“Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that, I learn from him.” If you can excuse the automatic gender assumption, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson ring true for all of us, not least those of us who are labelled as ‘experts’ within the cyber industry.
I may have worked in cyber since I left university, from fifteen years spent at GCHQ to my current role as Head of Cyber Security for a critical piece of the UK’s internet infrastructure, but I always have more to learn.
An opportunity to do just that has become available via Nominet’s partnership with CyLon – Europe’s first cyber security accelerator that’s dedicated to supporting innovative start-ups to ensure the pipeline of cyber talent doesn’t run dry.
Despite running for just three years, CyLon has already helped 53 cyber security start-ups via its Cohort scheme. Latest figures show that 95% of those companies are still in existence – an impressive and uncommon proportion in the world of entrepreneurs as latest figures show that only 53.7% of UK start-ups survive for three years.
As we recognise that investment in cyber skills and the talent pipeline are necessary for a vibrant digital future, Nominet will work with CyLon until the end of 2020. We are currently involved with Cohort 7, a group of eight start-ups from all over the world who are housed in a London office for 13 weeks of intensive training, mentoring and support to help them prepare for growth and sustainability.
This is not merely a partnership on paper. Many Nominet staff are actively involved with Cohort 7, running workshops to share information and improve skills in everything from marketing and accounts to HR and refining the all-important investor pitch. The process has reminded all of us about the myriad of skills entrepreneurs need to help develop their great idea into a viable business.
These small companies – usually two or three staff – have great technical capabilities and have created products or services to address market need, but are not necessarily well-versed in the softer or administrative skills that a business needs to succeed. Of all the skills required, selling the idea is one of the most crucial: without interest and investment, start-ups will not survive.
Hearing ‘the sell’ is one of my functions as a mentor on the 13-week programme. I‘ve been listening to elevator pitches and posing tough questions to challenge and help refine the thinking – and the delivery – to help cut through all the noise in the real world. I know what I would ask when considering buying a cybersecurity product, so I help make sure the Cohort members are able to meet the rigorous demands and questions of potential customers.
I’m learning just how much storytelling is a core aspect of progress and survival, regardless of how great your product is. Customers and investors like to know the why, how and when of a company before they will consider investing or buying in. They also want to understand relevance and applicability. ‘Why does it matter to me?’, and ‘What problem of mine are you solving?’ have become the critical questions to answer, and sharing stories is an accessible way for everyone to understand a complex and sometimes worrying topic.
Despite being the supposed ‘expert’ in the room, I have found my time spent with Cohort 7 hugely rewarding – they have much to teach me too. I am inspired and uplifted by their enthusiasm and the commitment to helping the industry and solving problems, that runs deep in their business ideas and ambitions. Amid the doom and gloom from media reports and society’s concerns about online safety and security, it is refreshing to engage with such positivity and proactivity.
As anyone who works in cyber knows, we can only keep pace with cyber criminals if we keep learning. Innovative start-ups with new and interesting ideas will be part of the long-term solution to the endless challenges of cyber security, meeting difficulties with fresh answers. Investment in such innovative and eager talent will help to ensure all cyber security provisions are robust and evolutionary, keeping citizens, infrastructure and data safe, no matter what lies ahead.
Read more about CyLon and Cohort 7 on their website.