Technical.ly once called Protenus “the perfect Baltimore start-up,” and it’s not hard to see why.
- The founders, Nick Culbertson and Robert Lord, met in medical school at Johns Hopkins University where they witnessed both the growing importance of electronic health records in patient care, and the rising threat of serious security breaches through those records.
- When DreamIt Ventures brought its health-technology accelerator to Baltimore in 2014 with a powerhouse set of local partners that included Johns Hopkins, Kaiser Permanente and Northrup Grumman, Culbertson and Lord had put medical school on pause and were ready with their prototype: a platform that used artificial intelligence to help health care organizations protect and secure sensitive data. They were accepted into DreamIt’s first cohort.
- And, of course, Protenus took root in a city that is a hub for cyber and data science, home to preeminent health systems, and central in a state that produces the greatest percentage of bachelor’s degrees in computers, mathematics and statistics in the country. As Protenus grew in Baltimore – spurred on by prominent local contracts and helpful local funding – it demonstrated its effectiveness, and launched from there.
One step ahead of a growing crisis
About a year after Protenus’ founding, health insurance company Anthem, Inc., revealed a security breach that affected more than 79 million people – nearly a quarter of the U.S. population and still the largest-ever data breach in the U.S. The company ultimately agreed to a record $16 million settlement with the federal government for the HIPAA violation. This was just one of the 3,700 large data breaches between 2009 and 2020, but it underscored the case Protenus was making.
The year after the Anthem breach, Protenus attracted $7 million in Series A funding and began publishing a “Breach Barometer” to track how security incidents were affecting the industry. By 2019, it had raised more funding ($11 million in Series B and $17 million in Series C) and committed to moving into a 12,000-square-foot headquarters less than a mile from its original Baltimore address. Founder Culbertson described how the location would help them “continue to attract the great talent to join our rapidly growing team.”
Neither of Prontenus’ founders come from traditional backgrounds.
Before they met in medical school, Culbertson was a Green Beret and Lord worked at hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. But, having spent time in Baltimore, they saw the ways in which this city understood their mission.
“Robert and I have often been asked why we chose to grow our business in Baltimore instead of Silicon Valley,” Culbertson said. “We recognized that Baltimore has a thriving ecosystem and an incredible pool of talent in both technology and healthcare, it was the perfect place to grow our company. Our team includes former employees of three-letter agencies, neuroscientists, and accomplished business professionals. Baltimore is one of the few cities that could make our team easily come together to accomplish our mission.”