Microsoft invests millions in Nanaimo-based cybersecurity company

By Dominic Abassi
August 3, 2018 - 2:21pm Updated: August 3, 2018 - 3:14pm

Chris Davis, founder and CEO of Nanaimo-based Hyas.Submitted/f8 Photography

NANAIMO — Tired of not working on things he loved, Chris Davis left his job and started-up a cybersecurity company in his Nanaimo basement. Five years later the world's biggest software company couldn't wait to invest millions in the operation.

This week, Nanaimo-based Hyas announced it raised $6.2 million in a funding round, led by a huge investment from tech giant Microsoft.

"When (Microsoft) heard what we were working on and how unique it was they got really excited, hopped on a plane and were up here the next day after we talked to them," Davis, Hyas' founder and CEO, told NanaimoNewsNOW.

The venture-backed startup specializes in what's known as attribution intelligence, basically helping other cybersecurity professionals identify and understand attacks on their networks. Davis said their technology is about helping companies understand how they're being attacked, by who and why in order to better prevent future problems.

Davis said Hyas has "ramped up" growth in the last 18 months and the investment from Microsoft will allow them to expand from roughly 14 employees to 30 in the next six-to-eight months. He said it will also see them chase bigger markets, like Europe, and expand their product base.

What does it mean for Nanaimo?

"Two things: One is we're hiring. A lot more people, including local people. There's a lot of diverse skill sets around tech in Nanaimo. It allows us to grow the company here and also allows us to bring those really skilled people from other places," Davis said, noting he already has three employees who have relocated to the harbour city from the southern United States.

"They love it here. Who doesn't? We live in the best place in the world. When Microsoft first invested they said 'Where are you going to put the office, you're not going to leave it in Nanaimo, are you?' I was like 'Ya we are.' Then they started to see how much people were open to relocating from Silicon Valley or wherever."

In the information security industry for 20 years, Davis worked in Ottawa for the federal government before a stint running security teams for Dell in Texas. It was after his second startup was bought out that he moved back to the island, where he was born and raised, and realized he "wasn't working on things he loved."

In 2013, now household name James Comey awarded Davis the FBI's top award, the director's award of excellence, for his work in catching hackers from around the world. Davis said he is the only Canadian and one of only three civilians that's ever received the honour.

Hyas is steeped in Island culture. Their digital forensics software is called Comox and the company's name is Chinook jargon meaning mighty or powerful.

"We're trying to build something here. The primary office is Nanaimo and that's where we plan to keep it."

Davis predicted his company would be acquired by a tech giant, like Cisco Systems for example, within the next five years.

"Then we'll end up with a Cisco office in Nanaimo...It's pretty common as to how they do that. They don't want to disrupt the team that's been doing good work when they acquire you so they just open up an Amazon or Microsoft or whoever office in Nanaimo."

Davis described Nanaimo's tech scene as "surprisingly good" considering its population base. He said the experience of working with Microsoft is something he's hoping to pass along to other local tech entrepreneurs, sharing information and making introductions with critical players.

"It's struggled a little bit because of a lack of support from the recent municipal government and the problems they've had but there's a lot of good talent in Nanaimo, an amazing amount on the island in general."

 

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