In anticipation of the final round of the 2018 Pitch Dingman Competition, the Dingman Center is interviewing each of the five startup finalists about their progress and upcoming challenges as they prepare to compete for the $15,000 Grand Prize on March 6 in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union. Learn more and register to attend the competition here.
Dark Sonar Technologies
George Lee, Founder & CEO
George Lee, a senior finance major at University of Maryland, came up with the idea for Dark Sonar when he encountered synthetic identity fraud while trying to run his first business, an incentivized advertising website called rewardslive. When he realized that the only available cybersecurity services on the market were too expensive for the size of his business, he decided to develop his own solutions. This experience led to George launching Dark Sonar, a cybersecurity service that is both simple to integrate and affordable for small and medium-sized businesses. Since founding Dark Sonar, George Lee has been accepted into Startup Shell and has participated in the Hatch and Terp Startup phases of the Dingman Center’s Fearless Founders Accelerator. Dark Sonar has attracted customers across a variety of industries, and looks to continue to innovate by expanding to prevent theft and fraud in cryptocurrency and blockchain.
DC: Have there been some key decisions or milestones along the way that have led you from an idea to now pitching for $15K?
George: Doing some competitor analysis and seeing that the way that cybersecurity is innovating, we can probably do things a little bit better than our competitors—we can target different markets, specifically, small and medium-sized businesses at a much lower price point that’s affordable to these businesses. Other companies have been successful in this space and have been able to raise rounds of capital. I thought Pitch Dingman Competition would be an avenue for me to say that I’m taking this business seriously, that synthetic identity fraud is absolutely something I see to be a problem. My mentor Paul Capriolo’s company was paying up to $10,000 a month for the solution that they were using. The cybersecurity market is growing very fast and is dynamic—every day it poses new challenges I want to be able to help solve.
DC: What have you learned from the semifinals that will help you better prepare for Finals?
George: Since then I’ve learned more effectively the different directions I need to focus on in the business, specifically being able to know my numbers pretty well, and being able to know and explain the financial projections. I also know now to focus on other different facets of the business and challenges I might face down the road. Over time I’ve also learned how to communicate more effectively what we do, but it’s still a work in progress.
DC: What has Dark Sonar been working on since Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals?
George: More recently I’ve been working on a feature that is a link shortener for people who aren’t as tech savvy to automate fraud prevention from the link level. For example, if you give us a link to a landing page, we’ll give you back a shortlink where we can redirect the user to the destination after performing a fraud check.
DC: What are some goals you are looking to reach before Finals?
George: There are a few things. I want to be able to explain this product in a more understandable way to a broader audience. For Dark Sonar, we really want to be able to ramp up the number of free users on our platform. I also want to be able to integrate on different types of platforms—so not just targeting advertising but also financial services, mobile apps and online e-commerce marketplaces as well.
DC: If you win Pitch Dingman Competition, what will you do with the $15,000?
George: Definitely product development and software development, we want to be able to not only make this scale, but to make sure that the product features will be robust and competitive and that the data we collect will be more valuable over time. In addition to that, the second use would be sales and marketing. One of the biggest challenges is being able to sell this product in a space that’s more reactive than proactive.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.