Born and raised in Argentina, Sergio Heker, CEO and Founder of GLESEC Group, a Cyber-Security Operations and Intelligence Company, has been on the forefront of Internet technology since the mid-1980s. After finishing his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Stevens Institute of Technology, located in Hoboken, NJ, Heker worked at the John Von Neumann National Supercomputer Center – one of five pioneering U.S. supercomputer centers created by the National Science Foundation. It was here, in Princeton, NJ, where Heker developed a passion and a fascination for a technology that would forever change the way we live and set the stage for his own entrepreneurial journey.
“That center serviced 13 university members across the country,” Heker said. “That included schools such as Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Harvard and MIT among others. My job was to build the fastest Internet at the time and to ensure the schools were connected to our network and the rest of the Internet, including the National Science Foundation Nework, the Department of Defense’s Defense Data Network and others. Our network, called JvNCnet, was the first T1 Internet network in the world and the fastest Internet network at the time. It was also the first in the industry to establish agreements with telephone companies to co-locate its equipment at the telephone company's central offices, therefore building a “backbone” for the Internet. JvNCnet was the largest international Internet carrier of the time. In fact, the Internet traffic transiting the JvNCnet was recorded as the highest in the global Internet of the time.”
Heker continued, “Within that environment, we also built an organization to support the networking and a cost model to charge for network services. We then promoted the service through the National Science Foundation and to other schools as a way to connect to our network. That resulted in providing services to most of the colleges and universities throughout the Northeast. We also obtained, through different grants, contracts to provide services to the UK, France, Switzerland, Japan, India, Canada and many other countries. At the time, we were the largest provider of international internet services in the world.”
When the super computer center lost its funding, Heker wasn’t the least bit deterred. He was invited to move the operation to Princeton University under the approval of the National Science Foundation. After two years, as Heker shared, the network was large enough and independent enough that Princeton gave their blessing to allow him to spin-off and become a for-profit company called Global Enterprise Services (GES) – becoming the third commercial ISP in the country and the first in Mexico.
“After growing GES for nearly seven years, and expanding into countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Canada and Indian, we sold the network and the operation to a consolidator, which then became a publicly-traded company. From there, I started NextGen – an ‘e-business’ company focused on emerging technology-based services. We had clients like General Motors and, with only 100 employees, were competing against companies with over 10,000. Even though cyber security wasn’t the main focus of NextGen, it was part of what we did. For me, however, it was something big enough to focus 100% of my attention on.”
In March 2003, Heker founded GLESEC – a Cyber-Security Operations and Intelligence Company established in Princeton, NJ, that would eventually have a footprint across Latin America. Today, the company focuses on risk reduction and cost optimization with the orchestration of a dozen emerging technologies, resulting in the largest portfolio of cyber security services in the industry. This enables GLESEC to monitor, test, investigate cyber-security incidents, remediate vulnerabilities and provide compliance related services and cyber-range simulation services. However, as Heker shared, the services provided and the understood value wasn’t always so cut and dried.
“Our initial vision was hard to implement,” he said. “The technology just wasn’t there yet. One of the concepts for us was the ability to aggregate information and turn it into actionable intelligence to help clients address security issues. However, when I first started the company, the ability to do that didn’t exist. We were selling the vision before we had all the pieces together. It took maybe 10 years before we had an opportunity to use ‘big data platforms’ to do what we originally envisioned. Fortunately, we were lucky to have early clients that trusted us and have grown with us.”
Heker added, “In terms of growth, I quickly decided to open operations in Panama. The model for this business is different from previous ones – we’re 100% focused on cyber security. However, the business model has changed over time. We initially sold products with support – a more traditional way of doing things. That gave us clients in 19 countries, but the quality of revenue and our market differentiation were not the same. Once the capabilities were in place, we moved into our current mode of service delivery. We don’t sell technology. We’re selling an orchestration of cyber security services that provide enterprises the ability to consolidate their security into a single platform.”
GLESEC’s target market includes middle-tier firms between 1,000 and 10,000 employees. When it comes to competition, and the overwhelming number of businesses that need cyber security services, the market is truly wide-open. As Heker shared, this means opportunities to supply an underserved demographic with a much-needed service.
“The Department of Defense launched a set of criteria called the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC),” Heker said. “This will put in requirements to strengthen the security of the full supply chain by making an organization that is part of that feed adhere to one of five maturity levels. This will impact more than 300,000 organizations and they’re required to be compliant in a very short period of time. Currently, there aren’t enough companies to perform the work.”
Heker continued, “Compared to similar companies that are operating in this market, we’re different because our DNA is all about innovation. We’re also early adopters of technology which, in cyber security, is essential. You need to work with the latest technology to be able to stop the latest attacks. Our platform combined with emerging and advanced technology makes it a unique offering. We also recently launched a new gamified cyber-range simulation platform designed to enhance the skills of cyber security professionals. The platform allows these professionals to test their skills as if they’re under an attack without having to impact their production environments. This platform has allowed us to service some of the largest companies in the world with capabilities that were only previously available to the military.”
This past June, GLESEC announced a move from their headquarters in Princeton to Orlando. The new headquarters will be the home of one of the GLESEC Secured Operations Centers and Cyber Range Training Facilities, in addition to administration and sales. With the move, GLESEC has committed to hire 26 professionals over the next three years. As Heker shared, after GLESEC announced its Seven Elements Cybersecurity Model (7eCSMTM ) at the National Center for Simulation in Orlando in 2018, inaugurated an Orlando-based Secured Operations Center (SOC) at the University of Central Florida in 2019 and announced plans to set up a Cyber Range Simulation Center in 2020, the move to Orlando made a lot of sense.
“Orange County and the state of Florida have recognized the strategic importance that a full-fledged Cyber Security firm can bring to the local economy and we are thrilled to be here,” Heker said. “We’re excited about our plans to consolidate and move our HQ to Orlando with a Florida Secured Operations Center and advanced Simulation and Cyber-Range facilities.”
Looking ahead, Heker, who loves building new things and getting positive feedback from satisfied clients, is focused on growing the capabilities of GLESEC and its personnel. Along those lines, he’s building a strong management team to take the company to the next level.
What advice does Heker have for aspiring entrepreneurs who might be hesitant to start or buy a business? “To be honest, if they’re really scared, they should stay at their job and quit day dreaming,” he said. “However, if they really want to do something, they should do it. Don’t live your life in fear. Entrepreneurship is less about talking and more about doing. If you’re going to do it, you need to have drive and you need to be open to learning new things. Lastly, you don’t learn from your successes – you learn from your failures. These are the real lessons.”