How a cybersecurity startup built a business based on lessons from competitive sport

Denver-based ProtectWise is hardly the first company to advocate for a new business model in the tech industry, but it might be the first to take its cues from the world of professional sports.

To illustrate his company’s approach, ProtectWise CTO Gene Stevens refers to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s response to its recent doping scandal, in which 31 athletes were caught using drugs after samples from the Beijing Olympics were retested.

“What [the doping scandal has] done is… show the power of a retrospective model [where you can] look back in time,” Stevens says. “We were able to translate that to our business model and say ‘what if we could have a high fidelity sample of all the stuff happening inside of a company’s network?'”

Like the IOC, which was able to catch substances that were previously undetected thanks to newly developed screening processes, ProtectWise has taken to retesting old networks using new intelligence to look for attacks.

Chasin Stevens ProtectWise Office
ProtectWise CTO Gene Stevens (right, with CEO Scott Chasin) believes in applying sports techniques to his cybersecurity firm’s business model.

Stevens admires how publicized discoveries like the IOC’s are in the sports world. He notes that ProtectWise was able to gain insight into Olympic doping practices without being directly involved in the organization, thanks to the IOC’s transparency and visibility regarding certain practices.

ProtectWise is a fairly young startup – it was founded in April 2013 – but Stevens says they have already seen proof that their distinctive strategy is effective.

“We have a number of companies on our platform… and what we’re able to find is that in every single network, we’re able to push in new intelligence and we find stuff in the past that was missed at the time which it originally occurred,” Stevens says. “[When] those samples were taken, they looked clean and in every single network… we find that new intelligence tells a different story.”

ProtectWise-HUD
Screenshot of ProtectWise software.

Doping is not the only sports concept that ProtectWise has latched onto, Stevens says. The concept of instant replays has turned out to be extremely important to the success of the companies’ software as well.

“Our ability to replay the network is essential for making the hard call,” Stevens says. He explains that the traditional approach to network security has been to create a “play-by-play” of what’s already happened, similar to a sports game recap in a local newspaper.

“That is good, it is somewhat helpful, but it’s not the same as actually seeing the game,” he says. “We prefer the video feed that’s live and high-fidelity… that allows me as a spectator to have a much more superior sense as to what’s going on.”

Stevens also believes that practitioners in the technology industry largely treat it as a game of secrecy that ignores the human element in the products it creates. He appreciates the sports world’s emphasis on both the athlete and the team’s success: Consequently, his company has put a great deal of effort into maintaining a level of transparency that can be nerve-wracking at times, though believes the industry would benefit if other companies would do the same.

Finally, Stevens respects the way the next generation of talent is identified and trained in the sports world. At ProtectWise, one of his goals is to bring in young talent and get them excited about the future of the industry. He thinks of his system as similar to video playback for developing athletes: Young “hackers,” as he calls them, can use their software to analyze their own performance.

“And of course, because we are from Denver, Colorado, we are very convinced that defense can win games,” he says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Jackie Atkins
Jackie Atkins
Jackie Atkins is a competitive alpine skier, student and aspiring writer who primarily contributes stories about the intersection between technology and sports to ITBusiness.ca.

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