Our Start-up of the Week is Ethyca, a New York-based data privacy company led by an Irish engineer.
Ethyca is a data privacy technology platform that was created to make it easier to build ethical data-driven systems and businesses.
In July, the company raised $4.2m for its alternative to existing privacy solutions, which the start-up describes as “retroactive band-aids that do not solve the root problem”.
Ethyca helps companies to discover sensitive data, then provides a mechanism for customers to see, edit or delete their own data from the system. The privacy platform doesn’t see any raw data or personal information from these companies or their customers.
The New York-based company’s CEO is Cillian Kieran, an Irish engineer and physics dropout who previously founded technology consultancy CKSK, which he grew a team from one to 100 engineers and digital strategists.
‘So many users of technology don’t realise the risks of handing over their data online. Not enough has been done to protect these people’
– CILLIAN KIERAN
Working with legacy enterprise organisations such as Heineken, Sony, Dell and Pepsi, Kieran gained technical experience building data platforms and visualisation tools. After moving from Europe to the US, he went on to found Ethyca with Miguel Burger-Calderon, who serves as the company’s president.
Burger-Calderon, an economic and finance graduate of Bentley University, was once the head of global business development at Group Nine Media and CSO and president of Elite Daily.
When Kieran and Burger-Calderon set up Ethyca, they did so with the intention of creating a global solution for data privacy, irrespective of the market in which a company operates.
Although it is based in the US, the start-up is actively testing and deploying the product with start-ups and large enterprise customers that span data privacy regulations from GDPR in Europe through to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CPPA) and Brazil’s LGPD regulations.
“We create tools that make it easy for any team to do the right thing with data they collect and process,” Kieran told Siliconrepublic.com. “Ethyca is privacy infrastructure for developer teams to automate compliance with, while managing user data privacy.
“The technology is structured as a primary application service and a series of proxy adaptors and extensions that intermediate data transactions throughout your tech stack. This system design minimises change in your stack while maximally controlling and managing data privacy requirements.”
— Cillian Kieran (@cillian) September 17, 2019
So what’s the goal for Ethyca? “So many users of technology don’t realise the risks of handing over their data online. Not enough has been done to protect these people,” Kieran said.
“Ethyca’s ultimate goal is to build a privacy technology platform that makes it simple for companies to comply with the data regulations that protect non-technical users, building trust in the internet and data-driven businesses.
“Publicly, and in the media, everybody acknowledges the seriousness of the situation – the likes of what happened with Cambridge Analytica and continuous data breaches and fines under GDPR raise concerns.
“There’s also the cultural challenge of businesses needing to be less perfect to achieve compliance. Businesses tend to ask: ‘What can we do to minimise our risks?’ I think data privacy requires a cultural shift – a shift in the way we behave – and that will take time.”
Challenges and advice
When asked of the challenges that Ethyca has encountered since launching, Kieran said: “I think there are so many trite clichés about building a company: believing in your idea, not taking no for an answer.
“I think the more practical challenges I faced, as someone who had previously built a business in a different economic climate and cultural context, is that venture-backed start-ups require a totally different strategy and approach than building a business gradually.
“I think a huge amount of it is creating a great culture and finding brilliant engineering talent, which can be difficult. The US market for engineers is really constrained – there’s just not enough talent.”
‘There’s an opportunity to come back and innovate in Ireland in a way that there wasn’t before’
– CILLIAN KIERAN
As an Irishman based in the US, Kieran has noticed that “the further west you go, people are more open to innovating and trying out new ideas”. There are more opportunities in New York than there are in Ireland, and perhaps even more when you go over to the west coast of the US.
He admitted that, from his experience, it isn’t always easy to set up a business in Ireland. “I have nothing but love for Ireland but I think building a company there is tough. However, things are changing – there’s a lot more capital and a better start-up culture there.
“The tech community has absolutely grown leaps and bounds since I was in Dublin, but definitely at the time I found it challenging to build a company and to get someone to take a risk both in terms of investing and testing a new technology or idea.”
Kieran admitted that while things are improving, he still thinks some entrepreneurs should consider looking beyond Ireland.
“With the growing tech community in Ireland, there’s an opportunity to come back and innovate in Ireland in a way that there wasn’t before. I would encourage anyone to not be limited by the shores of Ireland, whether it’s seeking investment or customers.”
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