How Enigma got its Start
Enigma. The name elicits thoughts of mysterious events, puzzling questions, or perhaps your friend who is, well, a bit of an enigma. It’s a fitting moniker for a company working to leverage the power of connected data to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges.
But, like many startups, our story actually begins somewhat typically, on a college campus.
Founders Hicham Oudghiri and Marc DaCosta, both students at Columbia University, met at a 2004 Philosophy Department BBQ and quickly became friends. Throughout college the pair collaborated on various projects including a political science paper on Wilhelm Von Humboldt — the namesake of Enigma’s main conference room.
After graduation, Hicham accepted a position at an energy firm and relocated to Dallas, Texas, while Marc began work at a New York-based intellectual property strategy consulting company. The pair kept in close touch.
A shared interest
Their next projects would prove vital to the early foundation of Enigma. In July of 2010, Hicham returned to New York from Morocco, where he’d been creating models for large-scale alternative energy projects across Africa in Their next projects would prove vital to the early foundation of Enigma. In July of 2010, Hicham returned to New York from Morocco, where he’d been creating models for large-scale alternative energy projects across Africa in partnership with the World Bank Group. Seeking opportunities to leverage his experience with alternative datasets, he began trading currency and connecting disparate data. Meanwhile, 3,500 miles across the Atlantic in Amsterdam, Marc was conducting research at the Waag Society, one of the largest media labs in Europe. As a member of an interactive cartography and climate change project funded by Intel, he was studying the types of data that would help city dwellers better understand climate change.
On a trip home, Marc met Hicham at Caffe Dante and the two discussed their experiences working with data over beers. They shared the frustration that despite the vast amount of data around them, there was no easy way to find — let alone connect — data to form a new world view. Both agreed the work of wrangling public datasets didn’t need to be so complicated. Together they set out to find a way to make public data more accessible and connected.
The premise behind Enigma began to emerge: what would Google look like if it was designed for searching databases at scale? That’s what Marc and Hicham aimed to build. In the fall of 2010, Hicham and Marc, now working on his PhD in Cultural Anthropology in Los Angeles, began ingesting their first public dataset: FAA airplane registrations. Over the course of the next year, Marc would travel to New York nearly every weekend as the pair worked tirelessly to make their idea a reality.
In December, Hicham’s wife Aelfie maxed out her personal credit card to purchase Enigma’s first server, a trusty HP Proliant 1u rack that sat atop a desk in Hicham’s Brooklyn apartment. This purchase formed the basis for Aelfie’s claim as “Enigma’s first investor” — a title she uses to this day when introducing herself to VCs.
The birth of Enigma
In the spring of 2011, with a foundation of data to build upon, Marc (now back in New York full time) and Hicham incorporate Enigma Technologies.
To bootstrap the company, Marc and Hicham took on a number of odd jobs. By December, they had enough capital to support the move to Enigma’s first official office — 100 square feet of coworking space at 95 Morton Street. With the first alpha version of the portal and ingestion stack now complete, Marc and Hicham were publicly sharing it and soliciting feedback from their network.
In early 2012, a college friend introduced Hicham to Colbeck Capital, Enigma’s first angel investor. In a matter of weeks, Enigma gathered enough interest to syndicate a seed round of $815,000 from friends, family, and institutional investors.
With a firm thesis, a prototype, and money in their pocket, Hicham and Marc were on the path to finding truth in data.
Today, leading Fortune 500 companies across industries rely on Enigma to streamline operations and connect datasets — work that will revolutionize how organizations access and apply data. Enigma is creating a future where once-disparate datasets are now linked through quality metadata to drive intelligent decision-making at scale.
Ready to tackle some big challenges with the Enigma team? We’re hiring.