Three Cybersecurity Startups on the Cutting EdgeAugust 10, 2018
Written by Mike Ravenscroft, Program Director, C5 Accelerate
As technology advances and more personal, corporate, and government data is being stored online, the threat of cyber attacks has become increasingly prominent. Here at the PeaceTech Accelerator, three recent graduates of cohort 4 are focusing on ways to mitigate these ever-present risks.
HighSide is a secure encrypted chat alternative to Slack used for organizations with regulated or sensitive data. Suavei secures sensors in critical infrastructure in low-bandwidth environments, while Neuralys reduces the time to mitigate vulnerabilities by improving the productivity of organizations’ teams of security analysts. All three companies worked with C5 Accelerate, AWS, SAP NS2, and PeaceTech Lab to scale during their eight weeks in the PeaceTech Accelerator.
How did you get the idea for your company, and how did you turn it into reality?
Martin: I’ve been a penetration tester for over ten years. After hacking governments, financial institutions, and Fortune 500 companies from all over the world to test their vulnerabilities, I really learned to think like a hacker. If you put a wall in my path, with little effort I’ll climb it. I’ve leveraged that mindset in collaboration with my partner, who has over 25 years of experience in the cyber security field, to build a product that helps mitigation teams to do their job better.
On average, companies take 77 days to mitigate critical vulnerabilities and just 26% of those are mitigated, leaving huge exposure to risk. Neuralys is an accountability tool that closes that gap.
Brendan: HighSide was born out of a combination of unique timing and opportunity. We started working on HighSide shortly after Sony’s massive hack was front page news and Slack had just been anointed the fastest growing software startup of all time. It was raining (cyber security attacks and costs ramping up at unprecedented levels, coupled with greater public awareness of the problem) and people were looking for a new umbrella (something that had the functionality of a product like Slack, but which was both secure and compliant). Based on nearly a decade of our CTO’s previous work in communications security, we built that umbrella.
What trends are you seeing in the cybersecurity space, and which are you most excited about pursuing?
Afonso: The explosion of devices connected to the public Internet has drastically increased attack surfaces (i.e. reachable and exploitable vulnerabilities) which, combined with a thriving Dark Web and how much easier writing software has become, has made it easy to be a cyber criminal these days. Pretty much any 14-year-old with an Internet connection can become a cyber criminal overnight and start raking in Bitcoin. It’s that easy. In other words, there is so much cyber crime happening, no human being can keep up with it. The answer to us is obvious; using Artificial Intelligence (AI) can automate protection. Unfortunately, most cybersecurity tools out there either don’t use AI at all or use it poorly. Suavei was designed to leverage AI from the very start, and we’re excited to be on the forefront of that.
Brendan: The trend we’re focused on is the fact that 91% of all successful data breaches today start at the communications layer. While this is the problem we combat, I’m also excited about is the fact that large organizations ranging from governments to Fortune 500s understand that cybersecurity is a big space, such a big space that the IBMs and Microsoft’s of the world don’t have the entire puzzle figured out – they understand that they have to work with startups that fit pieces of the puzzle for them. It’s exciting, because historically it’s very hard for startups to sell to enterprises, but in the world of cyber security we have enterprises coming to us for help.
What has been the greatest challenge in building your company so far?
Martin: Gaining access to capital as an Argentine company has been a challenge. We are excited to work with C5 Accelerate to develop new relationships with potential investors to extend our runway for hiring developers and other talent.
Afonso: Growing the team is key. Finding cybersecurity talent, however, is difficult, for a number of reasons: it’s a very specialized skill set that requires years of training, as well as true love and dedication for it. Cybersecurity products are hard to build well and arguably even harder to sell well. We’ve managed to attract some amazing people, but it was definitely a challenge finding them.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs starting out in the cybersecurity space?
Afonso: Make sure that you truly believe in what you’re doing and what you’re building is truly disruptive and actually protects your customers. The cybersecurity space has actually very low barriers to entry – there are truly no dominant players. Unfortunately, that’s because most cybersecurity products don’t do anything and when customers find that out, they switch – to then find the product that they switched to also fails. It is a game of musical chairs. If you don’t want to be the one product out next round, make sure you’re one of the few that actually has technology that will not disappoint your customers. Otherwise pick another space, one that has lower consequences for technical failure.
Brendan: It’s a big space. There are a lot of shiny objects. Don’t try to chase everything at once. Do one thing really, really well. You can’t solve the entire problem, just a piece of the puzzle, and that’s fine. It’s such a big market and cybersecurity spending budgets are increasing across all verticals, you can be enormously successful solving just a single piece of the puzzle for a specific type of customer.
Edited by Lukas Troost