In 2019, Al Di Leonardo, Abe Usher, and Brian Poe, the entrepreneurial team who created and led HumanGeo through multiple acquisitions, decided to reignite their passion for building mission technology and founded Black Cape. Like HumanGeo, Black Cape is a software-first company, but now accelerated through the adoption and fielding of AI/ML to private and public sector customers. Since its inception, Black Cape has been a key performer on revolutionary national security AI/ML initiatives in a space that includes a growing list of venture-backed startups and recent defense unicorns, such as Anduril and Rebellion Defense.
The company focuses on fielding teams of elite technologists - often veterans of the special operations and intelligence communities - to build tech that empowers users with AI/ML algorithms while solving challenges at the intersection of operations, technology, and bureaucracy across the government, commercial research, and financial sectors. “We work with customers to build applications that consider user stories and use cases for critical missions at the intersection of technology and operations. Simultaneously, our team works through various bureaucratic processes and legal and policy challenges that often exist in the public sector,” mentions Scott Fairgrieve, VP of User Experience.
Black Cape’s experience working with complex regulatory regimes has led to a growing commercial technology practice, reinforcing its commitment to dualuse technology relevant in both the private and public sectors. “Our technologists have decades of experience with national security agencies and their rigorous security and compliance controls. We’ve seen a natural growth in our commercial research and data analysis practice that requires similarly tight controls for highly regulated data. We’ve adopted standards like ISO 27000, just like we’ve adopted NIST 800-53 for storing sensitive data while still delivering modern software,” said Sam Stowers, Head of Product at Black Cape.
Harnessing AI/ML for Dual Use Tech
Black Cape specializes in building mission applications and making AI/ML relevant to core businesses. The company is dataagnostic, capable of working through a wide range of complex data ranging from highly technical sensor data to data derived from scientific studies to cybersecurity data and data captured from overseas terrorist organizations.
Black Cape’s flagship product, Rubicon, is a data management platform that provides AI/ML-powered tools and integrations to simplify data ingest, storage, and analysis of mission-critical data. Rubicon Received government sponsored Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding in 2020.
“The SBIR program has been instrumental in bringing commercial technology into Government. Our Phase I and II programs provided non-dilutive capital to build technology with real mission impact and enabled us to work collaboratively with the Government at a granular level,” said Stowers. Black Cape has subsequently won a coveted SBIR Phase III for an undisclosed amount with a specialized government customer, enabling expanded government acquisition over multiple years. Congress has taken notice, authorizing a substantial funding increase in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2022, aiming to capitalize on the success of the SBIR project and further the adoption of the Rubicon technology for mission use cases.
Black Cape is a dual-use technology firm that builds mission technology at the intersection of technology and operations while navigating bureaucracy
Rubicon began as an infrastructure offering focused on open and accessible APIs and has since evolved to include a robust user interface allowing nontechnical users to upload data in a streamlined manner. This enables users to see their data’s value earlier in the data analytics value chain and manage the lifecycle of their data, as opposed to legacy products, which limit the user’s flexibility. Rubicon is well-suited to Government users who need to prepare data (images, videos, documents, and other content) and extract maximum value through enrichment or joining with different enhancing data sets. The resultant output data is a highly rich, complete data element that can be exposed to other exquisite systems or natively processed to contextualize, plot, and relate information collected on the battlefield - significantly accelerating data-to-decision.
Accelerating Growth; Mission Expansion
If software is eating the world, AI/ML is eating software, Black Cape has already made a mark with its public sector customers by implementing AI/ML that provides demonstrable value to mission work, Black Cape’s early performance on one of the Department of Defense’s flagship AI/ML efforts is illustrative of this. Black Cape’s ability to make advanced technologies user-friendly and easy to understand is a critical differentiator in a sector dominated by “black boxes” and vendor-lock.
The firm prides itself in having a team of multi-disciplinary software engineers, data scientists, ML practitioners, systems engineers, and leaders who deliver a full suite of easily deployable and understandable solutions to end-users. “We hire technologists with high skill levels and familiarity with multiple coding languages and platforms. Simultaneously, we look for well-rounded individuals who are comfortable in the absence of guidance and extremely proactive in solving multifaceted challenges,” mentions Fairgrieve. Black Cape fields teams who actively invest with the client, becoming an integral part of daily operations to create tools and technologies that recapitalize the user’s day and add value throughout their workflows. The idea is to iteratively build or tailor solutions while receiving the client’s input, demonstrating value, and delivering frequent updates to ensure the resulting offering meets their needs.
Black Cape’s growth trajectory has been remarkable for a small, non-venture backed company in the dual-use space and the notoriously challenging public sector. Since inception, Black Cape has doubled recurring revenue each year and, by mid-2021, has expanded to over a hundred employees, most of whom are software engineers with mission expertise. Black Cape now envisions a future that involves deepening relationships with the public sector while expanding its scientific research and financial services customers. The company plans to continue collaborating with the Government using the SBIR program and other mechanisms, like Other Transaction Authorities, to speed the adoption of innovation. Black Cape will continue to cross-pollinate lessons learned from dual-use technology, helping government customers adopt the best practices the private sector has to offer and vice versa. Black Cape has continued to capture opportunities where a highly skilled team is required to navigate an increasingly complex regulatory environment that’s sector-agnostic “We expect to continue our growth in the public sector along with financial services and other highly regulated industries by adopting AI and ML in places where these technologies have not historically been common due to the regulatory environment; we’re actively seeking the toughest problems, in the toughest places,” concludes Fairgrieve.