Mar
31
2020
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Xage adds full-stack data protection to blockchain security platform

Xage, a startup that has been taking an unusual path to secure legacy companies like oil and gas and utilities with help from the blockchain, announced a new data protection service today.

Xage CEO Duncan Greatwood, says that up until this point, the company has concentrated on protecting customers at the machine layer, but today’s announcement involves protecting data as it travels between parties, which is more of a classic blockchain security scenario.

“We are moving beyond the protection of machines with greater focus on the protection of data. And this announcement around Dynamic Data Security that we’re delivering today is really a data protection layer that spans multiple dimensions. So it spans from the physical machine layer right up to business transaction,” Greatwood explained.

He says that what separates his company from competitors is the ability to have that protection up and down the stack. “We can guarantee the authenticity, integrity and the confidentiality of data, as it’s produced at the machine, and we can maintain that all the way to [delivery to the various parties],” he said.

Greatwood says that this solution is designed to help protect data, even in highly complex data sharing scenarios, using the blockchain as the trust mechanism. Imagine a supply chain scenario in which the parties are sharing data, but each participant only needs to see the piece of data they need to complete their part of the transaction and no more. To do this, Xage has the concept of security fabric, which acts as a layer of protection across the platform.

“What Xage is doing is to use this kind of security outsource approach we bring to authenticity, integrity and confidentiality, and then using the fabric to replicate all of that security metadata across the extent of the fabric, which may very well cover multiple locations and multiple participants,” he said.

This approach enables customers to have confidence in the providence and integrity of the data they are seeing. “We’re able to allow all of the participants to define a set of security policies that gives them control of their own data, but it also allows them to share very flexibly with the rest of the participants in the ecosystem, and to have confidence in that data, up to and including the point where they’ll pay each other money, based on the integrity of the data.”

The new solution is available today. It has been in testing with three beta customers, which included an oil and gas customer, a utility and a smart city scenario.

Xage was founded in 2016 and has raised just over $16 million, according to PitchBook data.

Mar
01
2020
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Thought Machine nabs $83M for a cloud-based platform that powers banking services

The world of consumer banking has seen a massive shift in the last ten years. Gone are the days where you could open an account, take out a loan, or discuss changing the terms of your banking only by visiting a physical branch. Now, you can do all this and more with a few quick taps on your phone screen — a shift that has accelerated with customers expecting and demanding even faster and more responsive banking services.

As one mark of that switch, today a startup called Thought Machine, which has built cloud-based technology that powers this new generation of services on behalf of both old and new banks, is announcing some significant funding — $83 million — a Series B that the company plans to use to continue investing in its platform and growing its customer base.

To date, Thought Machine’s customers are primarily in Europe and Asia — they include large, legacy outfits like Standard Chartered, Lloyds Banking Group, and Sweden’s SEB through to “challenger” (AKA neo-) banks like Atom Bank. Some of this financing will go towards boosting the startup’s activities in the US, including opening an office in the country later this year and moving ahead with commercial deals.

The funding is being led by Draper Esprit, with participation also from existing investors Lloyds Banking Group, IQ Capital, Backed and Playfair.

Thought Machine, which started in 2014 and now employs 300, is not disclosing its valuation but Paul Taylor, the CEO and founder, noted that the market cap is currently “increasing healthily.” In its last round, according to PitchBook estimates, the company was valued at around $143 million, which, at this stage of funding, puts this latest round potentially in the range of between $220 million and $320 million.

Thought Machine is not yet profitable, mainly because it is in growth mode, said Taylor. Of note, the startup has been through one major bankruptcy restructuring, although it appears that this was mainly for organisational purposes: all assets, employees and customers from one business controlled by Taylor were acquired by another.

Thought Machine’s primary product and technology is called Vault, a platform that contains a range of banking services: checking accounts, savings accounts, loans, credit cards and mortgages. Thought Machine does not sell directly to consumers, but sells by way of a B2B2C model.

The services are provisioned by way of smart contracts, which allows Thought Machine and its banking customers to personalise, vary and segment the terms for each bank — and potentially for each customer of the bank.

