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Local company competes in Wall Street Journal's 'Startup of the Year' program

By Julie Bagman, jbaughman@tribune.com

6:00 AM EDT, September 11, 2013

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In February 2010, Zuly Gonzalez and Beau Adkins founded Light Point Security in the basement of their Elkridge home.

In November 2012, they moved the company into University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Cyber Incubator at the 71-acre bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park on the campus just off Interstate 95.

Little did they know that as of Aug. 28, their company would be among the 10 finalists vying for the title of Wall Street Journal Startup of the Year.

"It's very validating that everybody else sees us as being on the same level as companies who have lots of funding and tons of employees," Gonzalez said of Light Point Security, for which the total staff is herself and Adkins, her fiancé.

"There have been companies that have millions of dollars of funding already and they've been cut," Adkins said. "It's says [Wall Street Journal is] choosing based on substance versus flash.

"That's what encourages us to think we can stay in it longer," he said.

After receiving more than 500 applications, the newspaper launched the five-month program June 24. Of the 24 startups selected to compete, four were eliminated July 24, and 10 more were cut Aug. 28. The next elimination round, scheduled for Oct. 16, will narrow the field to three.

"It's not really a contest," said Wall Street Journal Deputy Digital Editor Gabriella Stern. "It's not like there's a prize. It's not like they're going to get money or anything."

This is the first year for the program and Stern said the idea stemmed from the organization's desire to expand video on its website and increase its coverage of entrepreneurship.

"[It] is what we call an episodic video documentary," Stern said. "Until early November, the startups get mentored by the mentors and build their businesses. And our viewers get to see the mentoring happening."

Pairing startups with mentors — such as Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and fashion designer Tory Burch — and filming the companies as they perform assigned tasks provides the startups with opportunities for growth, even though there is no prize for winning.

"The startups benefit greatly," Stern said. "They get the mentoring from these great, great business people and venture capitalists."

Tasks thus far have included creating a video introduction for the company, explaining how the company name and logo were chosen and identifying a team or culture problem and coming up with a solution.

Gonzalez and Adkins said Light Point Security has seen a number of benefits from the program. The pair is working with Kate Mitchell and Sharon Wienbar, co-founders of California-based Scale Venture Partners, and said their guidance has been invaluable.

"We've got people coming to us," she said. "We've had not just customers, but investors have approached us and people looking for employment. In that sense, being in the program has been very helpful."

Light Point Security created software that allows users to browse the Web from a remote server, storing any and all information accessed on a virtual machine.

"We are really targeting businesses that deal with confidential or sensitive proprietary information," she said, listing the financial, banking and defense industries as primary customers.

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

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

The nice thing about virtual machines, she said, is that they are 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.

Gonzalez said the couple wouldn't have known about the Wall Street Journal program had they not moved out of their basement and become members of UMBC's Cyber Incubator.

"Ever since we moved into the incubator, we've just been exposed to this community of folks who have experience, who want to help us out and we just find out about opportunities that we wouldn't have found out about otherwise," Gonzalez said.

As the couple approaches the third elimination round, they are confident that their tiny company has potential to advance.

"We're dealing with companies who have a superstar founder and they show up day one with $5 million of funding and they have 30 employees," Adkins said. "And then there's us two and we're on the same level as them."

To follow Light Point Security's progress, go to http://projects.wsj.com/soty/startup/light-point-security.