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Cyber security startups find home at BWTech on UMBC campus

Those entering the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, campus from Interstate 195 find it easy to mistake the buildings on the right side of the road for part of the school, or just miss them completely.

Those five buildings make up the BWTech Research and Technology Park and house Life Sciences, Clean Energy and Cyber Security business incubators. The incubators provide office space, mentors, resources and collaborative opportunities for small startup companies in each of the three fields.

"Most entrepreneurs have started in their homes," said Ellen Hemmerly, the park's president and executive director. "But this can bring them out of their homes, where there's a community of other entrepreneurs.

"There's a lot of networking opportunities. We can help them understand what they need to help make their business really successful," she said.

At the Cyber Security incubator, at 5520 Research Park Drive, business is booming.

The incubator, currently at full capacity, is now preparing to expand to include a new 3,300 square foot office space across the hall from the existing offices.

The new space will include more open areas to facilitate collaboration between the different companies housed there.

Hemmerly said the Cyber Security incubator, which opened in late 2010, provides an excellent setting for new businesses starting out in a rapidly growing field.

"We were recognizing that cyber security was a very big business opportunity in the state of Maryland," Hemmerly said.

"The security issues related to the Internet are growing very fast, and I think everybody is aware of the risks. Whether it's a national security risk or whether it's a personal identity or personal financial risk," she said.

Coming Home

For the Cyber Security incubator's newest incoming tenant, joining the incubator was not only an opportunity to grow a business, but also return to personal roots.

David Simms, president, founder and CEO of Cyber Security Engineering Associates, is also a UMBC alumnus and said he is looking forward to starting a new chapter of his life where an old one ended.

He heard about the incubator program while attending the Cyber Maryland conference in October 2012 and immediately knew it would be a great fit.

"I really didn't know about it at the time," said Simms, who currently lives in Virginia.

"After speaking with them and all the wonderful benefits of being an associate here, and then of course, it is basically home, I thought wow, this would be an outstanding place to place my company," he said.

Simms' company, which provides validations and verification services to prevent virus and malware penetration, has been in the works for some time.

After obtaining three master's degrees and working for the Department of the Navy, Simms felt that he was ready to make the leap into entrepreneurship.

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"As of late, with the movement of cyber security to the forefront, and all the things that go with that ... everything has just come to a head at the right time," he said.

Simms said his company will focus on developing programs to block malicious content from infecting a computer and also on training employees to know ways to avoid becoming a victim.

He wants to utilize the tech-savvy student body at UMBC to supplement his company.

"Being able to access the research and the talent that just walks across this campus every day is tremendous," Simms said.

From the bottom to the top

For Zuly Gonzalez and Beau Adkins, co-founders of Light Point Security, the incubator has become a home.

The two founded their company together in the basement of their Elkridge home in February 2010 after coming up with the business idea in a master's degree class they took together in 2007-2008.

They originally met in 2001 as co-op students for the National Security Agency. Twelve years later, they are business partners and also engaged to be married.

They learned about the program after attending Cybertini, a happy hour hosted by the incubator, and decided it was time to take their company to the next level.

"Last year, in 2012, we quit our day jobs to focus on our company, Light Point Security, full time," Gonzalez said.

They joined the incubator in November 2012 and the company's growth has been accelerating since.

"It was good timing. We were at a good point where we were ready to really focus on it. We had a real basic version of our product, so it was at a good point where we could sort of start introducing it to the market, introducing it to people," she said.

They are part of Cync, a partnership with Northrup Grumman that provides free rent and additional resources to those accepted into the competitive program.

Their product is software that allows users to browse the Web from a remote server, storing any and all information accessed on a virtual machine.

"A virtual machine is a fake machine," Gonzalez said. "It's software but it acts like a real computer."

Though customers are not technically browsing the Internet on their physical computer, visually, the program appears no different than if they were.

"It looks like it's happening on their normal Chrome or Firefox," Adkins said.

Their software provides two layers of virtual machines and an external server, providing extra security against viruses or malware.

The nice thing about virtual machines, she said, is that they are very easy to create and just as easy to destroy.

"Any time the user is done browsing, when they close that browser, we take that virtual machine and we destroy it. We wipe it like it never existed," Gonzalez said.

Light Point Security is working with Northrup Grumman on an initial trial run within the corporation.

The partners said they are excited about the chance to show off their product on a large scale.

"The move from the basement to the incubator meant a lot to us," Adkins said. "It was really our first win, or our first external validation that we were building something people cared about."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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