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Privacy Tech | Privacy-centric company wins Google's Adopt a Startup program Related reading: ICDPPC establishes working group on ethics and data protection in AI

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For the fourth consecutive year, Google has conducted its Adopt a Startup program, a 12-week course giving fledgling tech companies in Ireland a chance to learn from one of the biggest tech organizations in the world. Google's most recent group of startups included three companies that are developing privacy-centric products. One of those startups even took home the top prize at the recently completed program.

The three startups that participated in the program were EuroComply, a solution designed to help organizations prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation by assessing compliance across numerous sites and locations; InvizBox; a startup specializing in creating devices allowing users to encrypt all of their internet traffic from their home; and Veri, whose product digitizes records from various industries and places them on a fully encrypted dashboard, while only sharing the information that is relevant to whomever is accessing it.

The startups saw their selections as a sign Google is acknowledging the growing importance of privacy technology. EuroComply Founder and CEO Emerald de Leeuw said companies such as Google and Facebook often are criticized for allegedly not paying much attention to privacy and data protection issues.

“I suppose companies are starting to realize that gaining a sensibility of risk when it comes to data protection is now hugely important due to the supply chain issue with the GDPR," said de Leeuw. "It’s not surprising that the googles of the world are looking at privacy-related companies.”

It’s a sentiment shared by InvizBox Co-Founder Paul Canavan.

“They do place a serious emphasis on security, and that goes hand in hand with privacy in the technology,” he said. “It’s nice, because people have historically criticized Google for being invaders of privacy, or for not necessarily caring, but it’s clear they genuinely wanted to help us out.”

In previous attempts to explain her product to clients, Veri Founder Anne-Marie McSorley found many did not understand why Veri's solution could be beneficial. After sharing Veri's insights with Google, McSorley said the tech company seemed to have no trouble understanding the importance of both digitizing data and ensuring it is accessible in a safe and meaningful way. 

When asked about having three privacy startups within the program, Director of Google Ireland’s Adopt a Startup Program Paddy Flynn said Google does not necessarily seek out a specific vertical, but rather, having the companies in the program is a reflection of more privacy-centric startups making their way into the space.

During the 12-week program, the startups attended lectures hosted by Google on a number of topics designed to help the companies learn more about enhancing their digital presence and scale. Each startup was assigned members of the Google staff, who would teach the companies about presenting their business to the public, using Google Analytics, and getting the most out of their digital channels.

At the end of the program, a select group of startups presented in front of hundreds of Google employees about their experience in the program. Veri took home the $100,000 prize for its winning presentation, where the startup explained the lessons it had learned, the targets it hoped to achieve, activities it will implement using Google AdWords, and the work it is conducting with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner.

While McSorley has been involved in tech for decades, working with a massive company such as Google offered her more than just a cash prize. 

“Although I’m not your average startup age profile - I am in my mid-40s - I was amazed at the ethos in working in the Google environment for 12 weeks with three of their staff,” said McSorley. “The whole 12 weeks was a prize in itself. We got to see how to drive business in a much more measured way. To win it was the cherry on top.”

Startups from around Ireland are allowed to apply for the program when the open invite is launched by Google. The tech company sends the invite to various groups, such as Enterprise Ireland, and Dogpatch Labs, that can make recommendations to startups that may be best suited for the program.

“We review each startup that applies against key criteria on where they are in their lifecycle and match their needs with what we think we can offer,” said Flynn in an emailed statement to Privacy Tech. “The types of startups we’re looking for, and the ones who will benefit the most from this programme, are those that are in business for more than one year, currently generating revenue, and with a strategy in place for acquiring new customers.”

The startups each sought to take in as much as they could while having access to Google employees. de Leeuw said she specifically wanted to see the ways a massive tech company such as Google was managing the GDPR, as it ties in directly to the solution EuroComply has created.

For Canavan and InvizBox, one of their objectives was to learn about better ways to enhance their business practices. While they want to promote privacy, they also have another big goal in mind: To sell more products.

“It’s not that you get to see behind the curtain, but you get a little peek behind the curtain as to how Google works, which is something most people don’t get to look at,” said Canavan.

As for the winner of the program, Veri plans to take their $100,000 prize and use it to help focus on their clients that are impacted by legislation such as the GDPR, while continuing its work with Irish regulators such as the Health Information and Quality Authority, and the Construction Industry Federation.

While privacy made its mark on the 2017 version of Google’s program, the tech company will continue to select its startups the way it always has: By giving companies from all industries the chance to work with one of the most recognizable names in world, privacy startups included. 

photo credit: Dublin (46) via photopin (license)

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