Security Innovators Throwdown

Tell someone to take a highly technical product or service, or a new company, and present it in five minutes such that an investor would want to hear more, and you have just handed them a huge challenge. It is a bit like telling someone to describe, in five minutes, their four years of college. It is a tough sale to make. But, the eight finalists in our Security Innovators Throwdown, which took place at SC World Congress in New York, did it and did it well.

The judges were serious-minded professionals in the technology business. There was a technical consultant, a venture capitalist, two other consultants in the field, the editor-in-chief of this publication, and little old me - the resident geek-academic.

There can be only one selected winner, but, clichéd though it is, they all were winners. The entries ranged from source code analysis to fraud detection. In fact, there were no two companies or products that were in direct competition. The selection process is very structured. Once we picked the participants, each was given a four-section quad chart. The sections were mission, marketplace, financing and management. Each presenter was required to discuss their company in terms of those four areas.

The presentations usually focused on a product. For that reason, we wanted to know about the organization behind it. It is not particularly useful to an investor to see a very cool product with the full knowledge that there is nothing behind it but a very clever engineer. Of course, investors often try to get a good product with no organization behind it into another company where it can realize its potential, but that was not the objective this time around.

After the five-minute dog-and-pony shows were over, I took some additional time to talk to each of the participants. That was really lots of fun. I asked each company rep how he or she came to their company's product(s). The answers, which one might expect to be canned, were really enlightening. In every case this year, there was a real problem and a creative solution to it. The teams behind the new companies or, in a couple of cases, new products for young companies, were seasoned and came from prior lives that did them credit and, in some cases, considerable credit.

The state of innovation in our industry is improving markedly. However, unlike in previous years, the innovation is in quality of the creative approaches, not in the number of creative approaches. Perhaps it is the economy, but I am seeing far fewer innovators, though the ones I am seeing are truly creative, hard-charging professionals who have something really unique to say and just need a venue to say it. This, of course, means the quality of our innovation is on the upswing. It does seem logical. The challenges we face are greater than ever before and without creative approaches, we simply won't meet them.

The kinds of problems addressed this year were signs of the times. The general categories we saw addressed included data leakage prevention, security analysis of source code, smartphone security, fraud detection, and creative uses of virtualization for improved security - to tag a few of the eight. The companies ranged from mature to one self-styled "stealth start-up" with a fascinating solution for problems, such as the recent - and, perhaps, overpublicized - WikiLeaks episode.

But enough of the preliminaries. Ladies and gentlemen, here, without further ado, are the eight winners and finalists in the Security Innovators Throwdown. Enjoy!

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