From the Lab to the World

Entrepreneurially minded MBA students team up with computer scientists to commercialize their research, resulting in a start-up that already has more than $2 million in funding.

Simone Gubar |  December 20, 2006
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On November 16, Loren Burnett, CEO of Revive Systems, and Roger Novak, general partner of Novak Biddle Venture Partners, visited campus to present Andrew Fingerman ’05, Cabe Franklin ’06 and four graduate students in computer science with stock options in their new software company.

“You folks nailed it,” Burnett told the students and faculty members assembled at the University’s Science and Technology Ventures (STV) offices. “It has been tremendously exciting to see this move from pure science to marketable product to a cutting-edge start-up company.”

Gabriela Cretu, Michael Locasto, Professor Angelos Keromytis, Cabe Franklin ’06, Professor Salvatore J. Stolfo, Stelios Sidiroglou-Douskos and Andrew Fingerman ’05 (left to right)

Working alongside their Columbia University colleagues in computer science, Fingerman and Franklin honed the business plan that ultimately lured investors to Revive’s core technology — “self-healing” network security software that automatically detects worms and generates immediate working solutions. The software was developed in the computer science labs of professors Angelos Keromytis and Salvatore J. Stolfo, both of whom are now advisers to the company.

The School’s Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship works closely with STV to connect MBA students with the University’s intellectual property. Fingerman and Professor Cliff Schorer — the School’s entrepreneur in residence who teaches the Launching New Ventures course — designed a program that matches business students with research labs across the University. “There’s this extraordinary richness of great ideas at Columbia — especially in the sciences,” says Fingerman. “This was a chance to link idea and management teams together as a means of pushing innovative research to the market.”

In the fall of 2004, Franklin and Fingerman, whose original team also included Alex Poon ’06 and Harpreet Khurana ’05, met up with graduate students from the research labs of Professors Keromytis and Stolfo. “It was really interesting to collaborate with people who have such different skill sets,” says Franklin. “Andrew and I would be amazed during the tech demos when the software actually did what it was supposed to. And I imagine the programmers were equally amazed when we got up and explained that the code they’d been working on was worth millions of dollars.”

The business team conducted target customer research, performed a competitive analysis, delivered positioning and strategy recommendations, generated a financial model and a sales and marketing strategy, and mapped out the company’s phases for early-stage growth. They also chose a decidedly unscientific name for the project: Snake Eyes. “He was one of the original members of the G.I. Joe comic book series,” explains Franklin.

In April of 2005, Franklin and Fingerman won the School’s Science & Technology Ventures Business Plan Competition. That summer, Matt McCooe, former director of New Ventures at STV, showed the business plan to Roger Novak, who immediately decided to invest $100,000 of his own to kick off the initial phase of development. By April, his venture capital firm had invested $2 million in first-round funding. “It was one of the best efforts I’d ever seen,” says Novak. “But we had to get rid of the Snake Eyes name.”

Revive, which is now hiring, plans to release its product by mid-2007. Franklin is an associate at McKinsey, and Fingerman is a senior product manager for OPEN, the small-business team at American Express. “Start-up people have so much energy, enthusiasm and optimism,” says Franklin. “It’s really infectious and a very different experience than working for a big company.” Fingerman sees himself launching a venture of his own one day. “This project gave me a taste of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “It’s tremendously exciting.”

“Giving these students a piece of the company is really an unusual and incredible gesture,” says David Lerner, director of New Ventures at STV, which licenses intellectual capital to industry and promising start-ups. Since it was established in 1996, New Ventures has helped launch more than 70 companies, raising more than $1 billion in venture and public market financings.

“There’s a trend right now in academia to be interdisciplinary,” says Stolfo. “This relationship between science and business has been thrilling — the MBAs grounded our research in reality.”

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