Some cyber startups were born to help founders open up specific markets and solve specific challenges such as improving passwords and preventing disinformation. Others are product driven and rooted in deep scientific research.
Whatever the origin story, if the solution is not built in a vacuum, the solution will inevitably be powerful.
Cyber innovators need to be closer to public and private sector organizations that understand real-world risks. And you need to make a product that meets the needs of the market.
There are several reasons why achieving close product and market fit is particularly difficult in cyber. First, the most innovative solutions tend to utilize deep technology and involve long R & D cycles. It can take years for the product team to raise their heads and get the company ready to start thinking about their customers.
The data show that these early stages of cyber startups and spinouts are struggling to attract investment. Investment is instead being focused on more mature companies. They are developing technologies to solve challenges that the industry is not even aware of what they need, but investors are having a hard time figuring out who will buy the product.
Investors want some indicators, proof points, and market validation that cyber innovators working on cutting-edge cases of technology can’t offer early on. This scenario is characteristic of startups that use any deep technology, especially in cyber.
Second, the vast amount of innovation taking place in cyber is based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. But what are these algorithms learning from, and how relevant are the data if they are not from the real world? And how does sophisticated AI, which seems to work in a mysterious way, fit into organizations that are increasingly adopting a zero-trust security stance? Tomorrow’s generation of AI-centric cyber products can have a hard time finding a place in the market if they remain ambiguous.
The cybersecurity sector itself is also a mystery. CISOs and governments are, of course, wary of what they can reveal about the exact nature of security vulnerabilities. This makes it difficult for startups to understand where the market is heading and where the innovation gap is.
Build the cyber solution you really need
If you can immerse your startup in the world of buyers, we encourage you to create more useful security solutions. Early-stage companies can iterate while building core technology, but more mature product teams can do a huge amount of piloting in sensitive, real-life scenarios. You can learn and test assumptions.
While the industry can and should play a role, companies tend to be interested in buying plug-and-play low-tech security products to prevent crises and comply with the law. True innovation is a daunting task, requiring organizations to work on processes across departments and take some risk.
This is where government-led innovation can be very powerful. The UK Government has a macro view of security challenges and is very motivated to find solutions. It is responsible for the country’s economic interests and helps increase the level of cybersecurity resilience between large and small businesses.
We also understand the role of cyber in protecting critical national infrastructure and national security, from schools to food supply chains.
The National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) also recognizes the role that cyber startups can play. That’s why we recently partnered with Plexal to launch the latest accelerator. NCSC for Startups matches startups to specific challenges that really need to inject innovation.
Starting in 2021, we will hire startups at various stages of growth to develop, adapt, or pilot a solution. Experts within NCSC and GCHQ are excited and motivated to work with startups more closely than ever before. They lend their experience and internal knowledge to support startups.
What’s also very exciting about this initiative is that it invites tech startups from outside the traditional wall to help them adapt their solutions to address specific security challenges. By paying this focused attention to these innovations, we have the opportunity to turn existing technologies into entirely new use cases and unleash new approaches. There may be potential for tech startups, but it can be difficult to do this alone.
After all, market collaboration is the biggest growth hack for cyber startups, and it also focuses innovation on the most pressing threats that endanger the economy and online security. You don’t have to innovate alone.
Plexal is accepting applications for NCSC for Startups and plans to onboard startups next year.For more information, please apply at complexal.com / ncsc-for-startups
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