Cybersecurity startup Optio Labs creates Nashville dev foothold with VUSE grad
By Milt Capps updated 2:17 p.m.
OPTIO LABS, a venture-backed cybersecurity startup currently focused on the mobile sector, says it will maintain a development outpost in Nashville.
John Serafini, the Optio general manager who also directs the Boston office of private-equity manager Allied Minds, confirmed yesterday that, for now, Optio's presence is solely that of Project Manager Brian Dougherty, the 27-year-old holder of a Ph.D. minted a year ago via Vanderbilt University School of Engineering (VUSE).
Allied Minds commercializes technology spawned by research universities and federally funded research institutions, providing funding and development expertise from seed-stage and the "valley of death," through the point of self-sufficiency, according to its website.
In addition to Allied and Dougherty, there are two others with equity stakes in Optio, both Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VaTech) faculty members: Jules White, Ph.D., who is also a VUSE alumnus (PhD, MS) and an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering. He leads development of Optio solutions. The fourth owner is fellow inventor Charles Clancy, Ph.D., who, among other distinctions, is director of the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology, in Arlington, Va.
Serafini would only allow that Optio Labs is developing cybersecurity technologies. Asked by a reporter whether or not it would be "reckless" to infer that the company's mission is somehow associated with the prior scientific and R&D work of its three scientist-owners, Serafini answered affirmatively.
Optio's priorities could run in a myriad of directions. A plausible case could be made for the startup somehow leveraging the Ghostbox work that has been driven by White, et al, through VaTech's MAGNUM Group. Through its Ghostbox work, White and others have focused on creating security assets that function in relationship to specific physical, real-world contexts.
Noteworthy, too, is the fact that in October, Ars Technica reported, among other things, that Prof. White told its reporter that he and his then-collaborators hoped to launch a VaTech startup or find a partner to commercialize technology they had developed to remotely wipe sensitive data from mobile devices when a participating device-user leaves a specific geographic location or space, thereby helping to ensure that sensitive healthcare, intelligence or other data does not -- inadvertently, or otherwise -- leave the premises at which the user is authorized to have the data, unless the relocation is authorized.
Asked by VNC for comment on Optio, VUSE computer science Professor Doug Schmidt would say only that given the existence of cybercrimes, cyberterrorism and cyber warfare, "it is essential to help secure the cyber infrastructure, especially in the mobile space." When asked, Schmidt acknowledged he had recently met Serafini and indicated he considers Optio a significant venture. He also confirmed that he served as Ph.D. advisor for both Dougherty and White.
Of course, the collective web of the Optio team's professional ties suggests the bounds of their collective interests and commercialization pursuits could be much wider, indeed.
For example, the Clancy-led Hume Center is colocated in Arlington with the University's Cybersecurity Innovations Lab, and partners with Virginia Tech Applied Research Company, a nonprofit R&D entity; and, with Intelligence and Defense Alumni Association (IDEA), and affiliate of VaTech's alumni association. Also, Six months ago, Virginia Tech created a grant-funded National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) site for cybersecurity, which aims to create a portfolio of commercializable technologies and prepare talented workers for the sector. The I/URC was created in collaboration with L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems and Verisign Labs.
Virginia Tech has no stake in Optio, Serafini said when asked by VNC. Allied has at least 14 portfolio companies and its knowledge partnerships include relationships associated with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Cornell University, New York University, University of California, Harvard University, University of Colorado and Northeastern University, according to its site. One Allied portfolio company, Spin Transfer Technologies, announced a month ago its completion of a $36 million A-round.
Optio is not Tennessee's first link to the U.S. intelligence community, of course. Tennessee-domeciled Oak Ridge National Laboratory's campus is home to entities with intel ties, not to mention a smattering of in-state military installations, various FBI and Infragard entities, faculty work at a number of universities and such early-stage companies as Middle Tennessee-based Digital Reasoning Systems.
Dougherty, who hails from Hopkinsville, Ky., earned his Ph.D. and master's in computer science at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, with support of his advisor, who was Schmidt, according to information online. He earned his computer-science bachelor's at Centre College.
Dougherty has also served as a member of the VaTech electrical and computer-engineering research faculty, and an online document shows his interests include mobile cyberphysical systems; several vectors related to distributed real-time embedded systems; and, challenges associated with Cloud environments. Prior to his graduate work, he did software internships with Exstream Software and with Vittetow Refrigeration in Kentucky.
Serafini's bio online shows he is a former Ranger-qualfied U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate, and that he specializes to some degree in investments that are "impacted" by U.S. national-security regulations.
Another Vanderbilt alumnus, Hamilton Turner, is shown online as party to a number of earlier projects Dougherty and others have been involved with, but Dougherty said this morning that Turner is not involved with Optio. A much earlier Turner-related VNC story is here. VNC