Food for Thought (Machine)

It’s a little odd to think that there is an active market for banking services that are not built and owned by the banks themselves. After all, aren’t these the core of what banks are supposed to do?

But one way to think about it is in the context of eating out. Restaurants’ kitchens will often make in-house what they sell and serve. But in some cases, when it makes sense, even the best places will buy in (and subsequently sell) food that was crafted elsewhere. For example, a restaurant will re-sell cheese or charcuterie, and the wine is likely to come from somewhere else, too.

The same is the case for banks, whose “Crown Jewels” are in fact not the mechanics of their banking services, but their customer service, their customer lists, and their deposits. Better banking services (which may not have been built “in-house”) are key to growing these other three.

“There are all sorts of banks, and they are all trying to find niches,” said Taylor. Indeed, the startup is not the only one chasing that business. Others include Mambu, Temenos and Italy’s Edera.

In the case of the legacy banks that work with the startup, the idea is that these behemoths can migrate into the next generation of consumer banking services and banking infrastructure by cherry-picking services from the VaultOS platform.

“Banks have not kept up and are marooned on their own tech, and as each year goes by, it comes more problematic,” noted Taylor.

In the case of neobanks, Thought Machine’s pitch is that it has already built the rails to run a banking service, so a startup — “new challengers like Monzo and Revolut that are creating quite a lot of disruption in the market” (and are growing very quickly as a result) — can integrate into these to get off the ground more quickly and handle scaling with less complexity (and lower costs).

Money talks

Taylor was new to fintech when he founded Thought Machine, but he has a notable track record in the world of tech that you could argue played a big role in his subsequent foray into banking.

Formerly an academic specialising in linguistics and engineering, his first startup, Rhetorical Systems, commercialised some of his early speech-to-text research and was later sold to Nuance in 2004.

His second entrepreneurial effort, Phonetic Arts, was another speech startup, aimed at tech that could be used in gaming interactions. In 2010, Google approached the startup to see if it wanted to work on a new speech-to-text service it was building. It ended up acquiring Phonetic Arts, and Taylor took on the role of building and launching Google Now, with that voice tech eventually making its way to Google Maps, accessibility services, the Google Assistant and other places where you speech-based interaction makes an appearance in Google products.

While he was working for years in the field, the step changes that really accelerated voice recognition and speech technology, Taylor said, were the rapid increases in computing power and data networks that “took us over the edge” in terms of what a machine could do, specifically in the cloud.

And those are the same forces, in fact, that led to consumers being able to run our banking services from smartphone apps, and for us to want and expect more personalised services overall. Taylor’s move into building and offering a platform-based service to address the need for multiple third-party banking services follows from that, and also is the natural heir to the platform model you could argue Google and other tech companies have perfected over the years.

Draper Esprit has to date built up a strong portfolio of fintech startups that includes Revolut, N26, TransferWise and Freetrade. Thought Machine’s platform approach is an obvious complement to that list. (Taylor did not disclose if any of those companies are already customers of Thought Machine’s, but if they are not, this investment could be a good way of building inroads.)

“We are delighted to be partnering with Thought Machine in this phase of their growth,” said Vinoth Jayakumar, Investment Director, Draper Esprit, in a statement. “Our investments in Revolut and N26 demonstrate how banking is undergoing a once in a generation transformation in the technology it uses and the benefit it confers to the customers of the bank. We continue to invest in our thesis of the technology layer that forms the backbone of banking. Thought Machine stands out by way of the strength of its engineering capability, and is unique in being the only company in the banking technology space that has developed a platform capable of hosting and migrating international Tier 1 banks. This allows innovative banks to expand beyond digital retail propositions to being able to run every function and type of financial transaction in the cloud.”

“We first backed Thought Machine at seed stage in 2016 and have seen it grow from a startup to a 300-person strong global scale-up with a global customer base and potential to become one of the most valuable European fintech companies,” said Max Bautin, Founding Partner of IQ Capital, in a statement. “I am delighted to continue to support Paul and the team on this journey, with an additional £15 million investment from our £100 million Growth Fund, aimed at our venture portfolio outperformers.”

