Valt CEO Brent Heeringa

LEVER PROFILE: VALT

At first, it was research. Now, Valt is an app with 50,000 downloads, 5,000 active weekly users, 1,700 app store reviews, and mentions in CNBC News and Entrepreneur Magazine.

How did this password-management app get here? Lots of hard work, the right team, strategic investment, and startup-incubator support.

Of course, it also helps that Valt is the solution to a very common problem: We are terrible at remembering the umpteen passwords we use in digital spaces.

“Identity management and digital hygiene is something we believe every person is going to need to manage,” says Brent Heeringa, the computer science-professor-turned-CEO behind Valt. “People are not doing a good job of it right now. Part of it is they don’t know about it. Part of it is they don’t appreciate it. Part of it is the right tools aren’t there. We aim to attack that on all those fronts.”

Valt in the App Store

Valt does this by training users on a series of images that represent a “master password,” using AES-265-bit encryption and visual memory to lock all your passwords in one place that’s accessible across all your devices. At $2 a month, it’s an elegant, secure solution to the digital clutter that’s now a firm presence in modern life.

A few years ago, Heeringa, a professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., was giving local talks on his research and trying to get it published in high-level academic journals. It was Lever Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas, who Heeringa knew from Lever’s work with Williams student entrepreneurs, who said, “have you ever thought of making this into a company?”

From there, Lever invested in Heeringa–and Valt. “Our decision to invest in Valt was driven by both the market opportunity and the entrepreneur,” says Thomas. “Our experience has validated our strategy to back teams that focus relentlessly on product-market fit.”

“I implemented the encryption myself in the spring of 2017, while I was teaching,” Heeringa says. (He’s since taken a two-year leave from his work as a professor to focus on the company.) By May 2017, he had a team, reaching out to colleagues he knew from the mobile app marketing startup Fiksu, where he spent a sabbatical year.

“I think one of the biggest accomplishments for Valt is building this team. We built it from scratch and everybody is still here,” Heeringa says. “I’m committed to having a distributed team, and I’m committed to bring people to work in the Berkshires, too.”

Some might find it surprising that a tech company found its legs in the Berkshire mountains, but when you peel back the layers, there are deep connections to industry, curious investors willing to support advances in technology, and academic institutions committed to helping fuel local economic development efforts. Connecting them is Lever, headquartered in North Adams, Mass., which creates and grows enterprises that leverage assets in the Berkshires and works to attract young professionals to the region (as well as retain young talent after they graduate from area colleges).

Though he was already an accomplished computer scientist, the support Lever gave Heeringa helped him step into his role as a CEO. Beyond investing in Valt, Lever gave Heeringa networking connections and taught him how to raise funds and deliver a seamless pitch. “I learned the initial framework here, and what it looks like,” he said. Among other accomplishments, Valt went on to win the grand prize in the FreshTracks Capital Vermont Road Pitch Finals in October 2017.

Valt’s future looks secure. Heeringa is planning to double his team (from five to 10 people) in his next round of funding, and is looking at future applications for the tech that powers Valt, including cryptocurrency backup.

“We’re focused on doing things that have the highest impact,” Heeringa says. “We’re having a lot of success. I’m confident the subscription rate will increase, and I believe in the product. I use it on a daily basis. I know other people do, too.”