Fast-growing cybersecurity startup ZeroFOX is making a castle-like former Pabst Brewing bottling facility in South Baltimore its headquarters as it looks to build momentum for an eventual public stock offering.
The company, which helps businesses and government agencies detect and prevent hacking attempts via social media, will relocate its nearly 90 employees from the heart of Federal Hill to a space more than twice as large at South Charles and Wells streets.
CEO James C. Foster said he expects to move "in the next couple of months."
Foster said it's another step in a plan to take ZeroFOX from one of technology incubator Betamore's first companies in 2013 to a public company, possibly by 2018. ZeroFOX is one of many companies in the region vying for a piece of a fast-growing global market helping to protect government and corporate data from hackers.
"I've got a vision to keep this company in Baltimore City," Foster said. "I've got a vision where Baltimore City can be the hub of cyber globally."
ZeroFOX, which said it received $27 million from venture capital investors last month, is renting the space, Foster said.
An entity known as 1830 Charles Street LLC owns the building, purchased in March 2014 for $2.6 million. That entity shares an address with Foster, a pier home in the Harborview development of Federal Hill. Foster said there are "some common interests" between the owners of ZeroFOX and its new home.
The new headquarters is just across Interstate 95 from Port Covington, where Sagamore Development, the real estate firm owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, is planning to build a neighborhood from scratch with 13 million square feet of offices, homes, shops and restaurants. Foster said he has been in touch with Sagamore officials while planning his company's new home.
Constructed in 1900, according to state property records, the brick building features the crenelated roof and parapet of a medieval castle. It is known by many around South Baltimore as the Pabst Castle, still bearing the name and logos of the now-Russian-owned brewer.
ZeroFOX's renovation plans, drawn by Fells Point architecture firm Urban Design Group, mix the buildings aged brick and wooden beams with modern steel and glass, Foster said. There will be a glass-enclosed staircase tying together six different elevations spread throughout the two-story building, he said.
Building permits also call for constructing a roof deck atop a concrete warehouse-type structure attached to the main castle-like building and converting an asphalt parking area into a landscaped courtyard. At nearly 19,000 square feet, according to state property records, it's significantly more space than the 8,000 square feet the company currently occupies.
ZeroFOX is focused on expanding its sales and its reach as it prepares to go public, Foster said. It has received $40 million in all from investors who foresee continued growth in cybersecurity business.
Bad press from data breaches affecting major financial services, health insurance and retail companies have prompted increased spending on cybersecurity software from both the government and private sectors. Investors have flocked to promising cybersecurity companies, and some in Silicon Valley and elsewhere have posted successful initial public offerings, a model ZeroFOX's investors think it could emulate or even outperform.
ZeroFOX was nearing 100 employees at the end of the year, 85 percent of them in Baltimore. Foster declined to provide an updated head count.
The company, first known as Riskive, launched in 2013 as Betamore opened its doors at 1111 Light Street to help stimulate the city's tech economy. Within months, it had two dozen employees, taking up half of the incubator's shared workspaces, and soon moved to take over the entire floor below Betamore.
It's not clear who might fill the space ZeroFOX will vacate. ZeroFOX subleases the space from OSTP Ventures, which is under a lease for another three years, said Arsh Mirmiran, a partner at Caves Valley Partners, which developed the Light Street project. A representative for OSTP could not be reached.
ZeroFOX's new home on Charles Street almost wasn't available — the building nearly returned to its brewing roots first. Green Door Properties was working with craft beer maker Key Brewing to develop a brewery and restaurant at the site. But when Key's founders came across affordable brewing equipment that allowed them to produce twice as much beer as they had planned, they had to look elsewhere, eventually settling in Dundalk.
"We realized we were going to outgrow that space very quickly," said Spike Owen, Key Brewing's co-founder. "The last thing you want to do, especially in the brewing business, is to set up a space that you're going to outgrow really quickly."
But the space suits ZeroFOX, despite its own rapid growth. After seeing the company outgrow one space after another, Betamore CEO Jennifer Meyer said she hopes other startups follow ZeroFOX's example.
"They're like a true testament to exactly what we're trying to build here," Meyer said.