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Growing Houston cyber security company plans to hire

Houston-based Security Gate has grown 1,000 percent each year. Getty Images

Cyber security is constantly evolving, and, while information hacks are always a concern, worst-case scenarios could even be life threatening.

Houston-based startup, Security Gate, is addressing all of types of cyber security threats, says Ted Gutierrez, an Army special forces vet and co-founder and CEO of the company.

"It used to be companies were worried about what happens if someone hacks in to your information," he says. "Yes, that's a concern. But now we're talking about cyber attacks that can breach your company, and lives are at stake. We're creating solutions that counter that."

The cyber security firm has, over its last two years of existence, grown steadily — and is poised for future growth.

"We've had a thousand percent growth year by year," says Gutierrez, who credits the company's success to his incremental approach. "We really listened to the market."

When Gutierrez began his company, which helps firms assess risk and discover custom solutions for compliance or performance needs, he set out to capture clients in multiple industries, from oil and gas to defense contractors to the health and educator sectors. Then, SecurityGate collaborated with those clients to find out what was working and what was missing from the firm's approach to its technology. And Gutierrez went back and fixed any issues there were.

"We built our software in four to five months," he says. "And because of the approach we've taken, we didn't have to ever pivot or change the offerings we provided the way some other startups have had to. We've consistently generated revenue since we launched"

Today, SecurityGate counts among its portfolio one of Houston's largest private schools, a defense contractor in the Metroplex, and multiple oil and gas firms. Gutierrez says the company signed what he calls "two monster clients" in 2018, paving the way for his optimistic outlet for this year – and beyond.

The company offers four tiers of service that include one-time individual assessments to long-term solutions that demonstrate a firm's compliance to industry standards, whether they are Fortune 500 organizations or "$5 million companies," he says.

Across 2019, Gutierrez figures he'll add between six and eight employees to the SecurityGate team, which currently numbers about a dozen. That's solid growth for a company that began without angel investors and the help of venture capital firms – although Gutierrez has recently taken meetings with several of those and looks forward to outside investment.

"We really bootstrapped this firm, adding clients and investing that capital in further development," he says.

He's excited by the landscape before him and says he loves Houston's business ecosystem. SecurityGate is a member of Station Houston, and Gutierrez says he loves that larger companies in the city have embraced working with smaller firms like his own. He's encouraged by his firm's growth, and he knows that there's still work in front of the company.

But Gutierrez likens his experience with his start-up to his days in an Army reconnaissance unit.

"I love high-conflict, low-impact settings," he says. "It's you and a few guys and you're in a place for a week and you don't know what you'll find. I love that chaos of jumping out of a plane and right into the job."


This is what a company's Security Gate digital dashboard would look like. Via securitygate.io

Wyzerr, a member of Station Houston's Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, has a way to better collect information from citizens. Photo courtesy of Wyzerr

In a 2019 report card handed out by Cincinnati-based startup Wyzerr, Houston didn't do too well — It got a C, a 2.5 out of 4. Houston is passing, but just barely.

Wyzerr didn't give the city a bad rating; Houstonians did. In July, Wyzerr sent two researchers downtown to hang out near public places — bus stops, street corners, etc. Overall, respondents said they are satisfied with dining options, shopping, and the airports but were really struggling to embrace long commutes, poor local transit, and even public services: the police department, local government, schools and parking all got grades of C minus.

Wyzerr, which has ventured to Houston to partake in the ongoing Ion Smart Cities Accelerator out of Station Houston, is focused on creating surveys that make it easier for companies — and, increasingly, cities and airports — to collect useful information to improve their offerings.

"You can't build perfect cities," says Natasia Malaihollo, founder of Wyzerr. "But if you make small, incremental improvements, you can start to see a difference in communities (through Wyzerr's smart surveys)."

Wyzerr began in June 2014 and focused on designing smart survey for retailers. Now, the company works with more than 2,100 small and large businesses, including Kroger, Walmart, Facebook, Unilever — a lot of consumer packaged goods, Malaihollo says.

Wyzerr is focused on creating engaging surveys to better collect information. Photo courtesy of Wyzerr

Consumers interact with many of these brands on a near-daily basis, and Malaihollo estimates a person might get his with 7 surveys in a day — some of which require dialing in, or going online, or filling out responses on a sheet of receipt paper.

But Wyzerr makes surveys fun — they're interactive and game-like. Most importantly, though, they're short. Nearly every survey is designed to wind a customer through 25 questions about their experience with a certain retailer, product or service in 30 to 60 seconds. There's a science to it — shorter word counts on survey questions, for example, and making the final questions as engaging as possible, because people usually start answering more quickly, and maybe less thoughtfully, toward the end of a survey form.

Malaihollo calls this a design-focused approach to market research, and it has gotten results. In some surveys, Wyzerr was able to gather data on up to 20 percent of total consumers. Unlike most survey engagement, which usually falls lower, Wyzerr's data meets the threshold for statistical analysis — a valid sample size, in mathematics, is 10 percent of the population.

Two years ago, the Cincinnati Airport approached them. Amid a stream of reports that airports would develop into great hubs for the future of retail, the Cincinnati Airport team wanted a way to track shoppers' satisfaction as they trafficked through the terminals. Wyzerr created a survey that connected to the airport's Wi-Fi system — if users wanted to log on, they had to take a brief survey first.

"That ended up being our most successful campaign," Malaihollo says.

Wyzer, which has a team of 12, has raised $2 million and is getting ready to raise more. Upon completion of the accelerator program, the company will work with a Houston neighborhood for a pilot program, and the team hopes to get their survey system on the Wi-Fi system in Houston airports early next year.

Now, Wyzerr focuses on gathering data for smart cities — urban spaces that offer higher-tech solutions to regular city activities, like parking, and use electronic sensors to collect data that helps monitor the public. For example, cities across the U.S. have adapted free Wi-Fi on public transit, parking lot trackers, smart traffic lights to reduce congestion, automated bike-sharing programs and pedestrian detectors at intersections.