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Meet the Finalists: Leaders From Illuma Labs, Critical Start, Hacware, and UTD

Winners of The Innovation Awards, presented by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, will be revealed at an exclusive virtual event on Jan. 21.
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Leading up to our second annual Innovation Awards event on Jan. 21, we’re sharing excerpts from interview Q&As with the 51 finalists, one category at a time. Today, we feature the Innovation in Cybersecurity honorees.

For information on the virtual awards event, presented in partnership by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, click here. Tickets are just $20.

Milind Borkar

Milind Borkar 

CEO and Co-founder, Illuma Labs 

ON INNOVATION: “We believe innovation means solving our clients’ most critical pain points in ways that maximizes value. Sometimes, this means brand new ideas and solutions. At other times, this means implementing existing ideas and solutions in ways that haven’t been done before. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “Today, this platform enables passive voice authentication for contact center applications. Gone are the days of long question and answer sessions to prove your identity every time you call your financial institution. Our innovative approach helps our clients enhance the user experience they offer their end customers, while simultaneously elevating security and improving operational efficiency. 

LESSON LEARNED:Luck is a combination of preparation and opportunity, which means luck is more than pure chance, and you have the power to make yourself lucky. 

RATING DFW:North Texas is a great place for innovation and growth. Access to experienced talent, a businessfriendly environment, amenities of a large metroplex, and low cost of living, have empowered us to innovate, execute, and grow in the DallasFort Worth area. 

LOOKING AHEAD:We are excited about the continued growth of voice as a primary human-machine interface. Siri and Alexa have made it popular as a natural and convenient way to interact with our everyday devices. We believe the future will bring voice interfaces to more of our everyday devices. We are looking forward to that future and to making these devices secure and convenient with our technologies.

Rob Davis

Rob Davis 

CEO, Critical Start 

ON INNOVATION:Simply explained, innovation is doing something new. In the context of our business, that means introducing a new idea aligned with the strategy of the company that helps achieve our goals more quickly or with fewer resources. When a company is growing more than 70 percent annually, the scarce resource becomes timenot money or people. There is an enormous opportunity cost to innovation that isn’t closely aligned to the strategy of the company, so we need to be very deliberate in how we innovate. 

2020 HIGHLIGHT:We have introduced several new innovations that provide enormous value to our customers and increase the effectiveness of our service, which is managing the process to detecting cyber-attacks and responding to stop breaches. [We developed] the concept of a trusted behavioral registry that ‘unprioritizes’ cybersecurity alerts to detect cybersecurity attacks. In other words, we believe that every security event begins as equal. Our Trusted Behavior Registry enables us to put our trust-oriented approach into action by automatically resolving most security alerts and allowing our security analysts to shift focus to potentially malicious events for triage and quick resolution. [We created] the world’s first native iOS and Android applications for delivering mobile apps that allow customers to detect cyber-attacks and respond to stop breaches. 

LESSON LEARNED: My biggest lesson learned has been the difference between being right and being effective. As a young leader I was often right but unable to consistently achieve organization change that made a true impact to the company. As an older, warscarred executive, I’ve realized the importance of understanding different perspectives, communicating a vision, and carving out a path to effective change. I focus on the result now versus who is right.’”  

RATING DFW:I would rate North Texas as being behind other locations such as San Francisco, Boston, and Austin in supporting and cultivating innovation and growth. In my experience, North Dallas is an incredible environment for Fortune 2000 companies that need the expertise to support and nurture established companies. This is seen from the large number of organizations that are transferring corporate headquarters to North Texas. As a startup in North Texas, I’ve struggled to find experienced software developers and employees willing to prioritize long-term equity upside versus shortterm annual earnings.  This is an area I’d like to address in the future by fostering and supporting startup companies in North Texas. 

LOOKING AHEAD: When I was a young manager in the 90s, access to the latest knowledge, training, and expertise around the world was scarce. The cost and time required to build new products and service was immense. The next generation of business leaders have immediate access to the best information and classes from around the world. Those leaders can build new products and services in months and can make them accessible worldwide in months at a low cost... Advances in artificial intelligence, genetics, space travel, and energy breakthroughs, combined with the ecosystem that allows anyone to quickly learn and create means we should see a new generation of business leaders that will change the world.

Tiffany Ricks

Tiffany Ricks

Founder and CEO, Hacware

ON INNOVATION:Innovation is living and getting out of your comfort zone. It is the continuous process of wondering what could happen in the future and taking the bold risk of building it in the present time. Innovation is about pushing the limits and breaking rules. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS:I am proud of the advancements Hacware is making to identify phishing threats that are impacting the human factor. Hacware has invented a risky behavior metric. This metric is the first of its kind and the most effective way to determine if users have retained cybersecurity skills. 