Feb
11
2020
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Tangle EE project joins Eclipse Foundation to bring distributed ledger apps to enterprise

As the number of IoT devices proliferate, and machines conduct transactions with machines without humans involved, it becomes increasingly necessary to have a permissionless system that facilitates this kind of communication in a secure way.

Enter the IOTA Foundation, a Berlin-based open-source distributed ledger technology (DLT) project, which has hooked up with the Eclipse Foundation to bring IOTA DLT to the enterprise via the Tangle EE project. For starters, this involves forming a working group.

The distributed ledger idea first emerged as a way to distribute digital currency on the blockchain. Since then, there have been multiple ideas, both open source and commercial, to bring this concept to the enterprise to provide a secure, immutable and frictionless way to share data.

One such open-source project is IOTA, which saw an issue with DLT as it was being implemented by other entities. “IOTA is the first distributed ledger technology that went beyond blockchain with a completely new architecture that resolves the bottleneck problems of blockchain that has prevented real-world adoption,” Dominik Schiener, co-founder of IOTA Foundation, told TechCrunch.

The broad vision is to provide a way for machines and devices to communicate securely. “We provide a protocol layer that enables both humans and machines to bulk transact value without fees, as well as ensure data integrity, which is, of course, increasingly important in the age of Internet of Things, where hundreds of billions of devices are being connected over the next decades,” Schiener said.

Tangle EE is the part of the project aimed at enterprise users — EE stands for Enterprise Edition — that can take this technology and enable larger organizations to build applications on top of the project. For starters the foundation is working with the Eclipse Foundation to bring corporate entities on board who can help better define the requirements of the large business user.

Dell Technologies and STMicroelectronics are the first major companies joining the project, but the hope is that through discussion and dialogue, Tangle EE will begin to gain traction. “The main reason why we created Tangle EE was because of the discussions that we’ve had with corporations. They really understood that we need to have a working group around IOTA to discuss the application layer, to discuss what kind of solutions we can develop broadly across industries, but also really start having more serious discussions about the protocol,” Schiener said.

Much like the Linux Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation will provide a governance framework for the project. “The Eclipse Foundation will provide a vendor-neutral governance framework for open collaboration, with IOTA’s scalable, feeless and permissionless DLT as a base,” Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, explained in a statement.

If it gains traction, more companies will join in the coming months and years, and begin building out Tangle EE, while developing applications based on the protocol.

Feb
05
2020
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Clear gets $13M Series A to build high-volume transaction system on the blockchain

Clear is an early-stage startup with a big ambition. It wants to build a blockchain for high-volume transaction systems like payments between telcos. Today it announced a $13 million Series A investment.

The round was led by Eight Roads with participation from Telefónica Innovation Ventures, Telekom Innovation Pool of Deutsche Telekom, HKT and Singtel Innov8.

That the strategic investors were telcos is not a coincidence. The early use case for Clear’s blockchain transaction network involves moving payments between worldwide telcos, a system that today is highly manual and prone to errors.

Clear co-founder Gal Hochberg says what his company does is to take commercial contracts and turn them into digital representations, often known in digital ledger terms as a smart contract.

“What that lets us do is create a trusted view of the true status of the relationship within the company’s business partners because they’re now looking at the same pricing and usage. They can find any issues in real time, either in commercial information or in service delivery, and they can even actually resolve those inside our platform,” Hochberg explained.

By putting these high-volume, cross-border transactions onto the blockchain with these smart contracts to act as automated enforcer of the terms, it means that instead of waiting until the end of the month to find errors and begin a resolution process, this can be done in real time, reducing time to payment and speeding up conflict resolution.

“We use blockchain technology to create those interactions in ways that it is auditable, cryptographically secure and ensures that both sides are synced and seeing the same information,” Hochberg said.

For starters, the company is working with worldwide telco companies because the number of transactions, and the way they cross borders make this a good test case, but Hochberg says this is only the starting point. They are not in full-blown production yet, but he says they have proven they can process hundreds of millions of billable events.

