Boeing Offers Help In Battling Spam

The aircraft maker debuted MessageGate, a provider of E-mail filtering and security software that was born from the company's own need to cut down on junk E-mail.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

August 20, 2003

2 Min Read

With the flow of unwanted, inappropriate, and harmful E-mail overwhelming workers' in-boxes, the fact that new vendors keep popping up to offer help in stemming the flow is no surprise. But the latest entry into the market brings an unusual pedigree: It was hatched by none other than Boeing Co.

Boeing's Chairman's Innovation Initiative on Wednesday pushed its first concept out of the nest in the form of MessageGate, a provider of E-mail filtering and security software that's backed by $5.1 million in venture funding, including an undisclosed equity stake from Boeing Ventures, the aircraft maker's venture-capital unit. Polaris Venture Partners is the lead investor, with additional funds provided by Northwest Venture Associates.

The innovation initiative is proving to be fertile ground for Boeing. Several other ideas are being prepared to be spun out of the company, others have been incorporated into Boeing business units, and still more have created revenue streams through licensing deals. The initiative also is providing a boost to Boeing's intellectual-capital portfolio in the form of new inventions and patent applications.

But as with many good ideas that come out of corporate IT departments, MessageGate was the result of trying to solve a problem within Boeing. The effort began four years ago when the company became overwhelmed with pornographic and other inappropriate content arriving in employees' in-boxes, says David Smukowski, senior director at Boeing Ventures and a co-creator of MessageGate. At the time, Smukowski says, there was no product on the market that could adequately address the problem, so a team within Boeing's IT department came up with an in-house tool. When it became clear how effective the software was--not just at blocking unwanted messages, but also at blocking sensitive outgoing messages--Boeing began looking to develop a commercial version.

Rather than seek investors, Boeing started by offering a test version of MessageGate--which previously was known by such names as Spam Jam, Content Net, and Mail Verdict--to other large multinational companies with which it had close ties. Boeing got some constructive feedback, as well as several agreements to purchase the finished product. That's when company officials knew Boeing was on to something. "If you can attract customers, you can attract funding," Smukowski says.

Boeing Ventures did some market studies, put together a business plan, and secured the additional venture-capital funding. Now it has a verifiable software product, with more on the way. The first product, called MessageGate Security, is designed to filter and secure inbound, outbound, and internal E-mails. The startup is also preparing to launch a compliance product that will help companies contend with government regulation and ensure that E-mails comply with internal policies. Eventually, MessageGate plans to offer a suite of products addressing various aspects of messaging security.

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