As an Air Force fighter pilot, William “Hutch” Hutchison flew F-15 jet missions across the world’s most dangerous airspace. Later, as a leader with the U.S. Cyber Command, he prepared U.S. cyberwarriors for battling the most lethal threats online.
Today, he’s an entrepreneur and CEO of SimSpace, an early-stage, military-expertise rich cybersecurity software firm recently chosen for Wells Fargo’s Startup Accelerator program. The company specializes in “cyber ranges” — safe, isolated networks of servers and computers that help develop, test, and measure cyber defense systems.
“We have great technology, but our success also comes from the fact that some of our key personnel have worked in or for the military,” Hutchison said. “Those experiences gave us a head start on the cybersecurity front as it has evolved from stopping criminal activities to defending military-like maneuvers.”
SimSpace enters the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator with three other companies whose technologies run the gamut, from mobile app-based college planning (Edquity of Brooklyn, New York); mobile and networking support services for the self-employed (Hurdlr of Washington, D.C.); and palm print authentication software (Redrock Biometrics of San Francisco).
An accelerator with a 'family-like' component
Now in its third year, the virtual, nonexclusive, six-month accelerator program has reviewed nearly 1,600 applicants from 50 countries, providing mentoring, guidance, and funding for 17 of them, according to the latest data from Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group, which oversees the program.
Since its inception, the accelerator has drawn national attention: It is listed among the top incubators and accelerators in the fintech industry by eFinancialCareers, a global financial news and information site. The program went global last year, welcoming two startups from Singapore into the program.
For new companies like SimSpace, the program offers an invaluable opportunity to fine-tune their business model by tapping into Wells Fargo’s expertise in technology, business strategy, and market development, Hutchison said.
“With Wells Fargo, we’ve found a collegial, helpful, almost family-like relationship, very similar to what you’d find in the military,” he said. “Even though we’re new to a lot of things on the business side, we’ve found if you’re willing to work hard, the people at Wells Fargo have been more than willing to work with us and share their insights.”
Finding common ground
That military connection has played a key role in working with SimSpace, said Rich Baich, Wells Fargo’s chief information security officer, who is also a veteran. As the accelerator’s lead mentor for SimSpace, Baich had a lot in common with Hutchison and his colleagues.
“We have many shared reference points from our military experience that help streamline our communication about dynamics in the business world,” Baich said. “I know it’s quite a challenge to go from the defense environment to the commercial marketplace working with Fortune 500 companies, so we’ve been able to help them navigate the transition.”
As SimSpace and other startups gain new insights through the accelerator program, Wells Fargo also benefits from the relationships, said Bipin Sahni, head of innovation, research, and development in the Innovation Group at Wells Fargo.
“From cybersecurity and artificial intelligence to mobile payment technology, we are collaborating with these companies to find the next great breakthroughs for financial services,” he said. “We’re at the point where it’s worked so well, we want to expand the program, as there are so many different areas where we can work with startups to ultimately help our customers.”
SimSpace officials hope to develop a lasting relationship with Wells Fargo long after completing the accelerator program, Hutchison said.
“We look forward to working with leaders throughout Wells Fargo to network and build valuable connections,” he said. “SimSpace has a desire to help push the frontiers on a number of technologies that will continue to strengthen cybersecurity.”