Petze in at Privaris

Industry vet will start by pushing PlusID
Friday, September 1, 2006

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.--Privaris, an eight-year old company focusing on fingerprint biometrics for access control and consumer transactions, has hired industry veteran John Petze as chief executive officer, effective June 30, 2006. Petze comes to Privaris from Tridium, a software and services company supporting smart devices recently acquired by Honeywell, where he had served as chief executive officer since 2003.
Privaris recently released the second generation of its PlusID product, a key fob with biometric authenticator that stores the fingerprint on the device and transmits a signal compatible with many common smart card and prox readers upon authentication. Now the company is poised to push the devices to the government and commercial market, with $15.7 million in financing raised last October.
"We're going into a new phase with the company," said Petze. "[Privaris co-founder] Barry [Johnson] has led the team with some pretty amazing technology, but now this company is going to become a rapidly growing commercial enterprise, and managing that requires a different skill set."
Johnson, who was chief executive officer, will remain as chairman of the board and chief technology officer.
"The driving factor is this technology," said Pretze, but bringing it to market requires knowledge of setting up a sales channel, building partnerships and working with distributors and OEMs. Pretze cited his experience at Tridium and Andover Controls, and his involvement in low-voltage sales since 1982, as a "big part of the reason I was a candidate for this opportunity."
That technology started as a glimmer in Johnson's eye, and he quickly found co-founder David Russell, an entrepreneur who wanted to make that thought into a company in 1998. "We started with a vision to bring biometric technology to everyday consumer applications," Johnson said. "A device that you could carry on your keychain, unlock doors with, log onto a computer, perform financial transactions--a personal biometric device that would be part of your everyday life."
Now teaming with chip manufacturer Broadcom, Johnson said that the access control market makes the most sense while consumer applications are still somewhat unfeasible. Broadcom's latest chip offers the computational power, integration of RFID channels to cost-effectively work with existing infrastructure and a cryptographic element that satisfies security professionals that the biometric device is tamper-proof, he explained.
To create demand for the product, Pretze said Privaris will target corporate information officers and security directors looking to comply with FIPS 201 or other IT and physical access control convergence issues. He said the big benefit for integrators will be the ability to upgrade current customers using smart cards to "the assurance of biometrics" without the integrator having to sell a whole new set of readers.
"One thing we have to overcome is the automatic assumption of what biometrics is," Petze noted. "People assume that it's fingerprints in a database." In Privaris's case, the fob is just a souped-up prox card that will only broadcast with the proper finger in place. Also, the technology can be integrated with RFID point-of-sale transactions or Internet-based transactions. Privaris is working on partnerships with financial institutions to make that a reality.
"What I have found," said Pretze, "is that there aren't any competitors that really offer the same solution, that authenticates locally, and broadcasts zigbee, USB, high-range, low-range, bluetooth, really just about anything that's out there."