The founder of a Virginia-based cybersecurity startup makes his impressive professional trajectory after leaving the Pentagon’s top research and development agency sound simple, but it was all thanks to clear focus on solving a specific problem.
Invincea provides anti-virus software to the government and businesses by using machine learning tools to protect against malware and other cyber threats. Earlier this month, Invincea was slated for purchase by the UK-based security giant Sophos for $100 million.
Building a cybersecurity firm in the greater Washington region requires a “different playbook than what you would find in a Silicon Valley company,” said Anup Ghosh, founder and CEO of Invincea.
Ghosh worked at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency after the attacks of 9/11.
“I spent four years building capabilities for the nation that allowed us to get into other people’s networks,” he said. “In the process of doing that, I learned that we were as vulnerable in our own defenses as our adversaries were.”
When Ghosh left DARPA, he focused on R&D with the specific purpose of bolstering U.S. cybersecurity defenses. For this, Ghosh joined the research faculty of George Mason University.
“It was great, because I got to do what I really love doing, which was innovative research, work with students, and really push the edge of technology,” he told What’s Working in Washington. “They totally supported entrepreneurial efforts, and still continue to today.”
Ghosh focused on solving a problem “and the problem was, how do we defend against the attacks, not only against the U.S. government– which I had classified information on– but also the attacks that were being launched against our commercial firms, including critical infrastructures like banks and telcos,” he said.
Ghosh set about building his company. One of the main challenges he faced was obtaining the right talent to build the products his company developed. Raising funds in the D.C. area versus Silicon Valley was also tough.
“The economics are very different, I won’t lie. We raise probably half or a quarter of the venture capital here in this region as we would have if we were out west, in Silicon Valley. But that money does come with a price,” Ghosh said, citing the abundance of both technical talent and customers in the D.C. area.
“You can build a successful company here, but you’ll have to build it a little bit differently,” he said.
Another benefit of D.C. is its proximity to the government. Ghosh took advantage of Small Business Innovation Research grants.
“So the government did fund the early IP development through this SBIR program, which is another way of bootstrapping your company,” said Ghosh. This allowed him to develop a prototype to catch the attention of investors.
One of the most important lessons that Ghosh learned in starting a business was that he couldn’t do everything himself. “That’s when the business really changes trajectory. When I wasn’t the bottle-washer, and the software developer, and the patent guy, and managing people,” and he hired seasoned talent, the company took off, he said.
“These people are much better at their jobs than I ever will be. So it was putting faith in other people that allowed me to scale the business, and it was returned as well,” said Ghosh.