Four-year-old Toronto startup Fixmo Inc. is in the business of securing mobile devices, and is developing some impressive connections.
A year after its founding in 2009, the mobile security firm linked up with the U.S. National Security Administration (NSA). The agency had developed software called AutoBerry to proect its BlackBerry smartphones against tampering, and wanted a commercial partner to help build on that software.
Though Fixmo was a year old at the time, Rick Segal, its founder and chief executive, had a track record – his past jobs included president of Toronto-based e-business solutions company Microforum Inc. and of Chapters Online and partner at venture capital firm JLA Ventures, plus stints at TMS Consulting and Microsoft. And Fixmo’s small size was an advantage, says Tyler Lessard, its chief marketing officer. “We could be nimble enough to really react to their requirements because we didn’t have a lot of legacy products.”
That relationship is a strong selling point, says John MacBeth, president of Mobileyes Solutions Inc. , a Fixmo partner in Ottawa. “It’s within the first two or three sentences of our introduction.”
When Fixmo started, the BlackBerry was the overwhelming favourite smartphone for businesses, especially those concerned about security. But as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad and phones based on Google Inc.’s Android operating system have taken more and more of the market, corporate customers have been looking for a way to manage a mixture of products and to provide Apple and Android devices with the same level of security as the BlackBerry.
“It’s more employees dictating what companies are going to be allowing employees to use,” says Krista Napier, senior mobility analyst at research firmInternational Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. In Toronto. Employers need tools to manage not just the physical devices, but the whole mobile experience including apps and data, Napier says.
Fixmo markets a suite of data security, device security and compliance products for all three platforms.
On Apple and Android devices, Fixmo provides a secure container within which all business applications run (recent versions of the BlackBerry operating system have something similar built in with a feature called BlackBerry Balance). Lessard says this helps address the bring your own device trend, where employees are increasingly using their own smartphones for work and mixing personal and business apps on one device.
Fixmo also found ways – it works a bit differently on iPhones and iPads from the other platforms – to lock down business data and applications when a phone is lost or stolen, even if the phone’s SIM card has been removed.
MacBeth says the multi-platform offering appeals to public-sector customers whose employees are pushing them away from relying mainly on BlackBerrys. Fixmo “provides us in a very simple way an alternative to BlackBerry with much of the same security,” he says.
In the past year two major manufacturers of Android phones have invested in Fixmo. Last August Motorola Solutions Venture Capital invested something between $1 million and $5 million in Fixmo. The relationship started with Fixmo working with Motorola Solutions, the company’s integration business, which was looking to branch out from custom ruggedized mobile devices to integrating commercial mobile devices, Lessard says.
In January, similar collaboration with Samsung led to Samsung Venture Investment Corp. to invest an undisclosed amount in Fixmo.
On Feb. 20, Fixmo added three more names to its substantial list of partners: mobile security provider Fiberlink of Philadelphia; app security and management firm MobileIron of Mountain View, Calif., and mobile device management vendor AirWatch of Atlanta.
Working with 3 Hong Kong, a division of Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong Holdings Ltd., Fixmo has also developed a consumer smartphone security product that mobile carriers can offer under their own brand. In mid-February, the company announced plans to offer that product under its own brand, asFixmo SafeWatch.
Napier says Fixmo is in a young market with lots of growth potential, but also one with many players, some of them large. Major firms like IBM and SAP are interested in this space, she says, along with many smaller companies. The next couple of years will see some consolidation. Fixmo’s challenge will be to be one of the survivors.