Executive Spotlight – SpiderOak joins the Northern Virginia Space Hub: Interview with CEO Dave Pearah
SpiderOak moves HQ to Reston, joins the Northern Virginia Space Hub
Cyber space resiliency company SpiderOak is reaching out for new horizons – not only has it segued its business operations from, well… Earth — to space on satellites — but has moved its headquarters to the Reston Town Center in Fairfax County. SpiderOak’s CEO Dave Pearah sat down with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to talk about the company, its innovative technology and recent pivot to space, and why they chose to relocate from Kansas and Chicago to Fairfax County.
An industry veteran with more than two decades of engineering, product and business leadership across cybersecurity and the high-performance computing industry, Pearah joined SpiderOak as CEO in 2019. Previously he served as CEO of HDF Group, a federally focused software company in scientific computing, where he championed the creation of Enterprise and SaaS solutions built on the open-source core.
A U.S.-owned and operated software company, SpiderOak delivers end-to-end cybersecurity solutions for civil, military, and commercial space operations. Its commercially available products are built upon a foundation of zero-trust encryption and distributed ledger, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the most sensitive data in the space domain.
Officially opening the doors of its Reston office on April 10, 2023, SpiderOak is one of the latest of many space and satellite companies of all sizes to move to and set up shop in Northern Virginia, a burgeoning hub for space companies. In 2022, for example, Boeing and Raytheon announced moving their global corporate headquarters to Northern Virginia. Blue Origin opened an office in Reston last year.
SpiderOak’s jump to the space market is fairly recent – the company pivoted its operations to space in late 2020/early 2021, Pearah noted.
“The company has been around since 2007 serving consumers and businesses with that same end-to-end protection philosophy driven by zero-trust,” said Pearah. “We took those same ideas that we have been doing for over 15 years for consumers and businesses, and then found this huge opportunity in space.”
Deciding to become a space-based company was somewhat of a “Eureka” moment at SpiderOak.
“We had a couple of customers in the space industry, and we all kind of looked at each other and said: ‘I think this is the thing!’ Then we found a lot of folks in the Reston area, and the D.C. area, who were pursuing complementary solutions for space,” Pearah explained. “And so we found our niche, and our new beachhead, and we doubled down on it once we realized that this was an important mission — and one that was good for the company.”
“The fact that we’re now in the space cyber resiliency market is a fun, exciting, and a surprising evolution of the company,” according to Pearah. “I think that’s also true for Fairfax County in general terms of space development. It has taken off in the last few years.”
Access to Talent
Access to talent in Fairfax County and the region was a big draw for SpiderOak, according to Pearah.
“As with any small company that is growing, talent is everything. We are no exception. Our company is nothing without the people that we are able to attract and retain,” Pearah said. “What do people look for? They want to work in a great office with lots of great options around that office, whether it is food or hanging out after work, or easy transportation, great quality of life, great education, and lots of opportunities.”
Fairfax County offers just that, Pearah said, emphasizing that the office location in the Reston Town Center is ideal because of its amenities, including restaurants and its ice-skating rink in the winter.
The Greater Washington region is an outstanding location for accessing qualified experienced talent, he said, including those with security clearances, or the desire to obtain one.
“What’s nice about this area is the diversity of the talent in the candidate pool. You get people coming from other small companies, we get people coming from mid-sized integrators, and even some of the larger organizations and hardware manufacturers,” he explained. “And that is the eclectic mix of people we need to make this company work. We are at this unique intersection of space, cybersecurity, and embedded hardware utilizing distributed ledger technology. We need people with that same diverse mix of interests, which Reston delivers.”
Regional Space Industry Growth
SpiderOak’s relocation was also precipitated by the recent growth of the space industry in the Greater Washington region. While in past decades space companies were expected to be located next to launch pads in places like Florida and Texas, that is no longer the case, he noted.
