Maryland entrepreneurs are keeping their streak alive in RSA's Innovation Sandbox competition. For the fifth time since 2014, one of Maryland's cybersecurity start-ups has placed among the contest's 10 finalists, beating out competitors from across the globe. In recent years, in fact, the Innovation Sandbox has attracted applications from more than 700 emerging U.S. and international companies.
RSA recently announced the finalists for this year's competition and ReFirm Labs, located in Fulton, Md., is among them. The company was founded just last year by Terry Dunlap and Peter Eacmen, each of whom is an elite NSA offensive cyber operator with nation-state levels of expertise in firmware security.
If you drive a car, use a digital camera, have a cell phone, or use an ATM, ReFirm can play an integral role in your daily activities. The company protects the underlying firmware (the "guts") that runs the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices, ensuring that the firmware is secure from hackers and nation-state actors. With more than eight billion IoT-connected devices in existence today – and with the number of these devices expected to reach 34 billion by 2020 – the need for such security is great.
ReFirm's Centrifuge security platform exposes vulnerabilities in the firmware that, if left unaddressed, could cause significant damage. Centrifuge bridges the gap between firmware protection and IoT security – and it does so quickly and efficiently, allowing companies to respond in time to thwart intrusions.
"Each of us comes from the National Security Agency," said Dunlap, who serves as CEO of the company. "We know how to find vulnerabilities."
ReFirm got its start in an unlikely manner. Speaking at a tech breakfast event in Baltimore, Dunlap was approached by Franz Henggeler, entrepreneur-in-residence at DataTribe, a start-up studio in Fulton, Md. At the suggestion of Henggeler – and with the encouragement of cyber guru Ron Gula – Dunlap met with DataTribe's leadership and was sold. He spun off ReFirm from Tactical Network Solutions, which he'd founded in 2007 after leaving NSA, and set up shop in DataTribe.
"So far, I haven't regretted it!" said Dunlap.
Already, ReFirm is supporting IoT devices of Disney and AT&T. The company received $1.5 million in funding from DataTribe and expects to raise a Series A funding round late this summer. Over the next two weeks, though, Dunlap's focus will be on RSA and the Innovation Sandbox.
He credits DataTribe execs with encouraging him to submit an application to enter the competition. "They saw the vision in a much broader light than I did," said Dunlap. And on Monday, April 16, he'll face a packed house and an expert panel of judges to make the pitch that ReFirm is the conference's Most Innovative Company.
Our money's on ReFirm.
Previous Maryland companies in the Innovation Sandbox finals include:
Sourcefire – 2005 winner
Light Point Security – 2013 finalist
RedOwl (now Forcepoint) – 2014 winner
SecurityDo (now Fluency Security) – 2015 finalist
EnVeil – 2017 finalist and 1st runner-up