‘Huge awakening’ in data privacy drives big growth for Seattle startup Integris

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Integris CEO Kristina Bergman. (Integris Photo).

Back in 2016, a Seattle startup called Integris came out of stealth mode with a modest $3 million in funding and a vision to help companies manage customer data with integrity. Fast-forward to 2019, when privacy issues are making daily headlines as politicians seek to rein in Big Tech, and business is booming for Integris.

In a little over two quarters, the startup more than tripled its team to 30 full-time employees. It opened a second office in Vancouver, B.C. and is working with a number of Fortune 500 companies to help them implement data protection and privacy standards.

Integris’ growth is driven by new laws in the U.S. and Europe that seek to crack down on tech companies that handle consumer data. The European Union is spearheading the effort with its broad General Data Protection Regulation. In the U.S., federal regulation has been sluggish as states step in to implement their own laws. Last summer, California passed regulations to give consumers more control over their data and dozens of other states are considering similar laws.

Related: Washington state considers new privacy law to regulate data collection and facial recognition tech

“When we started three years ago, most people couldn’t spell GDPR … but fast forward a few years and privacy is in the headlines,” said Integris co-founder Kristina Bergman. “It’s front page news in all the major publications and so the biggest thing that we’ve seen is a huge awakening among people everywhere about the impacts of privacy, the importance of privacy, and we’ve seen a lot of market maturity happen over the last few years.”

Ironic as it might sound, big tech companies are starting to use privacy as a selling point. Apple and Microsoft have been actively promoting themselves as the secure, privacy-sensitive foils to their younger tech industry peers. It’s catching on. In March, Facebook announced plans to “pivot to privacy” by doubling down on encrypted, ephemeral messaging.

But there is a growing concern in the business community about a future in which companies that handle consumer data are forced to comply with different laws in every state.

“The concern is that if the federal government doesn’t step up and unify it in the way that Europe unified privacy legislation under GDPR, we’re going to end up with a privacy legislation framework in the U.S. that’s incredibly fractured, very hard to comply with, and not really feasible and implementable,” said Bergman.

That fear is leading a number of tech leaders to support a federal privacy law that would pre-empt state regulations.

Related: Privacy becomes a selling point for tech, with Apple and Microsoft leading the way

Integris surveyed 258 business executives at companies with 500 employees or more and at least $25 million in annual revenue as part of a new privacy study released Monday. Of those surveyed, 80 percent believe there should be a federal privacy law, though they may not be ready for it. About half of the respondents said they take inventory of the personal data they store just once a year or in response to an audit. However, 88 percent said their companies are increasing their data privacy management budgets in 2019.

“What’s been a boon to the business is not the murkiness but the opportunity that privacy presents,” Bergman said. “In our discussions with companies, they’re looking at privacy increasingly as a differentiator for their business … they look at that as an opportunity to differentiate against their competition by being able to prove that they’re operating with integrity, they’re treating customer data with the utmost care, and they can prove it.”

Integris’ goal is to help companies set up best practices in data privacy. The company uses machine learning and other technology to map a company’s sensitive data, apply regulatory obligations, and automate actions like encryption and deletion. On top of its initial $3 million round, Integris raised $10 million last summer to amp up its regulatory compliance services.

Bergman co-founded Integris with Raghu Gollamudi, who is now CTO. Former CTO and co-founder Uma Raghavan has moved to an advisory role; another co-founder, veteran entrepreneur Frank Martinez, is no longer with the company.

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