Dr Anita Finnegan - Founder and CEO of Nova Leah
You are here
Founder and CEO
Dr Anita Finnegan is the CEO and Founder of Nova Leah, a world-leading cybersecurity solutions provider for medical device manufacturers. Nova Leah is a direct output of Dr Finnegan's Lero-supported PhD research which saw her develop a methodology for securing connected medical devices. Dr Finnegan came to Lero through the Regulated Software Research Centre (RSRC) in Dundalk Institute of Technology, one of Lero’s partner academic institutes.
“I came from industry before moving into academia, and then into research. The main challenge for me was then to make the move from research into commercialisation: that switch from research into fund raising, market feasibility studies, building a team and sales strategies. Lero really supported me in making that transition.
The initial topic of my PhD thesis was software validation in healthcare, but after conversations with other researchers, I soon changed the research area to focus on cybersecurity of medical devices, as it was clear at the time that this was becoming an area of key concern in the industry. I developed a cybersecurity framework with the aim of giving medical device manufacturers confidence in the cybersecurity of their devices.
As this was an area that so few were researching at the time, we received recognition from the United States Food and Drug Administration, after my supervisor Professor Fergal McCaffery and I, presented the results of my research at the FDA headquarters in Washington DC. On the back of this, I was then invited to publish two security standards, which were the foundation of what was to become Nova Leah. The medical device cybersecurity industry was still in its infancy, but it was clear it was going to become an area of major concern. Therefore, the standards that I authored were subsequently referenced in the regulations for all medical device manufacturers in the US.
I was then awarded a commercialisation project funded by Enterprise Ireland to develop the research into a commercial solution. On completion of this two year project, I had developed a commercial ready software solution, SelectEvidence®, licensed the IP from DkIT and secured a first round of funding.
"Lero is extremely supportive of anyone who is committed to their work. Lero is the best place to be if a researcher is trying to do something creative, innovative and with commercial potential. I received so much support to develop a company that is now worth tens of millions of Euros. Lero supported me to go beyond my comfort zone and take my research through to commercialisation. Lero is the place to take your research to the next level."
The scale of the company and development was not something I planned from the start of my research. My industry experience was in the areas of medical devices, construction and automotive process improvement. Following the collapse of the construction industry in Ireland in 2008, I took the time to do a Higher Diploma in Software Engineering and that set me on this journey. It was Professor Fergal McCaffery, the developer of the RSRC and a Lero researcher, who saw value in what I was doing and encouraged me to consider a PhD under Lero. Professor McCaffery was committed to expanding Lero's area of expertise, and was extremely supportive of me. Ultimately, Lero was instrumental in funding the research that allowed me to set up Nova Leah. Lero is the reason why we are where we are today.
My work is taking me to all corners of the world. Before 2014, this industry didn't exist. Cyber security is a global issue, and a significant concern worldwide. We intend to take what we have done and replicate it globally. I spend a lot of time in the US with my sales team, and the remainder of our staff are based in Ireland. The goal for next year is to establish a second team on the west coast of the US, and then expand the team into Australia and Canada. The growth of Nova Leah has been aggressive, but the industry growth has likewise been aggressive – the annual industry growth expected until 2024 is 38% year on year.
We secured our first customer six months after spinning out from DkIT. My strategy when we first started was to target tier-one companies. These are harder to get into, but I knew that what we were doing was so new and that these companies set the standards for everyone else. That strategy is paying off and we are about to close deals with the top three tier one companies in the world.
Our focus is to establish ourselves as the number one provider in the medical device industry, and then pivot to other critical safety industries. Cyber security is such an evolving landscape, you can’t assume solutions will be effective in two weeks’ time. For that reason, we are always staying on top, and always refining and updating. The new product that we are developing predicts the exploitability of medical devices and the impact of this exploitability to the patient.
Lero is very supportive of what we do and how we can benefit MedTech in Ireland. Every achievement and milestone of a researcher at Lero is socialised with relevant networks and this is hugely beneficial. Once I started Nova Leah, Lero was vocal about what we were doing and helped us introduce ourselves into the Irish industry. Lero is a renowned software research centre, so for an organisation like that to promote a researcher's work is hugely beneficial. For me to develop a product, pitch to an investor and launch into the market would have been extremely difficult without that support.
Lero's dedication to excellence, safety, innovation and disruptiveness aligns with our values and goals. What Lero works to do is invest in identifying best practice for safe software development, which is in line with what we do at Nova Leah. We allow manufacturers to develop safe medical devices, so we have the same ethos and ambition.
Lero is extremely supportive of anyone who is committed to their work. Lero is the best place to be if a researcher is trying to do something creative, innovative and with commercial potential. I received so much support to develop a company that is now worth tens of millions of Euros. Lero supported me to go beyond my comfort zone and take my research through to commercialisation. Lero is the place to take your research to the next level.”