New Life for Old Tech: Startup Provides Network Security Solutions for Obsolete Devices – MBA – Harvard Business School


MRI machines play a critical role in hospital operations.
Yet, like other legacy devices that typically have decades-long life cycles,
MRI machines are likely to have been purchased long before network or device
security were top of mind.

Replacing a multi-million dollar MRI machine may not be an
option, so how can hospitals eliminate the vulnerabilities that come from
security-obsolete devices?

Perigee is
helping companies answer that question. The startup, founded by Mollie Breen,
works with companies to build a 360-degree security layer tailored to the
functions and vulnerabilities of a specific legacy device. The company is one
of 20 startups selected to compete in the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield.

“Every organization has a really old device that they think
they can’t part with. They feel a responsibility to keep it in their network,”
said Breen, who graduated from the MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences program, jointly offered by the Harvard John A. Paulson School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences
 and Harvard Business
School
, in 2020. “What are the solutions available to you to secure it, and
increase its functionalities beyond that end of life and end of support?”

For Breen, the idea originated while she was working at the
Department of Defense as an applied research mathematician. She found a
vulnerability related to connected devices within the critical security
infrastructure, and led a team that solved it.

While in the MS/MBA program, she was curious about how the
problem of vulnerable legacy devices impacted companies. She honed in on the
problems her startup is working to solve after speaking with corporate CIOs,
legacy device manufacturers, and other stakeholders.

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One of the most important pieces of information Perigee
provides clients is a baseline for legacy devices, so customers can understand
how a device is functioning, how it has functioned in the past, and how it
should be functioning within a network. The startup also provides tools that
boost device performance within a network.

And by providing real-time status on all a firm’s legacy
devices, Perigee enables customers to more efficiently plan device downtime.

“One-size-fits-all is great, and it is scalable, but it
doesn’t always reach the needs of the people you are working with and the
things you are trying to protect,” Breen said. “Our solution is one-to-one and
scalable. We build a device-specific representation of each device on the
network, and our generalizable machine learning approach and software-based
installation allows us to scale to all legacy and modern devices.”

For Breen, the biggest challenges of getting the startup off
the ground have been working through the day-to-day trials while staying
focused on the bigger picture. She’s learned that each stage of a startup’s
life cycle brings unique difficulties.

She is currently building and refining a product prototype
while launching a test version in one enterprise customer’s network
infrastructure. Breen is also looking to expand the team and gather more
feedback from potential customers.

The massive amount of media attention network security has
received in recent years provides opportunities and challenges as the startup
moves forward.

“There’s no doubt that I’m going to be competing against
more companies for a sale, and customers are going to be more skeptical,
wondering who is selling snake oil and who is providing a service that will
actually make their lives easier,” she said. “Trying to shine against the noise
is something that I’m really mindful of, and having strong relationships and
building trust is one way I think I can rise above the fact that this is a hot
space.”

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Building relationships with a wide variety of people has
been a highlight for Breen every step of the way. Working with mentors,
speaking with potential customers, and learning from industry leaders has been
an indispensable learning experience, she said.

She’s looking forward to the next chapter of Perigee.

“Someone once gave me the advice that if you can picture
yourself doing anything else, then you should go do that thing and not start a
company. I think about that continually,” she said. “The answer I always arrive
at is the same: I can’t picture myself doing anything else.”

This article was originally published on the Harvard SEAS News & Events website.



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