Expanding opportunities in Cyber

Posted on: 23/02/2022

Funding competition for CyberASAP 2022/23 closes 2 March.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway: Just take the first step”. 

Dr Andrea Cullen, Co Founder, CAPSLOCK

“CyberASAP was our catalyst. It was a pivotal moment in turning a pipedream into something that seemed possible.”

Lorna Armitage, Co Founder, CAPSLOCK.

To coincide with the funding competition for CyberASAP 2022/23, we talk to the female co-founders of groundbreaking edtech company, CAPSLOCK, who participated in Phase 1 of the programme in 2018/19; and to Innovate UK KTN’s CoDirector of CyberASAP, Emma Fadlon, about the challenges and opportunities for underrepresented groups in tech.

Providing online learning to reskill individuals as cyber security professionals, CAPSLOCK was voted 2021’s most innovative cyber security start-up by TechUK & government; and its graduates have been hired by household names including BBC, ITV, BAE, HSBC, Boohoo and PwC.

The company welcomed its first cohort of adult learners in March 2021 and – as of November 2021 – already had 172 learners enrolled (in terms of cyber security enrolments, that is more students than any UK university has achieved, according to CAPSLOCK).

Its Co-Founder trio is made up of Dr Andrea Cullen, Lorna Armitage and Jonathan Slater. In November CAPSLOCK raised £1.04m at pre-seed, one of the largest pre-seed rounds in the UK during 2021.

So, things are looking rosy but, as Lorna says,

I honestly don’t think that we’d have got the investment we’ve just raised if we hadn’t had a man on our board. 

When we were out talking to potential investors they really liked the academic credentials that Andrea and I brought to the table…But when it came to discussing financial, investment and business strategy the conversation was always directed to our male Co-Founder, Jonathan”.

Misogyny in meetings

Andrea goes on to talk about how, being slightly incredulous at the extent of the misogyny they experienced, they decided to test whether they had an exaggerated sense of it:

We wondered if we were imagining that all the business and financial conversations were being directed at our male colleague, so we decided to measure the extent to which this was happening. You can read more about our findings here, but I’ll give you one chilling tally: across 18 of our most recent meetings with external attendees I was addressed 11 times, Lorna 16 times; while Jonathan’s name was used 117 times in total… and counting!”

Challenging and overcoming this kind of inequality isn’t the only way in which CAPSLOCK distinguishes itself. By adopting a disruptive financial model for the edtech sector, (learners pay nothing until they have graduated from the course and are earning more than £27K), CAPSLOCK aims to attract a truly diverse mix of learners: so far Alumni include professional dancers, chefs, military veterans, accountants and other career changers, and CAPSLOCK is committed to providing opportunities for people of all genders, ethnic backgrounds, walks of life and types of neurodiversity.

Confidence is key – and programmes like CyberASAP can be game-changing

And, whilst CAPSLOCK looks set for continued success, Lorna and Andrea are quick to acknowledge the role of CyberASAP in their growth:

“…it acted as the catalyst for everything that has followed. The skills, confidence, support and experience of being on the programme were game-changing for us and hugely valuable”.

Over to Emma Fadlon, who co-leads the CyberASAP programme with Robin Kennedy at Innovate UK KTN, where diversity and inclusion are also key priorities.

Lorna and Andrea’s experience, outlined more fully here, highlights many of the reasons why female entrepreneurs are underrepresented in the UK and sadly, their experience is common across all technology sectors. 

The good news is that it is something government departments such as DCMS and Innovate UK [funder and co-delivery partner of CyberASAP respectively] are aware of, and have been putting programmes and interventions into place to try to address this. 

Investors and financial institutions are also aware of the conscious and unconscious bias that creeps in and they are working to address this. I have seen good progress in both internal and external processes across a number of organisations, but we still have a long way to go.

The annual Investing in Women Code report highlights the progress and barriers since launch in 2019. 

The second key issue identified by Lorna and Andrea is around having the confidence to take the first step. All academics have invested heavily in their careers, developing their research and technical skills and depth of their knowledge base. This is on top of delivering leading-edge training and support to the next generation of cyber professionals. It is hard to put time aside to explore the application of all that knowledge to a commercial setting, let alone go out there and validate it, raise finance and learn all the basic commercial skills. 

The team at CyberASAP have all had first-hand experience of these challenges and brought their personal and professional experiences into the design of the programme. It is great to hear that – though the CAPSLOCK team was unable to participate across the whole programme – the tools, resources and contacts were, and still are, helpful in their start-up and scale-up journey.” 

You can read about CAPSLOCK’s commercialisation journey, as well as many other of our CyberASAP Alumni, in our Case Study booklet here.

Academics – participate in CyberASAP 2022/23!

If you are an academic with a cyber idea you are interested in commercialising, why not apply to CyberASAP 2022/23? The funding competition is now open and closes on Wednesday March 2nd. More information can be found here

CyberASAP provides comprehensive commercialisation support to UK academic teams in cyber. Now in its fifth year, the current programme reaches its climax at Demo Day on 17 February where our final 10 teams will be presenting their pitches and Proofs of Concept to industry. Want to attend? Find out more and register here.

CyberASAP is funded by the UK Government Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and Innovate UK KTN.

If you would like to be kept up to date with the programme or be involved in supporting the programme in any way please provide your details here.

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The only pre-seed accelerator programme in the cybersecurity ecosystem, CyberASAP (Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme) plays a unique and vital role in supporting cyber security innovation and commercialisation.


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