News at Smith

From an MBA Cohort, Building a Company

Sep 24, 2020


“Surround yourself with people better than you are.”  

That was the sentiment expressed by Chris Barron, MBA ’18, when asked what advice he’d give to those looking to start their own business. 

Barron is the vice president of business development for Ardalyst, an Annapolis-based cybersecurity company founded by Michael Speca, MBA ’18, and Josh O’Sullivan, MBA ’18. The three met while attending Maryland Smith. Speca is the company’s president, and O’Sullivan serves as its chief technology officer. 

Barron said his two classmates from his cohort in Maryland Smith’s Executive MBA program and the entire company continue to stay hungry and humble because of the talent and dedication around them. "It's not just about the three of us. We all push each other at Ardalyst," said Barron. "We make each other better. I learned that at Smith."

In a recent interview, the three former classmates discussed how they met, built a company and how they’re coping with the current challenge of growing a business during a pandemic.  

“Ardalyst” is a portmanteau of the words “ardent” and “catalyst.”  Ardalysts, as employees of the company call themselves, are passionate about creating change in how businesses approach cybersecurity. 

Michael SpecaSpeca, O’Sullivan and Barron were part of the 17th cohort of the Executive MBA program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Speca, a serial entrepreneur, saw a business opportunity to merge his consulting business with O’Sullivan’s cyber defense company. Out of this partnership, Ardalyst was born. 

Ardalyst merges business acumen with cyber defense expertise to help organizations understand how cyber risk fits into their overall enterprise risk. They help organizations adopt specific solutions to build and mature their cyber programs.  The company’s official mission, according to Speca, is to “replace uncertainty with understanding,” across business analysis, application development and migration, cyber defense and maturity, and government compliance. The goal is to offer a comprehensive solution that protects company networks, matures and clarifies policies, and ultimately makes businesses more productive and resilient to risk. 

The sense of camaraderie among these friends, classmates and business partners was clear as they  reminisced about their time at Smith. They laughed about how competitive they were during simulation exercises in the program. The experiences brought them together, helped them grow, and gave them the skills and insights they’d need to build their business.  

“The things that we’re able to pull from the program to use now are limitless,” Barron said, in his University of Maryland branded jacket.  

The program helped prepare the team for the unexpected. The coronavirus pandemic is one example.

In spring of 2020, as companies, schools and other organizations shifted to online learning and remote work, the need for virtual collaboration tools and network security mushroomed. Cybercrime also mushroomed, as cyber crooks and other threatening actors hunted for an avenue into personal data and systems.

From left, Ardalyst's Michael Speca, MBA ’18, Josh O’Sullivan, MBA ’18, and Chris Barron, MBA ’18, stand with former Smith professor Jeff Kudisch during a commencement event in 2018.

It’s been a busy time for Ardalyst — and an important one. O’Sullivan says he knows of at least one client whose business likely would have gone under if not for Ardalyst’s assistance transitioning into a safe all-online environment.

Like many of its clients, Ardalyst is now working entirely remotely. And things are working more smoothly than ever, Speca says.

Ardalyst currently holds contracts in the public sector and with DoD. Looking toward the future, Ardalyst is focused on helping companies comply with the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), a program that requires government contractors to achieve one of five levels of certification in order to bid for specific contracts. The team is confident their experience and acumen will pay dividends now and in the future.

By Braden Walden. Walden is a current MBA Candidate set to graduate in 2021. Originally from Chicago, he has lived in New York, Seoul, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. Following graduation, Walden is set to start a new career at Navy Federal Credit Union.

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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