LESSON LEARNED:The biggest lesson I have learned this year is to adapt to change faster and that I have everything I need to beat the competition.  

RATING DFW:There are many opportunities for startup and corporate strategic partnership opportunities. There is a great deal of growth funding.” 

LOOKING AHEAD:I am excited that Hacware is solving the root cause of cybersecurity problems head-on. I love how we are using innovative A.I. technology to solve the social engineering problem at scale and making it easy for businesses to adopt our technology.

Bhavani Thuraisingham

Bhavani Thuraisingham

Founding executive director, UTD Cyber Security Research and Education Institute

ON INNOVATION:Innovation is at the heart of civilization and it means everything to me... I am a Tamil of Sri-Lankan origin.... When I was in primary school, I used to travel to school in a man-drawn rickshaw: It was quite primitive. If not for all the innovations made by those before me, I would not have been able to travel by car or train to the capital city of Sri-Lanka, and later, by airplane to the United Kingdom and the USA. If not for the breakthrough innovations in computing and information technology, I would not have had all these opportunities in my career...” 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: Together with my team at UTD, we have developed innovative technologies integrating cybersecurity and data science over the past few years for the US Air Force, Army, NSF, NIST, and NASA. We designed and developed highly effective data science and machine learning technologies and were the first to demonstrate that novel class detection techniques can be effectively utilized in finding new or emerging class/patterns in streaming data and applied it to evolving malware analysis, intrusion, and insiderthreat detection. This work has provided the directions for handling zero-day cyber-attacks, which is a major breakthrough in cyber-attack detection.  

Subsequently, we were the among the first to develop adversarial machine learning techniques to handle the attacks to the machine techniques. These highimpact innovations resulted in several inventions and patents as well as toptier publications—ACM KDD, IEEEICDM, awards, and books—with numerous citations. In addition, I founded a startup company called Knowledge and Security Analytics to commercialize the technologies... We developed technologies to exchange data securely between organizations in the US, UK, and Italy for the US Air Force. Our technologies have been transferred to commercial products and operational systems for the government and several of my patents have been licensed. 

LESSON LEARNED: “I have not experienced a year like 2020 before. It started off so well, with so many meetings in Washington DC, London, San Francisco, and New York City. Then came COVID-19 and working from home. While nothing is more important than health, it made me realize how critical technology has been during the pandemic. Many of us are able to work and live life because of technology. I will never take things for granted, and this pandemic has motivated me even more to develop better technologies for cybersecurity and data privacy. Because many of us are so preoccupied with COVID-19, we are not paying as much attention to cybersecurity, and this is a great opportunity for hackers. Therefore, we need to focus not only on innovation but also on educating the general public to be vigilant. I believe I am at the right place to accomplish both innovation and education...  

During the early years of my career, I did not know much about mentorship. I thought if you did great work, you would be rewarded and get promotions; however, I learned in the early to mid-1990s that mentorship is crucial for career advancement, especially in industry. I became proactive in finding mentors, and, since then, I have thrived in my career. Over the years, I have become a strong mentor, especially to women and underrepresented minority communities.”  

RATING DFW: “North Texas is among the top locations in the US for innovation and technology development, because we are surrounded by numerous Fortune 500 corporations, including Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Toyota, Trend Micro, Samsung, State Farm, JP Morgan, American Airlines, AT&T, and IBM. We also have top teaching hospitals and universities. As a result, information technology jobs are booming in North Texas in several sectors...This has supplied numerous opportunities for the universities in North Texas to develop talent in computer science and information technology. I am very pleased with the public and private partnerships being formed.  

I moved to Dallas in October 2004, and during the past 16 years, I have seen a growth in technology startups; however, our startup culture is not publicized as much as in Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York. I would like to see more technology events between large companies, academia, government, and startups in North Texas, so that we can compete with Silicon Valley, attract investors, and retain the strong talent we are building to advance innovation in Texas.” 

LOOKING AHEAD: “Perhaps, I am most excited about the integration of quantum computing, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, and data sciencethat is the future. Massive amounts of data are being collected and analyzed, possibly trillions of exabytes. Current digital computers would need millions of years to process the data. Quantum computing is the solution to the problem of massive computations in AI; however, I am also anxious about quantum computing, because it could break a 2048-bit encryption in seconds, while it would take trillions of years for current digital computers to break it. This would be devastating for cybersecurity.  

Quantum cryptography, a crypto system based on physics, could provide a solution to this problem, but there is a concern that quantum computing could break the code even for quantum cryptography. I am hopeful that the next generation of technologists will develop solutions to safely combining quantum computing, cybersecurity, AI, and data science.

Click here for more information on The Innovation Awards. 

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