How startups are accelerating the UK's position as a cyber-security leader
How startups are accelerating the UK's position as a cyber-security leader
For decades the cyber-security sector has been dominated by a handful of big-names - the players with all-pervasive advertising, with vast corporate sponsorships, the ones whose spokespeople rock up on the BBC whenever there's a big security breach story. Imperious though these firms may be in profile, market share and sales, is there evidence to suggest they've really been winning the cyber-battle or leading the way in cyber-innovation?

Technology, cyber-threats and business environments are all evolving rapidly. Large cyber-security businesses were once startups too, with solid bright ideas and the ability to execute at speed. But the success of these behemoths came at a price. Investors who once bought into a bold vision have become risk-averse shareholders, happy with steady growth. Entrepreneurial spirit has morphed into corporate bureaucracy, diminishing the burning candle of innovation in the process.

So where should we turn for inspiration? Everything outlined above points to a market that is ripe for disruption. Enter fresh-thinking startups. Startups tend to crop up with a laser focus on practical solutions to problems - they see their niche and move in quickly and efficiently, at a lower cost than larger players. Research, innovation and a forward-thinking outlook are built into their core. Products and services are developed with interoperability in mind because they need to break into existing markets at speed and cannot afford to be proprietary. Furthermore, startups are created around incentive structures - owner-driven or investor-led - that reward calculated risk and prioritise speed of go-to-market. 

So why on earth didn't we turn to startups to fix our cyber-insecurity years ago? While the major players in the industry will argue that startups are more likely to deliver a piecemeal approach to security, compared to the one-stop-shops they offer, it's eminently clear that today's startups are building products and services with greater openness and capacity for high-speed collaboration. 

Piecemeal is not inevitable; in fact the market leaders might plug a few holes in their armoury if they were more open to collaboration with the wider marketplace. Yes, a layered approach to cyber-security is more complex to procure and manage. However, it's ultimately the only way to reduce cyber-risks, protect end users, and improve business posture against cyber threats.

As the startup scene continues to proliferate (last year a record 660,000 companies were established on UK soil), the opportunities for raising cyber-security standards are clear. But succeeding as a startup is by no means easy. Support from UK government and industry such as through accelerators, can literally be the difference between survival and failing to make it, especially when the nature of today's cyber-threats demands the government take a more active role than ever.

Whether it's education and mentoring, branding and business development, or investor contacts and funding, the UK has taken great strides when it comes to nurturing its startup ecosystem. Take for example public.io, an accelerator championing startups at the intersection of tech, finance and the public sector, and Wayra UK's partnership with the GCHQ Cyber Accelerator, as well as grants awarded to cyber-security startups through the the government's Early Stage Accelerator Programme.

Alongside this, we're seeing the Government develop broader financial and infrastructural investment strategies such as the new £13.5M cyber innovation centre in London, the growth in the Cyber Security Export Strategy, and GCHQ's Manchester site recently announced at CyberUK. This is the necessary national investment in making the UK a hotbed for cyber-security innovation and the ongoing startup revolution.

But more must be done, specifically after the accelerator stage. The government must ensure they're promoting the investment ecosystem for the next stage of growth too, so that the very companies that have been nurtured and empowered at home aren't forced to move overseas to raise the money they need to make the most of those early opportunities. 

Startups and scale-ups are in the perfect position to disrupt the UK's cyber leadership and innovation, but government and industry commitment must accelerate if these startups are going to have the best chance of winning the cyber-battle when starting out of the blocks.

Contributed by Rahul Powar, CEO and co-founder, Red Sift.

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.