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Hacking Humans: The MedCrypt Journey – Forbes

Entrepreneurs get their inspirations from many places. Mike Kijewski, CEO of MedCrypt, founded in January of 2016 and based in Encinitas, California was no exception. This is an area that most of us would never imagine the need for a product. 

Mary Juetten: What was your inspiration?

Mike Kijewski: In a 2012 episode of the TV show Homeland, the vice president’s pacemaker was hacked by terrorists, which begged the question – could this really happen? Turns out, the answer is yes. Soon after the episode aired, I started researching the security vulnerabilities of networked medical devices, such as pacemakers. Through this, I discovered that medical device manufacturers didn’t have access to easy-to-implement cybersecurity tools, and shortly after, set off to develop a solution. 

Juetten: What problem are you solving?

Kijewski: Recent studies show the healthcare industry is expected to see 2-3 times more cybersecurity breaches than any other industry. In October of 2018, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) published its new pre-market cybersecurity guidelines for medical devices, requiring device vendors to ensure their products are secure by design. MedCrypt provides proactive security for medical devices by giving connected devices security features such as cryptography and behavior monitoring with just a few lines of code. Pacemakers, insulin pumps and diagnostic imaging systems are a few of the many devices that are vulnerable to being compromised, leaving patients at risk of life-threatening hacks. MedCrypt’s solution lines up nearly 1:1 with the FDA’s guidance. 

Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?

Kijewski: We work with medical device vendors such as RefleXion, a company that has developed a breakthrough radiotherapy machine to treat cancer patients. As members of the healthcare cybersecurity community, we participate in industry conferences regularly and present data-driven research to bring some new perspectives to the ecosystem. This helps us get in front of new customers.      

Juetten: How did past projects and experience help with this new project?

Kijewski: At MedCrypt, we are all medical device people. Understanding how medical device manufacturers approach product development and customer engagement is an experience most of us share, which has really helped shape our core offering. 

Juetten:  Who is on your team?

Kijewski: Our executive team is as follows:

  • Mike Kijewski – co-founder and CEO
  • Eric Pancoast – co-founder and CTO
  • Brett Hemenway – CSO
  • Vidya Murthy – vice president of operations

Read more about our leadership team here. 

Juetten: Did you raise money?

Kijewski: Yes, we closed a 5.3 million Series A round in May of 2019 and have raised a total of 8.4 million to date. Our Series A was led by Section 32, with additional investments from Y Combinator and Eniac Ventures. Participants in our Seed round include Eniac Ventures, Safeguard Scientifics, and Sway Ventures.

Juetten: Startups are an adventure; what’s your favorite startup story?

Kijewski: Eric and I first met in a Philadelphia dive bar after I posted a ‘Help Wanted’ ad on Craigslist. While the probability of such a meeting resulting in a successful collaboration was exceedingly small, Eric and I successfully sold the first company we started to Varian Medical Systems in 2013. (And we still like working together!)

Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?

Kijewski: While the success of a startup is ultimately judged by the financial return to stakeholders, it’s a lot more rewarding to assess if your product has helped usher in the version of the future you first envisioned as a founder. At Gamma Basics, Eric and I first saw an opportunity to improve the way radiation safety assessments were performed when designing radiation oncology facilities. A few years later, over 60% of the new radiation oncology facilities in the world were being designed using GrayCAD, the product we built.

Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?

Kijewski:

  • Focus on the story of your startup. Of course the market, problem, and product are incredibly important. But you need the ability to show your audience (investors) your vision of the future, and make them truly believe that your vision is inevitable. 
  • As an entrepreneur, you think that investors are looking at business fundamentals. And while that’s true, they’re also pattern matching, and trying to find new companies that look a lot like past, successful investments. As a founder, try to emphasize the aspects of your company and opportunity that most resemble companies that have been successful in the past. (This is also good advice for how you should be running the company internally!)
  • There are some investors that you absolutely do not want to call when things go wrong, and then there are those whose advice is invaluable. Make sure you’re taking money from someone you’ll be eager to talk to when there are problems. How has this investor handled difficult times with portfolio companies in the past? What has happened when there is a disagreement between investors and founders about whether or not the company should accept an acquisition offer? Be sure that you know the answers to these questions before “marrying” an investor.

Juetten: And of course, any IP horror stories to share (they can be anonymous)?

Kijewski: I’ve known several entrepreneurs who have had to abandon new clinical technologies that had the potential to change patients’ lives, all because the IP hadn’t been properly documented by the researchers who invented the technologies. It’s sad to think about the impact these products could have had.

Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?

Kijewski: We believe that the cybersecurity tools needed to secure products that help keep patients alive are different than the tools made for general enterprise cybersecurity. We’re building products that will secure every networked system used in healthcare, starting first with connected medical devices. While this market is already large today, the focus on decreasing the cost of healthcare by moving patients out of the hospital and into their homes will result in an explosion of connected, remote medical technologies. MedCrypt is helping the manufacturers of these technologies build products that are secure by design. 

Excellent tips, particularly around investors. I have had some in my company that are there when you need them and others that clearly not “marriage” material. #onwards.


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