsea on the Edison Awards website! Their stories, as published on the Edison Awards blog, are also included below.



Ron Billups is Senior Process Engineer at Porex. Porex implements groundbreaking technologies and a depth of expertise to engineer the porous plastic solutions that help bring their customers’ products to life. Ron’s Story, in his words:

I can truly say that I have always had a thirst for knowledge both professionally and personally. I strive to learn of any new technologies that can have a positive impact on how I perform my job, how the technology will impact our customers’ products, as well how I grow as an individual. It has always fascinated me to learn and create innovative ways of solving technical opportunities.

Describe the most significant influence that led you to your line of work.

I can trace my choice to become an engineer to career talks with my 11th grade Chemistry teacher and guidance counselor. They both encouraged me to investigate engineering as career field due to my love of the sciences and math.

What do your family, friends and colleagues say about your accomplishments?

My family has always been proud of any accolades I’ve received over the years. They’ve mentioned more than once that my colleagues must truly trust my technical judgement, as I’ve been contacted many times after hours to help with process issues that arise.

Tell us about something that made you grow the most as a leader.

By working as the sole process engineer for short periods over my career has forced me to grow and learn all of the processes within the Richmond facility. I believe this has had the greatest impact for me as a technical leader.

Share your ideas for mentoring the professional development of young entrepreneurs:

Learn as much as you can from experienced colleagues. Their knowledge will be valuable for approaching any problems you may encounter. But also think outside of the box for answers to future questions.

To date, what project is your greatest success? What is the story behind that innovation?

Earlier in my career with Porex, I was assigned process engineering responsibility for one of our most difficult bonded fiber products to make. This product is used in a diagnostic testing machine that detects HIV and Hepatitis in multiple blood samples.

The most significant difficulty in making this product was maintaining the forming tool life.to a maximum of 35 packing units, roughly equivalent to 1.5 days of production. At the completion of the 35 packing units, the tool had to be cleaned, disassembled, and shipped to a local vendor for coating removal and re-application. This exercise cost several hundred dollars per cycle and required having a significant number of backup tools so that we could maintain our customer’s product demand.

Through root cause analysis into the source of the short tool life, I discovered that a significant portion of the failed tooling came from the secondary fiber delivery tool that supplied the fiber into the main forming tool. The transition from the secondary tool to the main tool would slightly damage the fiber due to the high volume of compressed air required to form the product.

By redesigning the secondary tool, we were able to reduce compressed air consumption by three times, while also maintaining product quality. This simple redesign also extended the main tool life from 35 cases/coating to 125 cases/coating, which saved the company tens of thousands of dollars each year in coating costs. It reduced the required number of forming tools needed to maintain customer demand and significantly reduced utility usage.

This secondary tool redesign is one of my proudest accomplishments during my Porex career. It is a true testament that one small change can have a huge impact.


Chelsea Newton is Assistant Lab Manager at Purafil, Inc.. Purafil engineers and manufactures gas-phase air filtration media, modules, equipment and air monitoring instrumentation. Their focus is to create the world’s best air purification products to make your life and business better. Here is Chelsea’s story, in her words:

What is my innovation story? When I first looked at this statement I had no idea how to answer this. I do not have a PhD, I do not have patents with my name on them, but I do love solving problems and implementing new processes to help daily activities run smoothly. When I first got to my company it was nice, we were small and everybody had their own way of doing things. In 2018 I decided that had to change. I had to realize the lab is my space and I can choose how to run it. It was time for us to up our game, this led me to single handily having our lab ISO 17025:2017 accredited. Some people may not see this as a big accomplishment or innovative but it’s something I am definitely proud of. Implementing new work procedures and training sessions for our department was the best thing that could have happened. We are more aware or our surroundings and our work. Once that was accomplished, I moved into R&D work with my other colleagues. We found ways to increase gas capacity on our medias, I would spearhead third-party testing when it came to creating our line of media used for Grow Houses, and I would also be innovating outside of the lab. There were other departments that would need help and simple tasks like having logistics sign out lab orders before removing them from the lab has helped in more ways than one. My innovation story is not about a specific product that I developed but more so on how I can help the company as a whole be more effect and efficient. I communicate with everyone in every department and see what it is that is hindering them from completing certain tasks, especially when it comes to the lab. I want to make processes for other departments run smoothly when they need the lab. This is my story, this is how I help innovate throughout my company.

