For Derek Peterson ’88, there’s no puzzle that can’t be solved.
With time and thought, every problem has a solution. It’s this way of thinking that led Derek, CEO and Founder of Soter Technologies, to create his Digital Fly product line, which includes a transformative innovation that detects and prevents bullying in public schools worldwide. Thanks in part to the heavy impact of this product, Derek’s work has gained global attention, making him and his work the subject of features on ABC’s Good Morning America, Fox 5 New York, and numerous media outlets throughout the country and around the world.
Today, Derek’s work extends to many industries. He has developed Public Computer Management Systems for libraries and universities, tax software for accounting firms, security products for airlines and more. Still, no matter how far Derek’s success takes him, he remains connected to Stony Brook University, where he earned his BS in Computer Science. As a repeat sponsor and judge of Stony Brook’s “Wolfie Tank,” a student competition based on ABC’s Shark Tank, he is committed to fostering the entrepreneurial spirits of students who aspire to follow in his footsteps.
What was your first big idea?
During the time I was an “IT guy” working for Stony Brook, the spouse of one of the deans worked in a local library that was struggling to manage its technology and data. This was in 1988 when all the computers were MS-DOS and before Windows came out. When Windows was released, it was brand new to everybody. I wrote a software package called Cybraryn to manage the computers for local community libraries. It was fantastic and it had all-inclusive security management solutions for the libraries. It even managed printings.
What inspired you to take the leap to create your own company?
I am always examining problems and developing solutions. I listen to find where problems exist, and look at technology and software for the answers. Seeing and examining problems relating to bullying and cyberbullying led to developing a system and a service that allows schools to better understand social media issues in their communities. With this solution came many other ideas and this lead to the creation of the Digital Fly line of school safety and security products. The company is now Soter Technologies and we provide services to the education market, businesses and the public sector.
The name Soter comes from the Greek god of protection. The company’s mission is to monitor the environment and provide protection to students and others. Protecting people is important to me, I see myself as a crusader in the fight against bullying. I was bullied in high school and know what it is like; now I am working to solve this problem and prevent kids from committing suicide or hurting themselves and others.
I am pleased that already we know of two cases where students’ suicides were prevented through the use of our technology.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s the message that I give to students at Wolfie Tank each year: never give up. There’s a solution to every problem, so keep trying. Some problems, like bullying and cyberbullying, are major issues in our nation. However, we have technology today that, when used creatively and effectively, can make a real difference. Thomas Edison experimented and failed hundreds of times on his way to inventing the light bulb. Entrepreneurs should learn from their mistakes and failures and move on. There are really no failures. Failures are just figuring out that the solution you tried did not work. Keep your energy level up and keep moving forward.
How has Stony Brook played a role in your journey?
I’m a graduate of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It was a very competitive environment, something that I liked because it pushed me to work harder. I was fortunate that I had many smart people and professors to interact with and learn from. This gave me a strong foundation for the start of my professional career in IT, software and product development. I am pleased to be actively involved with Stony Brook and look forward to being involved with projects, competitions and more in the years to come.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
There really are no typical days. I’m a very early riser – I usually get up at about 4 a.m. and work out for at least two hours each day. I’ve done multiple full and half Ironman (triathlon) competitions and marathons over the past 10 years, and I incorporate specific training into my regimen. I do have some quiet time before work, but when I jump into the day I go 120 percent. Being in technology, it means I’m constantly connected, working, meeting with people, speaking with media and developing new ideas for the company. We utilize an approach where anyone at any time can bring an idea to the table. We sit or stand around the central part of the office and offer solutions, challenges and ideas. This creates a lot of positive energy, and we do come up with fantastic ideas and solutions. It’s a very exciting time to be in the technology sector.
Later in the day, I focus on my volunteer work at my church or for the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, where I serve as treasurer. Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch is a safe haven for at-risk children and young people who are struggling with abuse, neglect, homelessness, addiction or are recently released from correctional facilities.
I also make time to spend with family and friends, and then later in the evening I will answer emails and plan out my day. I head to bed around 11:30 at night.
What does a typical day off look like for you?
Days off for me are rare. When I do get some down time, I will often be involved in some sort of athletic endeavor. I’m also a car buff and into automotive technology. I have a 1986 BMW E30 that I’ve modified, with an engine swap and a custom transmission.
What’s your next big move?
My long-term goal is growing my company, Soter Technologies to a billion-dollar technology powerhouse with suites of products for a variety of sectors. Currently, we are heavily in education as well as government and healthcare. Right now, the sky is the limit. We are growing very quickly to meet the needs and challenges that face schools and school administrators. My team is adapting to changing demographics and the way our society communicates. I remain focused and dedicated to fighting and preventing student bullying and suicide, which are hugely important issues to me personally.
We see our products that prevent bullying, cyber bullying and vaping being in hundreds, if not thousands of schools across the nation. We also have product and services that will help stop and manage sexual harassment and other issues in the workplace. These are major issues and our company is responding to them and offering solutions.