Hume Center and venture capital firm work together to bring security technologies to market
October 7, 2016
Charles Clancy, director of the Hume Center and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, and John Serafini, a senior vice president at Boston-based Allied Minds, share a vision for transforming the Hume Center’s technological innovations into products that can meet the needs of both federal and commercial customers.
Clancy has spent the past six years at Hume leading research, education, and outreach programs focused on the challenges of cybersecurity and autonomy in the context of national security and developing the next generation workforce for that community. He and Serafini have forged a unique relationship to develop startup companies in mobile security, spectrum sharing, and radio frequency technologies.
In the thriving culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech, their relationship has led to three startups — Optio Labs, Federated Wireless, and HawkEye 360 — all formed with dual-purpose applications in mind.
On Wednesday, from 5 to 8 p.m., Clancy and Serafini will participate in a panel discussion at a Virginia Tech Enterprise Forum event, “The Evolution and Expansion of Cyber Security,” at the Virginia Tech Research Center - Arlington. They will join other industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate innovators to discuss current trends, research, and operations. The event is hosted by the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Clancy and Serafini have reflected on what they feel is key to their successful relationship.
“Charles is well known for understanding the core problems that the U.S. government is trying to solve. He understands the unique constraints, as well as the requirements and resources, whether it’s the Department of Defense or Homeland Security,” Serafini said.
“When that intellectual property reaches the zenith of what he can accomplish from a research perspective, our infrastructure is standing there to take it, wrap it up in a new company, and bring it to market,” Serafini said. “My role is understanding what the technology was built for, how it solves key problems on the federal side, and how to extrapolate a business case to address problems on the commercial side.”
“John has a unique ability to understand the technologies we’ve developed at the Hume Center and see how they can solve key problems in public and private sectors,” Clancy said.
“Federally-funded research takes many paths to market, and Virginia Tech’s relationship with Allied Minds has demonstrated the power of commercialization to enable technology transition in a way that continues to support both federal and commercial needs. In dual-use technology domains such as cybersecurity, this is critical to success,” Clancy said.
In March 2012, Optio Labs became the first company formed out of the collaboration between Allied Minds and the Hume Center. Optio Labs’ technology is designed to secure mobile devices at a level that is not available from current security applications and services. The platform aims to address an unmet need that enterprise and government organizations have for adaptive, enterprise-controlled policies that ensure data protection and regulatory compliance.
Almost immediately after forming Optio Labs, Serafini and Clancy started work on their second company, Federated Wireless. The technology here aims to address an important issue facing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission: How to efficiently share wireless spectrum — a finite resource that helps to fuel the mobile economy — between commercial and defense users. Formed in September 2012, Federated Wireless has developed a cloud-based shared spectrum solution that aims to extend the access of carrier networks into previously inaccessible frequency bands.
Their third company, HawkEye 360, was formed in September 2015 to develop a new space-based global intelligence network that uses radio frequency technology to help monitor transportation across air, land and sea, assist with emergencies, and provide other data analytics services. The company’s planned constellation of small satellites in low earth orbit collects information on specific radio signals worldwide to provide high-precision radio frequency mapping and analytics for federal and commercial customers.
Chris DeMay, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business information technology and a master’s degree in systems engineering from Virginia Tech, co-founded HawkEye 360 and is now its chief operating officer.
Since its launch in 2010 with a gift from Ted and Karyn Hume, the Hume Center has grown to involve more than 60 faculty, researchers, and staff, and 250 undergraduate and graduate students. The center, which is administratively supported by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, conducts approximately $10 million per year in research funded by defense and intelligence agencies and through strategic industry partnerships.