The money should help the company get into full carrier-grade production some time in the first half of this year, and then begin to expand into other verticals beyond telcos with the help of today’s investment.

Jan
30
2020
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Hyperledger Fabric, the open-source distributed ledger, reaches release 2.0

The open-source Hyperledger Foundation announced the release of Hyperledger Fabric 2.0 today, the first such project to reach a 2.0 release.

It’s a notable milestone. The blockchain as a business tool has certainly had a rocky road over the last few years, but there is still plenty to like about smart contracts that have automated compliance checks built-in. Hyperledger Fabric 2.0 has lots of new features with that in mind.

The biggest updates involve forcing agreement among the parties before any new data can be added to the ledger, known as decentralized governance of the smart contracts. In practice, it means that the system will prevent any entity from writing to the ledger until there is consensus among the parties involved in the transaction, a basic blockchain tenet.

This is a requirement because the beauty and the curse of the distributed ledger is that it is an immutable record. Once you have written something in the ledger, it becomes very difficult to change it without the agreement of all those involved in the contract. You want to make sure you get it right before you commit something to the ledger.

Along those same lines, developers can build in automated checks along the way. As they say, this ensures the parties can “validate additional information before endorsing a transaction proposal.”

Brian Behlendorf, executive director at Hyperledger and a big advocate of open-source distributed ledger technology, says this is a big milestone for the project and the organization as it looks to help organizations adopt distributed ledger technology.

“Fabric 2.0 is a new generation framework developed by and for the enterprises that are building distributed ledger capabilities into the core of their businesses. This new release reflects both the development and deployment experience of the Fabric community and confirms the arrival of the production era for enterprise blockchain,” Behlendorf said in a statement.

That remains to be seen. The rise of blockchain in business has moved at a slow pace, but this release shows that the open-source community is still committed to building enterprise-grade distributed ledger technology. Today’s announcement is another step in that direction.

Jan
15
2020
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Kadena fulfills hybrid blockchain vision with launch of public chain

For the last few years, blockchain startup Kadena has been working on a vision of bringing blockchain to the enterprise. Today it announced the final piece of that vision with the launch of the Kadena public blockchain.

In earlier releases, the company offered the ability to build private blockchains on AWS or Azure. Company co-founder and CEO Will Martino says the public network brings together for the first time public and private chains in a hybrid vision.

“The big exciting thing is that the public chain is out, smart contracts are about to turn on, and that allows us to then go and hit the market with what we’re calling these hybrid applications. These are applications that run both on a private blockchain, but have public smart contracts that allow people on the public side to interact with the private chain,” Martino explained.

The smart contracts are a set of rules that must be met and validated for the private and public chains to interact. Only valid actors and actions as defined in the smart contract and will be allowed to move between the two chains.

Overcoming scaling issues

One of the major challenges with building a chain like this has been scaling it to meet the needs of enterprise users. Martino says that his company has solved this problem and can scale from the 10 chains today to 10,000 or more in the future as the company grows. He further claims that his company is the only one with a tractable roadmap capable of achieving this.

Martino says this could help push companies who have been dabbling in blockchain technology in the last couple of years to take a bigger leap. “This is a watershed moment for enterprises. Up until now, they’ve never had a platform that they could go and use on a public blockchain platform and know that it’s going to have the throughput they need if the product they deployed on that blockchain has legs and starts to take off.” Martino says this blockchain has that.

Kadena public blockchain in action

Kadena has also developed an open-source smart contract language called Pact that Martino says allows a lawyer with Excel-level programming understanding to write these contracts and place them on the chain.

“There are a lot of lawyers who are good with Excel, so you can actually hand the smart contracts to a lawyer and have them review them for compliance. And that’s a crazy idea, but we think it’s fundamental because when you’re representing core business workflows that are sensitive, you need to be absolutely certain they are compliant.”

Show me the money

The company is making all of the basic pieces available for free. That includes the private chain development tools on AWS and Azure, the public chain released today, along with the Pact smart contract language.

Martino says there are a couple of ways for the business to make money. For starters, it’s building partnerships where it helps companies in various sectors, from financial services to insurance and healthcare, build viable hybrid applications on the Kadena blockchain. When they make money, so will Kadena.

