In the past 15 years, 16 start-ups have emerged from the Horst Görtz Institute for IT Security of the RUB. Emproof is one of them.
Marc Fyrbiak, Philipp Koppe and Benjamin Kollenda have a doctorate in IT security and a lot of plans: In 2018 they want to found their joint company emproof and help customers protect their intellectual property against product piracy.
You will officially found emproof at the end of this year – what are you three now? You’re already working together, aren’t you?
Philipp Koppe: The actual founding of the company is a formal act – the memorandum of association is signed, which you have negotiated beforehand, and then you are a GmbH. The business has to be registered and the entry in the commercial register is made, it all takes about two to four weeks. Until then we are a GbR, i.e. a partnership under civil law, that is automatically the case as soon as you do a business together.
When did you decide to start your own business?
Koppe: We had the original idea at the beginning of 2014, when we were in the USA together with Christof Paar, our professor from the Embedded Security Chair, and simply brainstormed. In 2016 this became more concrete in the direction of the company, when we took part in the IT Security Pitch at the RUB Worldfactory.
Fyrbiak: In 2017 the work on the doctorate had progressed so far that we had more time to give concrete thought and work on founding the company and implementing our prototype.
“The keyword is reverse engineering. We want to thwart that.”
– Philipp Koppe
What is your product?
Koppe: We offer intellectual property protection in the software of microcontrollers, i.e. embedded systems protect against product piracy. This can be done with an additional program that conceals the machine language of the microcontroller in such a way that it is no longer so easy to draw conclusions about the underlying programming from the analysis of the finished system. The key word is reverse engineering. We want to thwart this.
Do your studies and doctorate make you feel well prepared for setting up a company and becoming self-employed?
Kollenda: We learned the basic techniques such as program analysis during our studies and doctorate. Much else is learning by doing. We don’t yet know what we’re going to have to deal with, but a lot of things are just coming up.
But through research, we are used to get involved in new things. That is why I am very confident. And even if it doesn’t work with self-employment, you can also learn from mistakes. Failure is not bad for your CV.
“There’s a very good network of founders here in Bochum.” – Marc Fyrbiak
Is there also support for company founders?
Fyrbiak: Among other things, we get support from Cube 5. The programme enables us, for example, to hire a consultant of our choice to support us in setting up the company.
In addition there is a very good network of founders in and around Bochum, so that one helps itself mutually. We also benefit from the close connection to the Embedded Security Chair, where we are officially employed.
Is there a kind of gold-rush atmosphere in the IT industry right now? Are there many companies being founded in this field?
Kollenda: The Horst Görtz Institute has had 16 start-ups in the past ten years. Munich and Berlin are also booming at the moment. But even more so in the USA, especially of course in and around Silicon Valley. The network of founders there and the proximity to investors as well as the fact that it is easier to set up a company than in Germany are great locational advantages.
Picture 1: © Shutterstock / vchal
Picture 2: © RUB, Kramer