Robotics is one of the most technical subsections of engineering, and cybersecurity is one of the most complex areas of technology. At Raleigh-based startup Secmation, they tackle both. And you can see for yourself at next week’s virtual Venture Connect summit from CED (March 23-25).
Founder Hal Aldridge combined his backgrounds in both robotics systems and information security to create Secmation, aiming to bridge the gap between the industries and focus on the security of automated systems.
Specifically, that means the company is working on things like making sure the computers that run plants like wastewater treatment facilities are secure, Aldridge said.
It’s a niche idea and no one else is really doing it, he said. Currently, one either finds automation companies trying to learn some cybersecurity tactics, or tech companies trying to make their technologies work for this field—except they’re still not quite experts.
Aldridge began his career in robotics, earning a PhD in robotics systems from Carnegie Mellon. He then worked at NASA and Northrop Grumman building robots that did everything from space exploration to picking up explosives on the battlefield.
About 15 years ago, he pivoted to information security and became the CTO at a company that built hardware and software that protected classified networks for governments.
Not wanting to have to pick a favorite between his two fields and seeing the open opportunity in the industry, Aldridge founded Secmation in 2016 in an office at NC State’s Centennial Campus.
The company has grown to eight employees and moved to a bigger office, and is now looking to hire more people.
Traditional cybersecurity protects everyday computers where, when you push a button, you can change, say, a character on a screen. Secmation’s work protects the kind of system that when you push a button a valve opens and a motor turns—or a rocket launches.
“Having a cyberattack on those types of systems can have a real-world consequence,” Aldridge said.
For that reason, Secmation has contracts with government agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. However, Aldridge does want to expand his customer base in the future to more industrial companies as well.
In terms of funding, Secmation took the government-sponsored route and applied and won several Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, both phase one and phase two.
They’re ready now to pursue some venture capital funding, though, in order to do things like build a marketing team and a service team.
Aldridge said he realizes some people may think Secmation is just a small government contracting company. That’s not the case.
“I’m trying to grow a high-tech startup that happens to have a government customer,” he said. “We’ll probably always do some government work because we know how to do it, but we want to broaden that up and do more commercial product-based offerings.”