Secondly, they control a bushel of tokens on their public network, which have value, and if the vision comes to fruition, will have much more over time. They will be able to sell some of these tokens on the public market and make money. Right now he says the tokens have a value of between 20 cents and a dollar, but he expects that to increase as the network becomes more viable.

The blockchain has lost some of its luster as it has moved through the enterprise hype cycle in recent years, but if Kadena can succeed in building a fully decentralized, scalable blockchain, it could help push the technology deeper into the enterprise.

Jan
15
2020
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The crypto rich find security in Anchorage

Not the city, the $57 million-funded cryptocurrency custodian startup. When someone wants to keep safe tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in Bitcoin, Ethereum or other coins, they put them in Anchorage’s vault. And now they can trade straight from custody so they never have to worry about getting robbed mid-transaction.

With backing from Visa, Andreessen Horowitz and Blockchain Capital, Anchorage has emerged as the darling of the cryptocurrency security startup scene. Today it’s flexing its muscle and war chest by announcing its first acquisition, crypto risk modeling company Merkle Data.

Anchorage Founders

Anchorage has already integrated Merkle’s technology and team to power today’s launch of its new trading feature. It eliminates the need for big crypto owners to manually move assets in and out of custody to buy or sell, or to set up their own in-house trading. Instead of grabbing some undisclosed spread between the spot price and the price Anchorage quotes its clients, it charges a transparent per transaction fee of a tenth of a percent.

It’s stressful enough trading around digital fortunes. Anchorage gives institutions and token moguls peace of mind throughout the process while letting them stake and vote while their riches are in custody. Anchorage CEO Nathan McCauley tells me, “Our clients want to be able to fund a bank account with USD and have it seamlessly converted into crypto, securely held in their custody accounts. Shockingly, that’s not yet the norm — but we’re changing that.”

Buy and sell safely

Founded in 2017 by leaders behind Docker and Square, Anchorage’s core business is its omnimetric security system that takes out of the equation passwords that can be lost or stolen. Instead, it uses humans and AI to review scans of your biometrics, nearby networks and other data for identity confirmation. Then it requires consensus approval for transactions from a set of trusted managers you’ve whitelisted.

With Anchorage Trading, the startup promises efficient order routing, transparent pricing and multi-venue liquidity from OTC desks, exchanges and market makers. “Because trading and custody are directly integrated, we’re able to buy and sell crypto from custody, without having to make risky external transfers or deal with multiple accounts from different providers,” says Bart Stephens, founder and managing partner of Blockchain Capital.

Trading isn’t Anchorage’s primary business, so it doesn’t have to squeeze clients on their transactions, and can instead try to keep them happy for the long-term. That also sets up Anchorage to be a foundational part of the cryptocurrency stack. It wouldn’t disclose the terms of the Merkle Data acquisition, but the Pantera Capital-backed company brings quantitative analysts to Anchorage to keep its trading safe and smart.

“Unlike most traditional financial assets, crypto assets are bearer assets: In order to do anything with them, you need to hold the underlying private keys. This means crypto custodians like Anchorage must play a much larger role than custodians do in traditional finance,” says McCauley. “Services like trading, settlement, posting collateral, lending and all other financial activities surrounding the assets rely on the custodian’s involvement, and in our view are best performed by the custodian directly.”

Anchorage will be competing with Coinbase, which offers integrated custody and institutional brokerage through its agency-only OTC desk. Fidelity Digital Assets combines trading and brokerage, but for Bitcoin only. BitGo offers brokerage from custody through a partnership with Genesis Global Trading. But Anchorage hopes its experience handling huge sums, clear pricing and credentials like membership in Facebook’s Libra Association will win it clients.

McCauley says the biggest threat to Anchorage isn’t competitors, though, but hazy regulation. Anchorage is building a core piece of the blockchain economy’s infrastructure. But for the biggest financial institutions to be comfortable getting involved, lawmakers need to make it clear what’s legal.

