CyberASAP Alumni Insights: “Don’t worry about people stealing your idea!”
We interview Lupovis founder, Xavier Bellekens, who participated in CyberASAP, the Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme in 2020/21
As part of our Alumni Insights Series, drawing insights from academics looking to commercialise their research via CyberASAP, we interview Lupovis’ founder, Xavier Bellekens, who participated in the programme in 2020/21.
Lupovis is an AI-based deception solution that deploys active decoys, transforming a network “from a flock of sheep to a pack of wolves, where the hunter becomes the hunted”.
The company has recently secured a pre-seed investment of over €700k, as reported in EU-Startups.
What were your motivations for commercialising your research?
I was approached by an organisation who needed help to detect unknown breaches. That’s where the research started, and then when we trialled Lupovis, we realised it solved a problem that numerous people had; that’s when we thought we could create something useful; something with a value.
But we didn’t have a plan to commercialise the idea until the university’s commercialisation officer told us about CyberASAP. We filed an Invention Disclosure with the University who also recommended the programme. I could see how the programme delivered a tangible outcome so I signed up with my colleagues and co-founders, who’d done two spin outs before.
What challenges did you think you might face in doing this?
My colleague had already had to confront different challenges with previous experiences of spinning out which meant he was well placed to navigate the “university maze”. He had a lot of information about the process and had a coherent plan. And this was validated by the framework of CyberASAP.
I felt the first challenges would be around the freedom to operate; finding a customer, and a valid, commercialisable product.
What is the current status of your project?
Things are pretty positive and exciting: We have spun out; we are finalising an investment; we’re part of a high growth startup selection for Scottish Enterprise and we’re about to make our first sale.
Tell us a bit about the challenges you have faced and how you have overcome them?
Negotiations with Venture Capital companies are very complex, time-consuming and take a lot of discussion and experience – there are many thorny issues around IP; licensing; royalties; negotiating the share to the university.
Finding the right, experienced voices to support you really makes a difference. And that means you have to talk to a lot of people! We spoke to so many before we found the right people to work with and form our board.
Other challenges? My suspicion is that the first customer might be the easy bit, the second customer might be harder as that requires consistency!
How would you summarise the impact of CyberASAP?
Without CyberASAP we wouldn’t have a company at all.
The programme provided us with dedicated time to develop good practices to start a business, and you learn how to go from a simple idea to something that has value. Via the programme, you learn how to talk to people, how to profile customers.
You end up with a package of knowledge, skills and processes and a new way of thinking. You learn not to talk about the tech but to talk about the benefits of the tech. That’s a changed mindset.
What were the most valuable aspects of CyberASAP? And the most challenging?
For me, the most valuable thing was creating the pitch. Creating the customisable slide deck on CyberASAP has been incredibly helpful in our discussions with VCs – we tailor each one and it’s been a vital tool. It helped us in meetings with VCs to deliver something consistent; a really good framework that you can refine. And this allowed us to raise the money.
A lot of academics found the sales training uncomfortable – but for me, it was my favourite bit of the course!
What are your future support needs and how are you addressing these?
I have no expertise in leading a company though I do have excellent support from my board. But running a company is a different thing from leading a research department. So I feel that my management support needs – which will change as the business grows – are the key issue.
I’ve contacted unicorns and had lots of conversations with them to understand more about the challenges ahead. People are generally very generous with their time and advice.
What advice would you give fellow academics considering commercialising their research?
Spinning out from a university is really complex. Have a conversation very early with the TTO and try to involve someone who has spun out from a University.
Those early conversations and agreements with the university are crucial – you don’t want to find further down the track that what you’ve agreed with the university makes it impossible to secure VC/Angel funding.
Universities need to understand that once you spin out, you still have nothing – so if they ask for too much it can really hinder progression and can even be a complete barrier to commercialisation – and that benefits no one.
What are the key lessons you’ve learned from the process of commercialisation?
- Your University is there to support you. Talk to the TTO office as soon as possible.
- Don’t take CyberASAP lightly if you’re looking to spin out. Everything on the programme is valuable.
- Go and talk to people about what you’re doing, don’t worry about people stealing the idea all feedback is useful, especially negative!
We’ve had great support from the University. And we’ve had awesome support from the CyberASAP team, they have always responded and gone beyond our expectations.
“Xavier’s story already has many of the key elements which we have seen in other successful CyberASAP projects.
The lightbulb moment for me is the realisation that “it solved a problem that lots of people had”. While there is clearly a LOT of work to progress an idea beyond this stage, nevertheless this feels like a pivotal moment when an idea has a life of its own and becomes more than a piece of academic research.
Having someone on the team with previous experience of the challenges of spinning out and navigating a “university system” is clearly highly beneficial and the Lupovis story confirms this.
Finally, during his CyberASAP journey, Xavier – like all CyberASAP participants – had to come up with a one-line description of his project. Xavier’s was fantastic: Lupovis – Turning your network from a flock of sheep to a pack of wolves”. Anything you can do to succinctly and memorably capture the essence of your idea is SO valuable, particularly at an early stage when you and your idea are competing for attention.”
CyberASAP (Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme) is the only pre-seed accelerator programme in the cyber security ecosystem which provides expertise, knowledge and support to convert academic research into commercial products and services
CyberASAP is funded by the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and KTN.
To join the conversation, follow us on Twitter & LinkedIn. If you’re an academic, University Technology Transfer Officer, potential investor, commercial collaborator, entrepreneur or business person and would like to support the programme or attend any of our events, get in touch here.
A positive partnership between academics and Technology Transfer Offices would lead to much better outcomes
We talk to Technology and Knowledge Transfer Manager, Fay Kassibawi, of Royal Holloway University of London, about creating an effective commercialisation pathway.
CyberASAP Report: Making an Impact in Cyber Security
With 21 companies formed and over £16m in further funding raised by its graduates, the Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme (CyberASAP) is delivering positive outcomes for the cyber security sector. Our new report shows how.