By Péralte C. Paul
NexDefense, a cybersecurity startup company, has joined the Advanced Technology Development Center’s (ATDC) Select program.
Led by co-founders Derek Harp, executive chairman; Michael Assante, chief security strategist; and Michael Sayre, CEO, NexDefense’s technology alerts control system operators in critical infrastructure and defense facilities to anomalies. The real-time analyses help operators make the decisions needed to maintain their networks’ security and fight advanced threats.
The company relocated to Atlanta from Silicon Valley last August, after considering staying in California or moving to Boston or Washington, D.C.
“Silicon Valley is unique and a great place, but Atlanta is already proving to be special for us and what we’re doing,” Harp said.
Georgia Tech alumnus Tom Noonan, the serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Internet Security Systems (ISS) that he and his partners later sold to IBM Corp. for $1.3 billion, is on NexDefense’s board and made a pitch for Atlanta.
And in December, the company secured $2.4 million in a funding round with angels from three continents and supported by Atlanta-based firms Mosley Ventures, BIP Capital, as well as Noonan. Sig Mosley, managing partner at Mosley Ventures, also made the case for Atlanta’s offerings, including highlighting ATDC, one of the nation’s premier technology startup incubators.
ATDC is a unit of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s chief economic development arm. Startups designated “ATDC Select” — after a rigorous vetting process — are deemed most ready to succeed, get investors, and receive targeted help in their growth.
“We took a tour of the ATDC, and I was really impressed with their team,” said Harp, a serial entrepreneur. “The possibilities at Georgia Tech are exciting. We walked away saying, ‘heck yeah, we want to be a part of that.’”
Harp said Atlanta and its offerings made a compelling case to relocate here. “We already knew Atlanta had a strong cybersecurity-knowledgeable employee base and innovation focus with companies like ISS and the connection to Georgia Tech,” Harp said, explaining the co-founders all vetted the different cities under consideration. “There’s just a lot of pluses to Atlanta, especially for NexDefense.”
Atlanta’s technology-oriented startup culture and track record of being home to a successful string of information security firms underscores his sentiments.
Those factors, coupled with ATDC and Georgia Tech’s research, explain why startups cluster in metro Atlanta, said ATDC Director Stephen Fleming.
“We have a rich history of working with and helping entrepreneurs build successful companies in information security, and our most recent example of that is Pindrop Security with its anti-phone fraud technology,” Fleming said. “We also have one of the world’s preeminent information security research hubs here at the Georgia Tech Information Security Center.”
The focus on critical public infrastructure such as power grids, water systems, and oil and gas, as well as national defense, comes amidst growing public awareness and concern about their vulnerability to cyberattacks. It also comes in the wake of high-profile private sector hacking incidents such as last year’s massively destructive incident on a German steel plant, the second publicly known cyber attack to cause physical damage.
Against that backdrop, federal and local governments and companies in the public utilities sector are looking to firms such as NexDefense to develop the next generation of tools needed to combat cyberattacks.
In November of 2014, the company released “Sophia,” an industrial network anomaly detection, or INAD system. NexDefense won the exclusive rights in 2013 to commercialize the technology.
It brought the technology to market following the program’s initial development at the Idaho National Laboratory, where it was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under the management of the Battelle Energy Alliance. The catalyst for the research was the rise in highly intrusive and targeted cyberattacks from criminals focused on automation and control systems.