ZoneFox began as a PhD research project. It’s now a promising technology startup bringing security to the financial technology sector.
You might have the best information security measures in place to protect your business-critical data. However, how do you know where those measures fall down, or whether everyone in the company complies with them all of the time?
That’s the question that ZoneFox answers. The company's piece of software with the same name monitors who’s using your data in real time, and can alert data owners to any unauthorised activity. In some cases it’s about preventing malicious data breaches. Most of the time it’s about understanding how your company’s information security process works, where the gaps are and how to design the right tools and policies to fill them.
“We help our customers protect their reputation and status in the market, and help them to understand what’s going on inside their organisation,” says Jamie Graves, CEO of ZoneFox. “A lot of it is about compliance. At first we had a lot of traction with high tech IT companies, but opportunities in fintech, particularly in Scotland, have caught up. Our latest customer is a financial services platform with around 250 employees and billions of pounds under management on their system.”
Support from SE, SDI and SIB
ZoneFox is a spin out company from Edinburgh Napier University. It began with Jamie’s PhD before moving through the proof of concept stage to fully-fledged startup.
That process is not without its challenges. A quick scan of the headline investments in Silicon Valley will show you how much money a startup needs to develop enterprise-level software.
One of the key challenges ZoneFox faced at those early stages was proving the idea would work. Investors are much more likely to support a venture if there’s already proof that it has potential.
Any company with a base in Scotland, whether an indigenous Scottish company or an international one located there, can access essential funding and business support services from Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main economic development agency: in this case, ZoneFox accessed support through the Proof of Concept programme and a feasibility grant through SMART: Scotland. The latter provides grants to SMEs in Scotland for R&D that has a commercial endpoint, and has been the vital starting point for many companies.
Scotland’s universities really are set up for collaborating with companies – and a lot of really good products have come out of knowledge transfer partnerships.
Jamie Graves, CEO of ZoneFox
“We were helped every step of the way,” says Jamie. “We had intensive support in the first couple of years, from the High Growth team. That helped us to define the proposition, identify the market opportunities and move it through the proof of concept stage.”
After the early support from SMART: Scotland, ZoneFox has since become account managed at SE. “We’ve really benefited from the skills of our account manager – they’ve been highly supportive and really very good,” he says.
The company has also received support through the Scottish Investment Bank (SIB). The bank has been involved since Zonefox spun out in 2010, and currently owns a proportion of the company. SIB has worked in partnership with investment firm Archangels as part of the Scottish Co-investment Fund, helping ZoneFox to grow and develop over the last six years.
Connecting to academia
ZoneFox began at Edinburgh Napier University, and the company still collaborates with academics based there. It has also worked with teams at St Andrews, with some excellent results. These connections between Scottish universities and businesses can be incredibly fruitful, says Jamie. “Scotland’s universities really are set up for collaborating with companies – and a lot of really good products have come out of knowledge transfer partnerships. There’s a willingness in the universities, and also an acceptance of the realities of business and academia,” he adds.
Moving from an education and research setting to a business one has given Jamie good experience of both sides of the partnership. Making that transition to tech CEO was always going to be a journey, he says, but his mentor really helped him get to grips with running a tech startup.
Setting up in Codebase
ZoneFox is among the cluster of innovative tech companies with offices in Edinburgh’s Codebase, one of the UK’s largest hubs for technology startups. “It’s a very exciting place to be,” says Jamie, “it’s not so much about the location, it’s the mentality. You get an awful lot of exposure to other companies here – and there’s a ‘pass it on’ mentality that feels unique.
“So you see the triumphs and tragedies of everyday startup life, and you feel real empathy for other people’s successes and downturns. It’s a tough journey – but you look at the big players like Skyscanner who are knocking it out of the park right now and you think ‘can we do that?’ And the answer is yes we can. If that can happen for one company, it can happen for a couple of others too.”
Edinburgh: ideal for talented tech graduates
ZoneFox has just recruited two talented graduates, bringing the team up to 10. And while it’s still a small company, being in Edinburgh makes it relatively easy to recruit good people.
“Edinburgh’s one of those cities where you can walk out of university and into a job,” says Jamie. “And it’s a brilliant place to live and work. Compared with London or Silicon Valley, the relative cost – for businesses and employees – is lower, but the city still attracts world-class talent. It’s a no brainer in all respects.”
Edinburgh’s thriving tech scene has made it easy to recruit the right skills for the company. From software developers to project managers, the Scottish capital is well furnished with talented people.
Making connections with the US
What are Jamie’s plans for growing the company? “Right now, we’re clearly starting to get some traction with the financial services sector – not just banks but financial platform providers too. We got our first financial services client through a partner based in London, and it’s grown from there. It shows the breadth and appeal of the product across the sector. The product also has wide appeal for tech providers and service providers. We’ll be consolidating the fintech market further over the next few years – and beyond that, it’s about internationalisation.”
“We’ve just won our first big client in the US – a gaming company. And Scottish Development International is already giving us marketing support out there. At this stage it’s all about building networks and contacts, which the SDI office in the US has been great for.”
Until then, Zonefox will continue to exploit the burgeoning fintech scene in Scotland – making it much easier for big players and startups alike to mitigate the risks of moving financial services online.
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