“Space is not just about launch anymore,” Pearah said. “The ecosystem for space has changed over the last three years. Space is about building software, devices that go into satellites, and multi-tenant buses for space. These are not things that need to be located right next to where the launch happens.”
“What we have seen is a real flowering of the space industry in the D.C. area, in particular for the people who understand embedded devices, cybersecurity, intelligence and defense mission needs. This is the perfect confluence for what space needs,” he added.
Asked why its cybersecurity solutions should be space-based, Pearah said that Lieutenant General Stephen N. Whiting, Commander, Space Operations Command, Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, put it best, by saying: that “Cyber is the soft underbelly of space. Ultimately the greatest threat to our economy, and the space economy in particular, is cybersecurity. It is not going to be some fancy kinetic attack or going to be someone taking out a ground station. It is going to be a cyber-attack much like the SolarWinds hack on the utility industry. And everyone’s waking up to the risks to our economy, not just to the orbital economy because space touches everything now.”
Collaboration with Other Industry Players
Fairfax County is an ideal base for collaboration with other space companies and for the agencies located in this region, as Pearah said. And while meetings can be conducted from anywhere virtually, he noted that it is more effective to conduct business in person.
SpiderOak’s collaborative partnerships include a deal it signed Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin in March 2022 to use SpiderOak cybersecurity to protect satellite networks. In mid-April, 2023 Raytheon BBN and SpiderOak announced a strategic partnership to develop and field a new generation of zero-trust security systems for satellite communications in proliferated low-Earth orbit.
Additional recent announcements include SpiderOak’s recently announced a partnership with Chantilly-based TriSept a launch integration and mission management specialist, in December 2022, to offer an “end-to-end security system” for satellites and ground systems. In March 2023, SpiderOak announced a strategic partnership with Herndon-based LinQuest to protect space mission systems for government and commercial customers.
“These partnerships reflect our mission to serve companies who are already serving the space market, whether civilian, federal government, or military. We want to further provide resiliency or security to their already great solutions,” Pearah said.
Investment & Lack of Competition
This past January 2023, SpiderOak raised $16.4 million in a Series C investment round led by Empyrean Technology Solutions, a space technology platform affiliated with Madison Dearborn Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm. Method Capital and OCA Ventures participated in the round. The company also just announced an additional round of investment from strategic partners Accenture Venture, RTX Ventures (a division of Raytheon Technologies), and Stellar Ventures.
“We have been very fortunate because we, by virtue of many factors, including, but not limited to, that we have effectively no competitors,” Pearah said. “…So perhaps unlike other companies, once we found the investors, and the community that was interested in that intersection of space and cyber, they stepped up in a big way.”
This lack of competition is not because space isn’t important or lucrative, according to Pearah, but because “if you do not build your solution with space in mind, then it won’t work. Terrestrial cyber solutions don’t work well or at all in space, not just because of limited size, weight, and power on satellites, but also limited and intermittent connectivity. Traditional cyber solutions simply fall apart under these constraints.” SpiderOak’s mission and its technology were developed with space in mind, according to Pearah. “We had a huge head start on the competition and that’s why we are just announcing partner after partner.”
Quick Rise to Top 10 Satellite Company Distinction
Although a newcomer in the satellite space industry, SpiderOak was named by Via Satellite as one of the ten hottest companies in Satellite for 2023. Via Satellite editors choose the companies on the list “based on their expected activity for the year, and a mix of market share, transformational technology, ground-breaking deals, and overall industry excitement,” according to the magazine.
“My big takeaway from this is we do something that a lot of companies do not do. We listen to the marketplace, and the marketplace has been telling us this for a while. And, given the fact that we are relatively new to this market, and suddenly, we are one of the 10 hottest companies in satellite tells me that we are doing the right thing. We are in the right place at the right time with the right people,” Pearah said. “And I think Reston and the D.C. metropolitan area is going to help us with that. We are so glad to be part of the community. Thank you to Fairfax County Economic Development Authority for welcoming us with open arms.”
Find out more about SpiderOak at https://spideroak.com.