Why We Must Work Together to Support Our Cyber Start-ups

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Bernard Parsons

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It’s no secret that life is tough for a start-up company, and although figures on survival rates have varied over the years, some research has suggested that as many as 90 per cent of start-ups are destined to fail. More recently, research from SME advisors Ormsby Street reported four in ten UK SMEs don’t make it beyond their fifth year.

Having a steady supply of new businesses is essential for our economy, especially for the technology sector, which is both increasingly important for the UK’s GDP, but also particularly reliant on innovation and new ideas. When it comes to cyber security start-ups however, we go beyond the creation of new services and the support of the economy, and into the realm of protecting the UK itself from attack.

Unlike any other industry, we also cannot rely on importing technology and services from abroad when it comes to national security. It is vital we have our own homegrown cyber security specialists to provide the UK’s defence capabilities.

It’s easy to fall into hyperbole when discussing cyber threats, but the facts speak for themselves. As recently stated by UK Chancellor Phillip Hammond, UK security services detected 188 high level cyber attacks in just three months. 34,550 potential attacks against governmental departments and members of the public were also thwarted over six months – an astonishing 200 cases every day. The key to fighting the threats arrayed against us is a strong security community that is regularly bolstered by fresh entrepreneurs armed with pioneering new ideas.

The government has made several commitments to increasing its focus on cyber security in recent months, most notably the National Cyber Security Strategy announced in November 2016, which was underpinned with an investment of £1.9bn. The new strategy has many far-reaching plans for our national security, but it was the continued pledge to supporting our security start-ups that I found to be the most encouraging aspect.

Supporting the start-up journey

Ground-breaking new start-ups don’t simply appear overnight of course, and this support needs to extend all the way back into education and research. Many start-ups in the security sector are born out of research projects devised during university, and this is an area the government has wisely focused on with the CyberInvest scheme. The programme, of which Becrypt is a member, aims to promote investment into cyber security research at UK universities, as well as establishing a community that brings together industry, government and academia.

CyberInvest also demonstrates that we cannot simply throw government funds at cyber security and hope for the best – to succeed we need the support and experience of the existing security community.

One of the riskiest and most challenging periods for these would-be entrepreneurs is transitioning their ideas from a pet project into a real, viable business that can sustain itself and become profitable. There is a world of difference between coming up with an idea and actually running a business, and once again established security vendors can play an important role here by mentoring university leavers and lending their experience.

Working together

I believe that all companies in the industry can play a role when it comes to supporting the future of the industry. There are numerous schemes available to help businesses reach out to universities and connect with graduates, particularly for those based in London. For those companies that don’t have any existing schemes nearby, I would suggest any company looking for a way to contribute by contacting their local universities and colleges to see what they can do.

Larger companies are of course able to dedicate more time, money, and expertise into this kind of activity, but SMEs can play a valuable role as well, taking one or two graduates under their wings, or supporting other cyber community events such as hackathons. Mentoring and work experience in particular can also be a valuable source for a cyber company searching for new talent.

Going further back down the career path, Becrypt is a member of the recently launched government initiative CyberFirst, which aims to provide financial support, training and work experience for students and graduates. The scheme is creating a more positive image of the industry and encouraging 14-18-year-olds to consider a career in the field. 

Like many other industries, information security has been suffering from a skills gap for several years now. Recent research from job site Indeed recently found the UK to have one of the most severe cyber skills gaps in the world, second only to Israel. The research found the number of people searching for cyber roles was just 31.6 per cent of the number of job postings, meaning there were three times as many jobs available as workers to fill them.

The particular blend of skill and experience required by the industry means this crisis can only be effectively combated by catching the interest of young people and steering them towards the field as early as possible – which is exactly the aim of CyberFirst. This will help ensure that we not only have a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, but other much-needed experts in the security industry.

With both the number and severity of cyber attacks only set to increase over the next few years, it is essential we do everything we can to support the next wave of homegrown cyber entrepreneurs, innovators and practitioners that will be responsible for our national security. The Government has a huge role to play through funding, projects, and bodies such as the National Cyber Security Centre, but the cyber security industry must also play its part. I believe we all have a duty to work together to ensure this country continues to have the defence capabilities it needs to keep its citizens safe.

About the author: Bernard Parsons, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Becrypt, is a technology expert with more than 25 years of experience spanning robotics, embedded systems and telecommunications as well as high-end security technology. Working closely with UK Government, Bernard is passionate about supporting the UK’s sovereign defence capabilities and its position as a global leader in cyber security.

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