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ProCircular wants to be 'Iowa's cybersecurity company'

Its founder's path started with a Commodore 64

Aaron Warner, founder of ProCircular, on Dec. 20 in his Coralville office. He said he has his sights on expanding beyond Iowa to become an international firm. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Aaron Warner, founder of ProCircular, on Dec. 20 in his Coralville office. He said he has his sights on expanding beyond Iowa to become an international firm. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CORALVILLE — Aaron Warner’s path to building a Corridor-based cybersecurity company has roots in his days as a kid with a Commodore 64.

“It was the thing my friends and I had in common and it was a little different. Computers just weren’t something people spent a lot of time on,” Warner, 44, said.

As a teenager, Warner said he briefly lost interest in computers, but his physics teacher “boxed my ears,” told him to get serious and gave him access to the lab’s computer.

“I jumped into the computer back there and I haven’t stopped since,” Warner said.

Computers and programming let Warner solve a problem, which he said then led to three other problems.

“It’s a very rewarding thing to get a system or get something in place that helps people to do what they do more easily — to help them be more successful,” Warner said. “There are ways of doing that with computers, whether its software or designing a really efficient network or building up defenses so they don’t have to worry about hackers as much.”

In his 20s, Warner joined biotechnology company Integrated DNA Technologies doing everything information-technology related. After a 22-year career there, he left and launched ProCircular — a reference to concentric circles of trust — in September 2016.

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The company’s start comes as technology becomes increasingly connected with everyday life. With the benefits of that connectivity also come increased threats.

To fight against those threats and protect customers, Warner said he and his team try to understand the perspective of hackers, not just the tools they’re using to break into a system.

“There are straight-up thieves out there, just as there are in the real world, but I think a lot of it is about understanding their motivations,” Warner said. “Why is it gray like that? Because there are people involved and anything with people involved tends not to be black or white.”

For example, a hacker may go after a small business in Iowa not because that business is the ultimate target, but because it has access to a bigger fish.

“A lot of times it’s about using the client’s system to do something else — to take control over a plumbing company, but they’re using that to go attack a hospital,” Warner said.

Warner said his company has done business with 100 clients since it started and achieved profitability by the end of its first year. ProCircular has grown to 17 employees and Warner said he already has his eyes on his next 10 prospective hires.

The company’s customers include businesses in Iowa’s education, finance and health care industries, as well as Linn County. The county auditor tapped the company last year to review voter registration and election systems.

The Gazette awarded the company one of its Excellence Awards during a business award ceremony in November.

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ProCircular’s growth, Warner said, is entirely bootstrapped. He is the sole owner. While the state awarded the company a $100,000 loan last year, ProCircular has no outside investors.

“That money would allow us to grow faster, but I don’t think it would allow us to grow better,” he said.

Now, as ProCircular begins 2018, Warner said the business wants to “cement ourselves as Iowa’s cybersecurity company.” After that, he has his eyes on expanding across the nation and eventually Europe.

“I fully intend to become an international firm,” Warner said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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