CyberDen Dragons aren’t the only challenge for cyber security academics looking to spin out

Posted on: 25/06/2021

Early support is essential to nurture the vital cyber security pipeline.

Facing three Dragons in the CyberDen at CYBERUK 2021, the UK government’s flagship cyber security event, were seven CyberASAP Alumni projects. Selected for their promising cyber security innovations, each one was hoping their pitch would win over the Dragons and secure them additional support from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to further develop their Proofs of Concept

A CyberASAP project, a maritime cyber security risk assessment tool,  MaCRA, won. Another, Seclea – an innovative SaaS platform for AI risk management – was one of just three to receive a Notable Mention from the Dragons.

Seclea participated in Year 3 of CyberASAP, a unique pre-seed accelerator programme cited as a case study in the UK Government’s R&D Roadmap 2020. Delivered by KTN in partnership with Innovate UK (and funded by the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) the programme is unique in providing a comprehensive package of support to help academics develop the skills necessary to commercialise their cyber security research.

That journey from academic lab to start up company can be fraught with challenges. Raja Naeem Akram from Seclea summarised the value of early support:

CyberASAP nurtured us when we were most vulnerable. The earliest stage of the research for a spinout company is where most ideas get ignored. CyberASAP’s early support kept us on track and they have played a significant role in our success. For Seclea to get the Notable Mention is really encouraging – especially at this early stage of our start-up journey. It gives us the confidence and motivation to improve and do more.”

Emma Fadlon, a co-Director of CyberASAP at KTN, is quick to underline the importance of intervention at the very first stages of a project’s life.

The skills needed to develop research ideas in an academic setting are quite different to those required to take a product or service to market. 

Whilst we can’t help overcome common hurdles encountered by budding entrepreneurs when spinning out of universities (such as negotiating IP and valuations), we at KTN can provide academic teams with the tools and skills necessary to better understand and succeed in their commercialisation journey. 

That journey can lead to a variety of outcomes: we know that starting up a company isn’t right for all academics; and, as a result of CyberASAP, many of our Alumni make valuable contributions to the cyber security pipeline via other means. But key to any successful commercial outcome is the ability to identify, communicate and quantify the value of a strong idea. That’s where CyberASAP can really make a difference.”

KTN’s Emma Fadlon and Robin Kennedy helped scope CyberASAP, which takes projects through the early stages of developing a robust Value Proposition and leads right through to creating a Proof of Concept presented to a commercial audience at a Demo Day.

As well as sharing their own expertise in both cyber security and early stage investment and startups, the CyberASAP team draws on other KTN specialists and tools focused on developing innovation. KTN uses its external expert network too, providing a thorough and varied range of interventions for the academic teams, including challenges such as:

  • Understanding and negotiating IP – with mentors from specialist IP legal firm, Keltie LLP and Kemp Little (now Deloitte)
  • Interactive Sales Training – with mentors from Crossword Cybersecurity
  • Preparing to Pitch – with mentors from media training specialist, Alfi Media
  • PR & Marketing – with mentors from specialist Cyber PR company, Eskenzi PR.

As one Alumni described his experience “CyberASAP takes you out of your comfort zone”.

Other CyberASAP Alumni thriving outside their comfort zones and shortlisted to appear in the Cyber Den at CYBERUK were:

Botprobe (Year 1 graduate – spun out from Anglia Ruskin University in 2017)

SPYDERISK (Year 3 graduate, currently spinning out from University of Southampton)

Verifiable Credentials  (Year 4 graduate, just acquired by Crossword Cybersecurity)

CyberMind (Year 4 graduate, spun out from Wolverhampton University in 2021)

Lupovis (Year 4 graduate, recently spun out from Strathclyde University)

MemCrypt (Year 4 graduate, spun out from Edinburgh Napier University in 2021).

Since the programme started in 2017, it has selected more than 100 university teams from right across the UK to participate and has led to the creation of 21 spin out companies; 2 acquisitions (by Google and Crossword Cyber Security); a variety of open source innovation; and graduating projects have leveraged more than £14 million in further investment through grants and equity investment.


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