Startup Spotlight is an ongoing series which profiles Canadian wireless and mobile technology startups.
This month, we spoke with Geoff Fawkes, CEO & Co-Founder of Vancosys. The company specializes in multi-factor user authentication software and hardware to reduce fraud for enterprises, using convenient proximity-based smartphone login.
Tell us about your background and what lead you to co-found Vancosys?
I have worked in a variety of industries over the past twenty years, including telecommunications, banking, big data analytics and security and authentication. My expertise in security and authentication comes from working at a large international bank in Vancouver. My undergrad is from the University of British Columbia in Computer Science. I was a software designer for the first eight years of my career and then I moved into management. I also obtained a Master in Business Administration from Simon Fraser University to get academic business experience.
“Together, my education and work experience laid the groundwork for me to move squarely into the security and authentication realm and prepared me to co-found and run a company that services that space”.
Can you explain the essence of your product and what benefits it provides?
Vancosys specializes in multi-factor user authentication hardware and software to reduce fraud for enterprises, using convenient proximity-based smartphone login. Breaking that down, we have a software solution that runs on a smartphone and it communicates via Bluetooth with our proprietary USB hardware dongle. An employee simply plugs the dongle into their PC and this communicates with the employee’s smartphone to determine proximity and in turn access to the computer.
The industry segments we’re targeting are banks and financial institutions, healthcare and public sector, like government, fire and police. These industries typically have IT security policies that demand a higher level of security from their employees. So they will utilize multi-factor authentication, including a username and password plus a one-time password from a token to be able to log in. Some organizations will also incorporate additional security measures that take into account a user’s proximity to the PC or biometric information.
“Vancosys’ innovation focuses on the matter of convenience and reducing friction for employees”.
Our solution uses a smartphone to emulate industry security technologies including Smartcards, One-Time-Passwords (OTP) and Fast-ID-Online (FIDO) tokens. Our technology measures the distance an employee is to their PC, so when an employee nears the PC within a given threshold that layer of authentication has been satisfied and they can then log in to their Windows/Mac OS/Linux PC, or Gmail or bank account, or essentially any online application. Our two flagship products, the VancoKey and the VancoFOB, are two convenient solutions that provide this additional important layer to an enterprises’ security.
Typical PCs will lock up after about a minute, but if a company has a lot of contractors walking around or if the computers are in a place where a customer could feasibly view sensitive information, there is a need for more robust security. Our solution provides that by working with enterprises to determine the ideal threshold for when a screen will immediately lock after an employee walks away from their computer.
What role has Wavefront played in your journey to date?
Vancosys has been a Wavefront tenant and partner since December 2014. We have participated in the VAP program, receiving mentoring, coaching and advice on product market fit.
“Being a tenant at Wavefront, we’re exposed to an array of industry events and we’ve been grateful for opportunities that have arisen for our company with potential investors and partners, like Samsung”.
We have also utilized the Wireless Zone device library located in the Wavefront offices to test our product on a variety of devices, something that would not otherwise be affordable for a company like ours. Additionally, we have utilized the Executives in Residence, getting valuable advice from them on our business model and how we should position our product in the market.
From where you stand now, what developments do you see in the next 5-10 years?
Our business plan and model has always been to sell internationally and we’re starting to obtain partners and customers in international markets, most recently in Panama, Peru and the UK. We’re going to grow our company and sell and market our products to a world-wide audience in financial services, health care and the public sector. The space we operate in is relatively crowded, however our solution has a different architecture and as such we work hard to determine our customers’ needs and what product features we can offer that will help them achieve their security goals.
The challenge with security authentication is that it is an ever-changing market. For example, Bring Your Own Device is now being adopted by more companies so we’ve evolved as a company to develop products to fit that market need. The next product we’re releasing, Hellokey, allows for the same authentication but with an Internet of Things device, like wearables such as the Apple iWatch. So our journey has been one of taking note of the shifting market and creating products that keep up with what the industry is asking for. I know we’ll continue evolving. As a small company we can move swiftly and we have very smart subject matter experts, as such we’re able to respond to these shifting demands in a way that best serves our current and future customers.
Why did you select BC for the home of your company?
On a personal note myself and my cofounder both love the West Coast lifestyle and from a business side there is good technical talent in Vancouver. We have been able to build up good connections in the region and our networks in the business and technical world have benefited Vancosys and will continue to do so into the future.
From your time leading the company, is there any advice you would share in the face of challenge?
Along the way talent acquisition has been a challenge. Finding software engineers is tough, finding hardware engineers, even tougher. Then when you look at our company’s need for hardware engineers that can do board design, miniaturization, and ergonomic design, that challenge only increases. This is especially true here in Vancouver where there are so many tech companies competing for people.
“We have found the best way to address this is by building our network. It is important to get out there and present yourself and your company and make sure everyone knows that even if your company is small it is a great place to work”.
We solve really hard problems in security and authentication and we have found there are a lot of people who are interested in joining us in that journey.
Geoff and his team will be launching their new product Hellokey in December 2016, specifically designed to work with Microsoft’s Windows 10 Hello. The new product is a layer of the software developed by Vancosys between Microsoft’s API and Internet of Things authentication devices that send a Bluetooth beacon. Stay up to date on their company’s developments by visiting their website: www.vancosys.com.