Around 50,000 people are employed in the United Kingdom’s cyber security sector. This industry is growing. The total number of companies that operate in the field has increased 21% from 2019 to 2020 to 1,483.
It’s a buoyant sector. But is there enough room for new companies to start and grow in this market, which is likely more than adequately serviced by established companies and early-stage startups? Saj Huq, the Director of Innovation at Plexal, said that while the cyber security industry may seem “noisy” because of the many solutions and players competing for your attention, there are still some gaps that need filling. Innovation is still necessary.
Plexal, a co-working space that also acts as an innovation hub, has announced the launch of Britain’s “largest” cybersecurity accelerator. Cyber Runway, which aims to support 160 companies by April 2022, is a new initiative. Plexal is the coordinator of the accelerator. It combines three programs – Cyber 101, Hut Zero, and Cyber Accelerator into one operation.
However, does the U.K. need another cyber accelerator? A huge one. Saj Huq was my interviewee, and I wanted to learn more about the project and its expected outcomes.
Huq says that this sector is thriving and has been helped by federal funding and a national cybersecurity strategy. Huq says that there is an ongoing demand. “For one, there’s a chance to be a leader in the world. It is also necessary to ensure national security.”
This program, which Deloitte, CyLon, and CSIT also offer, is meant to help entrepreneurs find suitable solutions to get their products on the market.
A great variety
All good and well. All of this is normal for any accelerator. Cyber Runway is unique in its ability to attract more founders to a sector that can be intimidating to outsiders.
Huq said, “It is difficult to break into this industry.” It is seen as difficult to access.”
Because cybersecurity is dependent, to a large extent, on cutting-edge tech, the top cybersecurity companies include software and hardware professionals and veterans of influential organizations, intelligence services, and the military. These are people with the experience and backgrounds that will impress potential customers.
Huq says that security can also be considered metropolitan activity. This is because it is done in large clusters, such as London’s technology city. It’s a mistake. There are many cyber hubs located far from the capital, including Manchester and Cheltenham. Nineteen universities have been designated as centers of excellence.
Huq states, “But innovation takes money, and V.C.s aren’t always connected in the regions.” Therefore, the accelerator serves one purpose: to foster connections between companies from across the U.K. and London-based venture capitalists.
There is also an inclusion dimension. Cyber Runway seeks to help entrepreneurs who might otherwise be disqualified from the sector.
To this end, the accelerator was designed to allow people with good ideas to create their own companies.
Huq mentions as an example the role of women in the sector to support this last point. He states that a more significant percentage of women working in cyber security than in other tech areas. But they are not always founders. They might be in positions such as Chief Marketing Officer. We want to encourage more women entrepreneurs.”
Diversity and inclusion are, therefore, key targets. The accelerator will have 30% female-led businesses in its cohort and 15% BAME founders.
Launch Grow and Scale.
The runway is divided into three categories. The first includes businesses at the launch stage; the second comprises those who are growing and making money, and the third contains scaling companies.
Huq said, “At the Launch stage, the focus will be on ideation and encouraging other entrepreneurs to get into the sector.” Companies at the Grow stage will have their minimum viable products, and we’ll help them raise capital. Scale companies will receive assistance with national and global growth, finding new markets, planning for the long-term, and financial planning.
Although each component may have different companies, Huq stressed that all members could be moved around within the more extensive program.
Cyber Runway won’t take equity, but it will introduce co-founders to V.C.s/angels within the ecosystem. Advice and mentorship will be provided through regional hubs throughout the country. Businesses won’t have to relocate to London to take advantage. Video conferencing will be a crucial component in the post-pandemic era.
Security is cybersecurity. It requires the involvement of technologists who can understand both the software and hardware and the evolving nature of security threats. You could argue that this sector is difficult to penetrate. Huq sees a chance to challenge preconceptions. “The language surrounding cyber is very militaristic. It all revolves around fear, threat, and threat. However, it can also be about excitement as well as transformation.
As he sees, there’s room for people with new skills and who see problems in a completely different way.