When Sarah Isaacs decided to pursue a career in information security, she was thinking more about secure employment in an interesting field than about whether she would prosper as a woman in a particularly male-dominated part of the technology industry.
“It hasn’t been an obstacle. It has probably been more of an asset, because any woman in the room is going to get attention,” she says. “But I think for you to make an impact, you need to be the smartest in the room too.”
Isaacs has prospered, indeed. The CEO of Chicago-based Conventus Corp., an information-security services and products company, brings in about $5 million in annual revenue and has 30 full-time employees, all of whom work virtually around the U.S.
Most of Conventus’ business comes from services that help companies select, implement and configure security software products. It also trains its clients’ internal security teams to manage and use the tools. Conventus specializes in securing servers — large computers that are a major target of advanced hacker attacks. Many corporate servers hold data that are extremely valuable and, in some cases, must be handled in ways that comply with government and industry rules and regulations.
Isaacs and her business partner, Alex Moss, who owns 49 percent of the company, got the idea for Conventus while working for Symantec, a Silicon Valley security-software giant. There, they struggled to find good third parties who could provide the professional services that many customers needed to put the products in place, often amid a security crisis.
“We were very well-suited to be able to fit that particular need — fill that gap,” she says.
Just as Isaacs and Moss began talking about a business, Isaacs’ father was diagnosed with cancer, and she needed a lighter and more flexible schedule. “The stars really seemed to align, and we thought: ‘Now’s a great time.” They started Conventus in January 2006, with Isaacs working part time all that year while caring for her father, who stayed in her home in Chicago and underwent months of cell-transplant treatment.
“It was great to be able to help him to get through that really difficult procedure and sort of start up the company in my spare time,” she says. “And the news is: Both are alive and thriving today.”
The business took off quite quickly, Isaacs says. They added new contract employees as needed. Bootstrapping was easy with no office space to rent and manage.
In 2010, Conventus began reselling security software to win over large companies that prefer to buy professionals services bundled with product purchases. Two years later, it introduced a software product of its own, NorthStar, an analytics tool that helps companies quickly find and fix computers on their networks that have security vulnerabilities.
Selling software, which currently accounts for about a quarter of revenue, is key to Conventus’ growth plan. For the first time, Isaacs is considering raising money, which she would use to further develop NorthStar and add salespeople.
“We have the feeling of establishment now in both our careers, myself and my business partner, and in Conventus,” she says. “This is a viable organization, a viable company.”
Why do you deserve to be on the Power List?
“I’ve been making a difference and making it work for 9 years with Conventus. I’m proud to have grown from one sole employee to a thriving remote workforce of 30 brainiac engineers and solution architects. I have spent the past few years committed to supporting, promoting and developing not only women in technology, but males and females alike that want to progress in their tech careers — and I hope to continue in this same capacity for years to come!”