Oct
10
2019
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Xage now supports hierarchical blockchains for complex implementations

Xage is working with utilities, energy companies and manufacturers to secure their massive systems, and today it announced some significant updates to deal with the scale and complexity of these customers’ requirements, including a new hierarchical blockchain.

Xage enables customers to set security policy, then enforce that policy on the blockchain. Company CEO Duncan Greatwood says as customers deploy his company’s solutions more widely, it has created a set of problems around scaling that they had to address inside the product, including the use of blockchain.

As you have multiple sites involved in a system, there needed to be a way for these individual entities to operate, whether they are connected to the main system or not. The answer was to provide each site with its own local blockchain, then have a global blockchain that acts as the ultimate enforcer of the rules once the systems reconnected.

“What we’ve done is by creating independent blockchains for each location, you can continue to write even if you are separated or the latency is too high for a global write. But when the reconnect happens with the global system, we replay the writes into the global blockchain,” Greatwood explained.

While classical blockchain doesn’t allow these kinds of separations, Xage felt it was necessary to deal with its particular kind of use case. When there is a separation, a resynchronization happens where the global blockchain checks the local chains for any kinds of changes, and if they are not consistent with the global rules, it will overwrite those entries.

Greatwood says these changes can be malicious if someone managed to take over a node or they could be non-malicious, such as a password change that wasn’t communicated to the global chain until it reconnected. Whatever the reason, the global blockchain has this power to fix the record when it’s required.

Another issue that has come up for Xage customers is the idea that majority rules on a blockchain, but that’s not always a good idea when you have multiple entities working together. As Greatwood explains, if one entity has 600 nodes and the other has 400, the larger entity can always enforce its rules on the smaller one. To fix that, they have created what they are calling a supermajority.

“The supermajority allows us to impose impose rules such as, after you have the majority of 600 nodes, you also have to have the majority of the 400 nodes. Obviously, that will give you an overall majority. But the important point is that the company with 400 nodes is protected now because the write to the ledger account can’t happen unless a majority of the 400 node customers also agrees and participates in the write,” Greatwood explained.

Finally, the company also announced scaling improvements, which reduce computing requirements to run Xage by 10x, according to the company.

Oct
03
2019
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Osano makes business risk and compliance (somewhat) sexy again

A new startup is clearing the way for other companies to better monitor and manage their risk and compliance with privacy laws.

Osano, an Austin, Texas-based startup, bills itself as a privacy platform startup, which uses a software-as-a-service solution to give businesses real-time visibility into their current privacy and compliance posture. On one hand, that helps startups and enterprises large and small insight into whether or not they’re complying with global or state privacy laws, and manage risk factors associated with their business such as when partner or vendor privacy policies change.

The company launched its privacy platform at Disrupt SF on the Startup Battlefield stage.

Risk and compliance is typically a fusty, boring and frankly unsexy topic. But with ever-changing legal landscapes and constantly moving requirements, it’s hard to keep up. Although Europe’s GDPR has been around for a year, it’s still causing headaches. And stateside, the California Consumer Privacy Act is about to kick in and it is terrifying large companies for fear they can’t comply with it.

Osano mixes tech with its legal chops to help companies, particularly smaller startups without their own legal support, to provide a one-stop shop for businesses to get insight, advice and guidance.

“We believe that any time a company does a better job with transparency and data protection, we think that’s a really good thing for the internet,” the company’s founder Arlo Gilbert told TechCrunch.

Gilbert, along with his co-founder and chief technology officer Scott Hertel, have built their company’s software-as-a-service solution with several components in mind, including maintaining its scorecard of 6,000 vendors and their privacy practices to objectively grade how a company fares, as well as monitoring vendor privacy policies to spot changes as soon as they are made.

One of its standout features is allowing its corporate customers to comply with dozens of privacy laws across the world with a single line of code.

You’ve seen them before: The “consent” popups that ask (or demand) you to allow cookies or you can’t come in. Osano’s consent management lets companies install a dynamic consent management in just five minutes, which delivers the right consent message to the right people in the best language. Using the blockchain, the company says it can record and provide searchable and cryptographically verifiable proof-of-consent in the event of a person’s data access request.


