Founder's Podcast with Ockam Founder Matthew Gregory

Paul Barker | Jan 29, 2020 | The News

In an age where the security challenges associated with IoT are staggering, his goal is to ‘build a world of connected systems we can actually trust.’

Matthew Gregory, the subject of ECA’s premier Founder’s Podcast, has certainly had more than one mentor in a career that has been both diverse and interesting, but of them all, Dick McCurdy stands out among the rest.

Raised in Detroit, Gregory’s interest in system design engineering resulted in building instrumentation systems for America’s Cup boats and racing competitively and in order to do that, a huge influence was McCurdy.

In 1970, as part of his master’s thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McCurdy published a white paper on Improved Instrumentation for 12 Meter Yachts, a paper that is said to have “pioneered the idea to bring early portable computers onboard racing sailboats so that the sailors could use wind and boat telemetry data, in real time, to more informed tactical decisions on the race course.”

On the company web site, Gregory writes that using the technology, the yacht Courageous successfully defended America’s Cup in 1974 and “in that moment, sailing was forever changed from a seat-of-the-pants sport and into a data-driven one.”

Soon after, McCurdy formed a company called Ockam Instruments with the intent of bringing simplified computing technology to all racing boats.

For the rest of the story, you need to fast forward 26 years when Gregory, by this time “fresh out of engineering school, was hired by the Stars & Stripes America’s Cup team to build the instrumentation, data logging and performance modeling systems for their race boats.

“The team had a long history with Ockam Instruments, but this was my first introduction to Dick McCurdy. Throughout the three years that I spent working on the team, Dick was a mentor, friend and inspiration.

“Skip ahead another 17 years to 2017. Why doesn’t this work like an Ockam Instrument Systems? I said it over, and over, and over, again as I ruminated on the connected device problem I was trying to solve. The elegance and simplicity of an Ockam Instruments system in breathtaking. In contrast, managing a network of connected devices feels like a gut punch.

“One day it occurred to me that I hadn’t talked to Dick McCurdy in a couple of years, I picked up the phone and called him out of the blue. After a quick catch-up, I shared my story about the connected device quandary. With an aged perspective, I told Dick of the appreciation I had for his teachings about seamless system design.

“I also shared that I wanted to start a new company, inspired by his engineering principles. Ockam, circa 2017, is a tribute to the legendary Ockam Instruments.”

The company’s mission, meanwhile, is as follows: Empower developers and enterprises to develop trustful IoT systems with its tools, methods and protocols.

As far as the product set is concerned, the intent is to make it “simple to interconnect secure hardware with software services to facilitate trustful exchange of information within connected systems.”

During an interview held at Edge Computer World in December at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Gregory talked about both his past, which included the building of a weather API and a senior role with Microsoft – and his short-term and long-term plans for Ockam.

“Starting a company is something that I have always wanted to do. It has always been on my career track. At one point in time, I went to business school to lay the groundwork for having a well-rounded background between business and engineering.

“I like the challenge of it. I had a great role at Microsoft, and it was a hard decision to leave, but there have been no regrets.”

As far as corporate vision, he says that goes far beyond three years: “We are solving a massive scale problem to the point the problem we are solving doesn’t work on a small scale.

“We’re talking about billions of devices, hundreds of billions of applications and millions of developers. We have our sights at a point in time very far into the future where we can bring devices together so they can autonomously authenticate a trustworthy relationship with each other and encrypt messages between each other.”

The product set, he adds, is designed to:

  • Build scalable connected systems and adopt security best practices

  • Securely manage identities, cryptographic keys, and credentials for entities (devices, people, assets, services, etc.)
  • Enable secure connectivity and messaging to authenticate, establish mutual trust, and exchange information trustfully between entities and applications.

A major milestone for Gregory and his expanding development team occurred in late November when Ockam secured US$4.9 million in seed funding from investors Future Ventures, Core Venture Group, Okta Ventures and SGH Capital.

Maryanna Saenko, co-founder of Future Ventures and who is also interviewed in this podcast, noted that the “security challenges associated with IoT are staggering. In Ockam we recognized a team capable of building a world of connected systems we can actually trust.”

In the podcast, Saenko states that the “mission of our venture capital fund is to fund world changing and world improving technologies and be mindful within that aspect of what technologies are coming, whether we like them or not and how are they going to affect the world that we live in.

“One of my fundamental theses is around security because it is an increasingly important problem and will become more pervasive as we have more connected devices. The simple reality is that we cannot just rely on humans. Humans are fantastic for lots of things, but they tend to be incredibly insecure.”

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