The Long, Strange Trip of Jeffery Stutzman

By Jim Schakenbach

Jeffery Stutzman is perhaps not your typical entrepreneur, if there is such a thing. Formerly a career Navy officer who spent ten years as an enlisted man, Stutzman got his bachelor's degree from Regents College in 1995, followed by Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, from which he graduated in 1996 as a military intelligence officer specializing in computer warfare. Stutzman was on the road to becoming a Navy "lifer" but quickly grew bored memorizing missile matrices and foreign ship capabilities and so began to hunt around for an MBA program that would leave him a freshly-minted MBA by the time he finished his Navy career after twenty years.

Stationed in Virginia Beach after graduating from intelligence school, he began an MBA program at a local university but found that it involved mostly rote memorization. Dissatisfied and looking for more out of a graduate program, he began a search that led him to three schools that he seriously considered for a distance learning degree - Rochester Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and WPI. After looking closely at each of them, Stutzman chose WPI. "I wanted a high tech MBA - that was (the) number one (reason for going with WPI)," stated Stutzman. "There was a true focus on managing technology - that's pretty cool, because I didn't want a school that was just going to make me learn to program. WPI has a great engineering reputation and I hoped that was going to rub off on the MBA program as well, and it did."

At first it was tricky. "I got the videotapes by FedEx every week - I was two days behind everybody else. I was doing so much traveling as an intel guy (intelligence officer), I'd be all over the place - I sat in the BOQ (bachelor officers quarters) in Rota, Spain, and did classes, I'd be on board ships - as long as I had Internet connections to submit assignments, I was fine," commented Stutzman. But wait, it gets stranger.

"I got about two-thirds of the way through the MBA program, and after about fifteen years into my military career, I was approached by (computer networking company) Cisco Systems at a conference in San Francisco," Stutzman stated. "The intent was to jump on board with a fast-growing company and they were screaming, so I figured 'well, I'll take a chance'." So in August 2001, he left the Navy after fifteen years for a new career in the high stakes world of commercial computing technology.

Stutzman found himself in charge of information security for the Americas theatre - 170 sites, 14,000 employees, a million computers. He got to run around the world, breaking into Cisco's computer systems as part of their global penetration testing. He did this for about a year, during which time he began consulting on computer hacking behavior as a result of a two-year stint as a visiting scientist at Carnegie Mellon University while he was in the Navy. "I decided I really liked that small (company) atmosphere, so as I got closer to finishing up my MBA, I decided to look more and more at doing something as a start-up and an entrepreneur."

So Stutzman and a colleague, soon-to-be chief engineer Bill Billman, after some interest from credit card companies, began work on something called an authentication engine - software that enabled companies to verify transactional information online. Unfortunately, Stutzman and Billman were "a day late and a dollar short", losing the race to market to mega credit card company Visa, which built and verified an authentication engine on their own. "So we asked, 'what do we do now?'" stated Stutzman. "While we were going through this process, KeyGen popped up."

KeyGen was a company that had developed a technology complementary to Billman's authentication engine, but they had run out of money. So Stutzman hooked up with an investment banker he had met and while in his next-to-last MBA class on strategy, bought the company in a deal that included office space for a dollar a year. They were in business.

After rounding up more money through angel investors, Stutzman christened the newly combined operation ZNQ3, after the military communications message that means "Message received, correctly authenticated." ZNQ3 was incorporated in November 2002, with a grand total of four employees. Stutzman, who finally finished his MBA just this past May, had written a business plan as part of his degree program for a business he called BeadWindow!, after the military warning term for an intruder on the network. The plan finished second in the '03 WPI Venture Forum business plan competition, but placed first in the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation's (CEI) student competition, winning Stutzman $45,000 and adding further to his war chest.

The company which now stands at just about two dozen employees, is in various stages of developing three encryption and authentication products designed to help financial, healthcare, and public safety organizations authenticate network users and protect sensitive data through transmitted encrypted packets, completely transparent to the user and capable of operating on virtually any computer and wireless system. In fact, minutes before this interview was conducted, the company closed its first significant sale for their Layer Service Provider (LSP) product, scheduled to go into laptop computers for the state of Maine.

Tapping into the WPI network

Stutzman emphasized the importance of the WPI network, literally and figuratively. "The networks are important," he stated. "I wanted local networking with a quality group; that's one reason I chose WPI. And their actual network made it easier for me to get my degree - the majority of my MBA was through distant ed(ucation)." Stutzman is such a big believer in the school's efforts to foster entrepreneurism, he's teaching a course on information security for the management program this summer, as well as two more courses in the fall and one next spring.

Two other WPI MBA grads are part of the ZNQ3 team as well - Director, Integration, Ed Wright (MBA '03), and Louis Delacruz (MBA '01), who is slated to be ZNQ3's Latin American sales rep. Aastha Kathuria, enrolled in the MS program in computer science on a student visa from India, interned with ZNQ3 summer '03. She is interested in security and is involved in quality assurance work for the company's products. "I met Jeff at one of the Dinner With Entrepreneurs events sponsored by the CEI and joined the company as an intern in June," she commented. "It's been wonderful - a fantastic experience - I'm learning a lot."

Aastha has some sound advice for other students considering a management career in technology. "It's going to be very tough, but don't give up - give it a shot. Get out and have lots of contacts, that's how I met Jeff."

Stutzman also has some words of advice for both undergrads and graduate students. "Jump in with both feet and don't be afraid to look to other people for input. I'm a Type A personality and I had to learn to put my Type A aside and really listen," he commented. "Surround yourself with good people and listen to them. If you've got good people, trust them to do a good job and let them do it."

 
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