“There are 40 countries with cookie and data privacy laws that require consent,” said Gilbert. “Each of them has nuances about what they consider to be consent: what you have to tell them; what you have to offer them; when you have to do it.”

Osano also has an office in Dublin, Ireland, allowing its corporate customers to say it has a physical representative in the European Union — a requirement for companies that have to comply with GDPR.

And, for corporate customers with questions, they can dial-an-expert from Osano’s outsourced and freelance team of attorneys and privacy experts to help break down complex questions into bitesize answers.

Or as Gilbert calls it, “Uber, but for lawyers.”

The concept seems novel but it’s not restricted to GDPR or California’s upcoming law. The company says it monitors international, federal and state legislatures for new laws and changes to existing privacy legislation to alert customers of upcoming changes and requirements that might affect their business.

In other words, plug in a new law or two and Osano’s customers are as good as covered.

Osano is still in its pre-seed stage. But while the company is focusing on its product, it’s not thinking too much about money.

“We’re planning to kind of go the binary outcome — go big or go home,” said Gilbert, with his eye on the small- to medium-sized enterprise. “It’s greenfield right now. There’s really nobody doing what we’re doing.”

The plan is to take on enough funding to own the market, and then focus on turning a profit. So much so, Gilbert said, that the company is registered as a B Corporation, a more socially conscious and less profit-driven approach of corporate structure, allowing it to generate profits while maintaining its social vision.

The company’s idea is strong; its corporate structure seems mindful. But is it enough of an enticement for fellow startups and small businesses? It’s either dominate the market or bust, and only time will tell.

Sep
26
2019
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Battlefield vets StrongSalt (formerly OverNest) announces $3M seed round

StrongSalt, then known as OverNest, appeared at the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC Battlefield in 2016, and announced a product for searching encrypted code, which remains unusual to this day. Today, the company announced a $3 million seed round led by Valley Capital Partners.

StrongSalt founder and CEO Ed Yu says encryption remains a difficult proposition, and that when you look at the majority of breaches, encryption wasn’t used. He said that his company wants to simplify adding encryption to applications, and came up with a new service to let developers add encryption in the form of an API. “We decided to come up with what we call an API platform. It’s like infrastructure that allows you to integrate our solution into any existing or any new applications,” he said.

The company’s original idea was to create a product to search encrypted code, but Yu says the tech has much more utility as an API that’s applicable across applications, and that’s why they decided to package it as a service. It’s not unlike Twilio for communications or Stripe for payments, except in this case you can build in searchable encryption.

The searchable part is actually a pretty big deal because, as Yu points out, when you encrypt data it is no longer searchable. “If you encrypt all your data, you cannot search within it, and if you cannot search within it, you cannot find the data you’re looking for, and obviously you can’t really use the data. So we actually solved that problem,” he said.

Developers can add searchable encryption as part of their applications. For customers already using a commercial product, the company’s API actually integrates with popular services, enabling customers to encrypt the data stored there, while keeping it searchable.

“We will offer a storage API on top of Box, AWS S3, Google Cloud, Azure — depending on what the customer has or wants. If the customer already has AWS S3 storage, for example, then when they use our API, and after encrypting the data, it will be stored in their AWS repository,” Yu explained.

For those companies that don’t have a storage service, the company is offering one. What’s more, they are using the blockchain to provide a mechanism for sharing, auditing and managing encrypted data. “We also use the blockchain for sharing data by recording the authorization by the sender, so the receiver can retrieve the information needed to reconstruct the keys in order to retrieve the data. This simplifies key management in the case of sharing and ensures auditability and revocability of the sharing by the sender,” Yu said.

If you’re wondering how the company has been surviving since 2016, while only getting its seed round today, it had a couple of small seed rounds prior to this, and a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, which replaced the need for substantial earlier funding.

“The DOD was looking for a solution to have secure communication between computers, and they needed to have a way to securely store data, and so we were providing a solution for them,” he said. In fact, this work was what led them to build the commercial API platform they are offering today.

The company, which was founded in 2015, currently has 12 employees spread across the globe.

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