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Managing cyber risk

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In today’s interconnected cyberworld, effective cybersecurity depends on humans and artificial machine intelligence working together to protect businesses, institutions and communities.

That’s the basic premise on which Albuquerque-based cybersecurity firm RiskSense has carved out a rapidly growing niche in the exploding cybersecurity market.

The company, which launched in 2006 with technology developed at the New Mexico Institute for Mining and Technology in Socorro, is emerging as a pioneer in the use of “human interactive machine learning” to defend industry and government against cyber crime.

The concept is simple – use artificial intelligence to consistently monitor and analyze strengths and weaknesses in online networks, providing real-time awareness of potential threats and vulnerabilities that human managers can then address, said RiskSense co-founder and CEO Srinivas Mukkamala.

That combined defense power of humans and machines is critical, given the huge growth in cybercrime and the chronic lack of trained cybersecurity professionals to effectively respond to it.

“There’s a huge shortage of trained professionals today, with more than one million cybersecurity positions that remain unfilled,” Mukkamala said. “With so many cyberattacks and so few people to address them, the only way to solve the problem is with technology that combines human and artificial intelligence.”

To do that, RiskSense has built New Mexico Tech’s original technology – which Mukkamala himself helped develop at the university – into a comprehensive software platform that now provides businesses and institutions with the real-time network awareness they need to rapidly respond to threats and plug vulnerabilities before cybercriminals can take advantage of them.

Lining up for platform

In its first years, RiskSense experts used the system themselves to monitor and analyze networks for clients. But, in 2013, the company began offering its platform through a software-as-a-service model, paving the way for accelerated growth as customers line up to license it.

The company has now entered the fast track, earning spots on the Flying 40 list of New Mexico’s fast-growing technology firms two years in a row. It reached $4.7 million in revenue in 2014, up from $1.25 million in both 2011 and 2012. It doubled its workforce from 37 two years ago to 70 today and it’s on track to reach 100 by December.

Last year, it moved from two office spaces with a combined 4,900 square feet in Uptown and the Northeast Heights into a single 18,400-square-foot space in north Albuquerque. It also opened a satellite office in the Silicon Valley early this year.

And this month, it closed on $7 million in venture funding, marking its first institutional round of investment to date. RiskSense will use the money to develop new products and services, grow its markets and build its brand, said Torsten George, vice president for global marketing and products.

Paladin Capital Group, one of the world’s leading cybersecurity investors, with $1 billion under management, led the new round of venture investment.

Epic Ventures in Albuquerque and Sun Mountain Capital in Santa Fe also contributed, giving New Mexico a direct stake in the company. Sun Mountain manages the State Investment Council’s investments in startup companies and some of Epic’s funds include equity from the SIC.

“We’ve been aware of the company and watching them, and we’ve been very impressed by their management team and growth,” said Sun Mountain partner Sally Corning. “Being a homegrown company, we decided to invest to help them capitalize on growing global demand for cybersecurity.”

NM Tech poster child

RiskSense, which originally called itself Computational Analysis & Network Enterprise Solutions, or CAaNES, licensed the technology from NM Tech. It then spent about six years fully developing the platform and proving its efficacy with real customers.

Now, under its software-as-a-service model, 150 customers are using RiskSense software in every major industry, including some of the largest financial services, telecommunications, utilities, retail, health care and government organizations.

Mukkamala launched RiskSense with Mark Fidel, the company’s former president and now head of corporate development. NM Tech holds a substantial stake in the company as its largest single shareholder.

University executives say it could be a poster child for technology transfer, surpassing the “nicotine patch” that NM Tech commercialized in the 1980s.

“Before not too long, I think RiskSense will eclipse the success of the nicotine patch, both from an employment standpoint and in terms of economic benefit for the university,” said Van Romero, NM Tech vice president for research and development.

The company is already generating returns for the university, because RiskSense subcontracts a lot of work to ICASA. Apart from the revenue that generates, it provides valuable, hands-on experience for students who work at ICASA, helping build a talent pool for new RiskSense hires.

“It’s a great success story in the making,” said NM Tech President Stephen Wells. “My goal is to encourage and support our students and faculty to pursue more of these kinds of opportunities.”

State officials see RiskSense as one of the anchors for a potential cybersecurity industry hub in New Mexico. The state provided $100,000 last year in Local Economic Development Act funding to help RiskSense remodel its new offices, plus $584,000 in Job Training Incentive Program assistance.

“RiskSense is on the cutting edge of what could be a high-tech industry hub,” said Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela. “We’re thrilled that it’s expanding and growing quickly right here in Albuquerque.”