Cyber Threats and Car Pools Keep Local Man Busy
Steve Halligan finds time to manage n2Grate, a data center and cyber security company, while being dad to kids ranging from infant to 17.
It is a Friday night, and Steve Halligan is standing in his living room, grabbing a few minutes of a golf tournament on television. In his right arm is baby Brian, eight months old. They are both still and silent, perhaps a bit weary from a long week.
On the floor nearby, two of Halligan’s seven—yes, seven—daughters are rough housing. Halligan turns and issues a soft warning. Don’t hurt each other, he says.
There’s a lot on Halligan’s mind. He is two years into helping build n2Grate, a company dedicated to data centers and cyber security. His clients include major companies and government agencies, and lately, he’s been working to get the necessary clearances to work with the National Security Agency at Fort Meade—a tough nut to crack.
Not too long ago, Halligan was earning a good, steady salary with a major company. His family was a bit smaller. Now with nine children, he’s shed the security of a steady paycheck to build something he believes in.
“It’s a definite belief that we’re working on something great,” he says.
Hackers and Clouds
The headlines of the week are striking. The Chinese, according to news reports, have been aggressively trying to hack into computer systems all over the country.
Halligan says he was not surprised.
Since launching n2Grate, he and the company’s 12 employees have become well-versed in terms like “polymorphic attacks” and “threat vectors.” In a nutshell, n2Grate's corporate mission is to help government agencies and businesses store and protect their data. Fending off cyber attacks is a big part of that.
“We’re investing a lot of resources to ensure we’ll be successful in that space,” Halligan said. “Security has become the biggest concern among our customers.”
Halligan did not start n2Grate on a whim. He entered into partnership with his wife’s uncle, Jack Farley, and together they have a combined 60 years of business and management experience. The pair not only get along well, but have complementary sets of knowledge—Halligan has an MBA and 20 years in the corporate world, most recently with Cisco Systems. Farley spent a career in the Army, primarily as a judge. He was permanently wounded in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts among other commendations.
While starting a business is always a risk, the two have built the business in a relatively low-risk way. They’ve taken on no debt and have no outside investors to be responsible for. And they are leveraging relationships built over years of working in the corporate and defense sectors. Current customers include the Navy, Army and Air Force; NIH; the State Department, and Department of Homeland Security.
“We just felt it was a a good time to use our skills to build a business that will be around a long time,” Halligan says. “We’re trying to do things that will breed long-term success. We want to build a culture where our profit and our customer’s success are not mutually exclusive.”
Long-term, Halligan and Farley say they expects to hire members of the military, knowing that so many are coming home from war and looking for work. Halligan says their skills sets and values would mesh with those of the company.
"There are a ton of great people out there who are really talented, who are patriotic and understand the mission,” he says. “Those are the people we want to affiliate with.”
Making it Work
Last Thanksgiving, Halligan rented a recreational vehicle. He loaded his entire family—seven daughters, two sons and wife, Chrissy—and drove to Florida.
“We had one daughter doing a college visit, and we were also changing diapers,” Halligan recalls. “And we had kids of every age in between.”
It would seem nearly impossible to run a company while handling the responsibility of nine children, but Halligan deflects the credit to his wife, the “Chief Logistics Officer” who shuttles the family to sports practices and school events, while making sure there’s dinner on the table.
“She’s the master of the car pool,” Halligan says, recalling how he purchased an after-market extra seat to fit in the family's Chevrolet Suburban.
Chrissy is a native of Bowie. The pair met while students at Loyola University Maryland and married several years later. They had their first child within about a year and have added eight more, each spaced about a couple years apart. At this point, the family ranges from 17 years to eight months old. The eldest daughters attend Mount De Salles while the younger children go to School of the Incarnation. The family attends Our Lady of the Fields church in Millersville.
The size and faithfulness of the family earned them a profile story in the Catholic Review. That was back when they had seven kids, and n2Grate didn't exist.
What was the conversation like when Halligan decided to shed the stable corporate job in favor of starting a business?
“Chrissy is a very faithful person,” Halligan says. “We made sure it was something we thought through, and she appreciated the fact that we were happy and growing.”
Halligan sublets space at security training company, TrainACE.com, in their offices in Greenbet, but frequently works from his Crofton home or at Farley’s house in Bowie. He also travels less than in previous jobs, and takes care of any stress with some early morning racquetball matches.
“But the reality is, I’m less stressed than I was before,” he says.