Investing in a flourishing community of cybersecurity companies
Ron Gula is the President of Gula Tech Adventures, a cybersecurity investment fund he founded with his wife Cyndi. Before launching Gula Tech Adventures, Ron served as CEO of Tenable Network Security, an organization that helps others address their digital vulnerabilities and reduce their cybersecurity risk. Ron first developed his cybersecurity expertise during his time at the National Security Administration. He transitioned to a career in the private sector after meeting Cyndi, who has frequently acted as his business partner throughout the Gulas’ numerous ventures.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about some of the companies in your portfolio.
RON GULA: One of the things I’ve had to adjust to, running Gula Tech Adventures, is having perhaps 20 to 25 different technologies to talk about. Now, I try to really focus on “What are the pain points of customers I’m talking to?” and make sure I can highlight the portfolio companies that are there.
Here in Maryland, we’ve got a lot of different unique ones. Cybrary is one. These guys do online cybersecurity training for free. Now if you’re a commercial organization and you want to manage your team, they’ve got a solution for that, but if you’re sitting here watching this video right now and trying to think, “How do I get cyber security training for my children or for myself”, you should go to Cybrary and check that out.
We have another company called Cryptonite. Cryptonite basically adds the ability to go inside the network and add really easy-to-manage layers of security. We covered New Edge already a little bit. This company’s transforming the way VPNs work for cloud-first types of offerings. We mentioned Bandura a little bit—they are really transforming the way perimeter securities monitor it from preventing certain threats from getting onto that network.
And perhaps maybe the last one I will mention is Contrast Security. Now, if you go to Contrast Security, you’re going to say, “hey wait, these guys are headquartered in San Francisco”—a Silicon Valley company. But I’m looking more for the ecosystem. All of their dev team, their CTO, is based right here in Maryland. Their dev team is actually in the Natty Boh building in downtown Baltimore. I’m looking for connections like that to this region.
One of things I’m really excited about in Maryland is DataTribe. Now, there are a lot of great incubators, a lot of great startups out there that come out of universities and government systems. We even have like MACH37 down in Virginia, which focuses on incubating cybersecurity companies. But DataTribe’s a little bit different. They don’t do the volume of companies that you see launched in typical incubators. Right now, they’ve done about five or six to date, they’ve got about four in-house right now, and they do everything in that company—all the way up to series A funding. And they actually have a lot more—somebody might call it “overhead,” I call it advisory; I call it the ability to give people the guidance that they are supposed to get—right over in Maple Lawn. These people, they all come from NSA, they come from CISCO, they come from different organizations, and it really helps the portfolio companies that they have grow up. I’m part of their thing called the Brain Trust. There are a lot of really interesting people who are part of that Brain Trust. It is very interesting to be associated with that—not only here in Maryland but the Brain Trust proved that they have been able to pull together from all over the world.
Here in Maryland, there are a lot of great cybersecurity product companies. A lot of people know Tenable. My friend from college, Marty Roesch who did Sourcefire, is another one of the two most prominent ones. But today if you kind of looked around and said what is going on, there is actually quite a bit. In Baltimore you’ve got ZeroFOX—you’ve got James Foster doing a fairly advanced social networking monitoring platform, which actually also monitors your email, your Gmail, your Office 365. It’s a pretty modern solution. You’ve got solutions like RedOwl, which if you are trying to look for insider threat violations, you’re trying to look at financial compliance with perhaps a financial and medical workforce, it’s the most advanced technology out there. You also have technology companies like LookingGlass, which combine threat production, threat prevention, and the ability to understand what is on your network. And again, these are all based in downtown Baltimore.
Coming out of the enterprise into more commodity, you’ve got companies like TrackOFF. TrackOFF is a company that really works on your privacy. Even if you clean the cookies in your browser, you can still be tracked, and they can stop you from being tracked. When you move more down here towards Columbia, over to Maple Lawn, you’ve got a lot of interesting companies. You have got Iron Networks, by the former head of the NSA, Keith Alexander. You’ve got Sonatype, which is run by former Sourcefire CEO, Wayne Jackson, which helps you build better source code, better web application, making sure your libraries are there. I could go on. There are a lot of interesting companies in this area. That’s just a quick example.
Q. What’s next for Gula Tech Adventures?
A. I get asked a lot, you know, “How big is the fund? What is the future? Where you are going?” And what I tell people is this: Look, we took the last couple of years of our angel investments and the bulk of 2017 to really identify a portfolio of cyber companies that not only we thought would be good investments, but would be very representative of the type of things a modern venture capital fund would have to deal with. Now, I’ve got 20 years of running and building cyber companies and doing a very successful job at it; I don’t have 20 years of being an investor. So, Cyndi and I have taken most of 2017 and we have tried to make some interesting bets, so we could learn. We were in a couple of bridge rounds, we were in a bunch of seed rounds, a bunch of A rounds, and we are trying to be very selective about what we’re doing, since it’s only the two of us. Having said that, we’re not really also making any bold statements about doing a large fund or doing any things like that—those are all things that we are eyeing and considering, but right now we’re very focused on the companies we have. It’s a large portfolio for the two of us, and we’re trying to ensure that that portfolio does extremely well.
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