Describe the most significant influence that led you to your line of work

Growing up I always loved Science and Math but it wasn’t until high school when I knew for sure my focus would be Chemistry. I transferred schools, due to unforeseen circumstances, my 11th grade year in High School and they placed me in Honors Chemistry because I was moving too fast for the regular chemistry class. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Heusel and she made chemistry so fun and exciting. She was tough but willing to help only if you helped yourself. I loved her class so much that I took AP Chemistry and then went on to further my education in Chemistry. She was the reason I chose Chemistry.

All throughout my collegiate and graduate career, people always asked “Being that you’re in chemistry do you want to work in the medical field?” My answer was always “No”. I have so much respect for those individuals in the medical field but I love working in Air Quality. Many of my family members have respiratory issues and knowing that there’s a product that my company manufactures that can help my family, makes me smile and proud to be in the field I’m in. My family is the reason I chose Air Quality.

What do your family, friends and colleagues say about your accomplishments?

My family doesn’t understand my accomplishments but they are happy and proud of me. I broke generational curses in my family and I hope to continue to break them. My family just wants to see me succeed and if I’m happy with my accomplishments and career goals so are they.

My friends understand me. My closest friends studied chemistry just like me, and even though we are all in different areas of science they are still my biggest fans.

My colleagues must think I’m pretty great because they are the ones that nominated me for this amazing award. They are my second family. We joke and disagree but at the end of the day we praise one another for all we have accomplished. They tell me that my accomplishments are mine but I mostly feel that they are ours because of how helpful everyone is.

Tell us about something that made you grow the most as a leader:

Growing as a leader is an everyday thing and every day I learn something new about being a “leader”. If I had to pick a specific moment in time that made me grow the most as a leader I would have to say it was in March 2020 when the United States shut down because of Covid-19. We’ve had people in our department that wasn’t sure what was going to happen or if their position was even “safe”. I stepped up more than I ever have in my life. I wanted people in my department to know that I am here for them. I did more than just my normal day to day. I learned new skills so that I could help when help was needed elsewhere throughout the company. I feel as though a leader is only a strong as his/her weakest link, I know that sounds cliché but it’s true and I did not want anybody on the team falling short because I couldn’t help or tech them properly.

Share your ideas for mentoring the professional development of young entrepreneurs:

I have three rules that I live by:

1. Pray

2. Know what you want

3. Allow for criticism

Praying isn’t for everyone and I understand that, but even taking a moment to meditate can help one ease through the day to day activities going on around them. Taking time to breathe and focus a few moments throughout the day can help that person make decisions on situations they thought were impossible.

Knowing what one wants is a great quality to have. In my experience if you know exactly what you want, you will not lose focus on trying to achieve your goal.

Lastly, criticism is the key to growing as a person. Do not take criticism as a negative against you but more of a positive learning experience. I’ve learned that most people who give you criticism are trying to help you become a better you. They see your potential and want you to succeed.

Being a young entrepreneur is hard, you’ll feel like everyone is against you at one point, but never give up. I promise the reward in the end makes it all worth it.

To date, what project is your greatest success? What is the story behind that innovation?

To date, the project that I am most proud of would be a project I worked on in 2014 for detecting Ricin in Milk and Orange Juice. One of my favorite chemistry professors picked me to help her work on a specific project for Homeland Security. We would work to try and find a suitable procedure for detecting small amounts of Ricin in milk and in orange juice. We were able to reach detection limits below LD50 which is that of a typical adult person using Raman Spectroscopy. This project made me proud because we were able to come up with detection limits that could possible save someone’s life.