Startup Corner: Putting the “Smart” Back into Smart Things

Mollie Breen, Contributor

This month, Mollie Breen (MS/MBA ’20) introduces us to Breen Technologies.

Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur. 

Before HBS I was a mathematician in the intelligence community. While working in a top-secret environment, I had the opportunity to take on a not-so-secret role of being on a reality television show for women starting businesses. I had this horribly long commute to get to work (90 minutes each way) and spent a lot of time on my phone. I justified this by telling myself I was making up for lost time without my phone during the day. It was during this commute one day that I saw a notice for women interested in starting businesses to apply with their idea and have the chance to be on the new show Girl Starter that was going to be airing on TLC and the Discovery Channel. I applied with one of my business ideas, went through several rounds of interviews, and a few months later learned that I was going to be on TV!

While I had always had business ideas, it was my time on the TV show that truly inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship. I recognized that entrepreneurship is not something you do when you have it all figured out, but rather entrepreneurship is the act of figuring it out along the way.

It was after this experience that my lens changed. I knew I still wanted to have a positive impact on our country and continue to innovate in cybersecurity, and I realized that I could do that as an entrepreneur. I turned to business school as a way to learn more and create a support network to turn my idea for Internet of Things (IoT) security into reality.

What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

I am focusing on legacy IoT devices connected to critical infrastructure. A few things all IoT devices have in common: they do not have a lot of memory so secure communications are limited, they have to conserve battery life so processing power to evaluate different traffic patterns is nonexistent, and their pace of adoption in society isn’t slowing. Hackers know this and are going after IoT devices, especially the unpatched and unsupported devices. You might wonder why original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) aren’t just building in security or patching their devices. But the reality is, they are incentivized to build the next generation products as they have a higher ROI when customers buy a new product versus sustaining an older one. Chief information security officers (CISOs) know they have unsupported IoT devices in their network and can’t systematically track which devices are unprotected as their network grows in haphazard ways. They want to add more devices but need a solution that protects the legacy devices today, and what will be the legacy devices tomorrow, too.

What is your solution?

The solution is smart security for legacy IoT devices connected to critical infrastructure so that CISOs can get the productivity from IoT and not the vulnerability. It provides an IoT-specific firewall that prevents unwanted traffic from reaching the device. It is a Cloudflare-like solution where we take a digital twin of each IoT device and place it between the IoT device and edge IT infrastructure to filter packets going to or coming from the device. This enables the CISO to secure older devices that no longer are getting updated by updating the virtual copy, and efficiently adopt new IoT devices into the organization by having visibility into where the devices are.

What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?

During my time in the intelligence community, I saw how often IoT devices were the weakest points of the network. But even more, I saw how government networks were no longer the only target for attacks. We have seen a spike in IoT attacks since 2016 with botnets like Mirai taking down some of our favorite websites like Netflix. There’s a consensus in the security community that we are overdue for an IoT attack, and I want to be a part of preventing that from happening. 

Who is the team behind your startup?

Currently, just me! But I am looking to bring on others, particularly if they have a passion for the IoT security space.

What’s next?

I am excited to be a part of the iLab Venture Incubation Program as well as the Rock Accelerator and to be working alongside the other founders at HBS. The plan is to continue product development and start raising funding for the startup in the spring.

Mollie Breen (MS/MBA ’20) is a current student at Harvard Business School (HBS) earning a Joint MS in Engineering and MBA degree. Before HBS, she worked as an Applied Mathematician in intelligence at the Department of Defense, and it was while working there that she saw firsthand the problems of IoT in industry. She was featured on the television show Girl Starter, a TLC and Discovery Channel show for women starting businesses. She enjoys pursuing the challenges of starting a business and advancing other women founders as well. Originally from Virginia, she is a graduate of Duke University with a degree in both Mathematics and Computer Science.