Later this year Britain’s first ever bootcamp set up to mentor cybersecurity entrepreneurs, HutZero, will throw open its doors to a select 20 participants through an intensive five-day course held in London.
Funded by the UK Government but run as a collaboration between cybersecurity accelerator Cyber London (CyLon) and the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) based at Queen’s University Belfast, the programme marks a small but radical departure from previous Government-backed initiatives that suggests a more interventionist model is now in play.
Eye-catchingly, anyone accepted on the course running from 12 to 16 September will have their travel and accommodation expenses paid so this is not a commercial cybersecurity 101 bootcamp of the sort that exist aplenty in places like Silicon Valley. That alone would mark it out but a second intriguing feature is that HutZero is open to all types of skills and not just engineering ones. This is not only for pure techies, something usually seen as a prerequisite for cybersecurity. The only qualifier is they must be oriented towards and interested in this sector in some way.
As the programme’s website puts it: “HutZero is about forming teams and crystallising ideas. If you learn fast and are interested in the cyber market, we welcome your application.”
But perhaps the most unfamiliar aspect of HutZero is simply its format, the bootcamp for lone entrepreneurs. Nobody has tried cybersecurity bootcamps in this form in the UK before but when Techword recently asked Cyber London’s co-founder Jonathan Luff to explain the scheme's raison d'être his enthusiasm was apparent.
“We felt the right approach to take was a shorter more intensive programme,” says Luff. This was not designed to be Cyber London but more of a “pre-accelerator,” serving individuals who were interested in cybersecurity but had not made connections with larger teams of people needed to start a company.
These could be talented engineers or entrepreneurs who are currently sitting in rooms staring at the wall, people with ambition but without the environment to take their ideas further. The way Luff styles HutZero makes it sound like a sort of talent dragnet.
“We will actively seek out technically able, inquisitive, entrepreneurial people wherever they might be not limiting ourselves to the usual suspects,” says Luff.
“Obviously we will be engaging university departments and early-stage but we are also interested reaching people in more established businesses or government who thought about starting a business but have gone in another direction.”
The programme will be made up of presentations from figures in the cybersecurity world as well as startup gurus, Luff promises. There will be plenty of sessions on the fundamentals of setting up a business as well as the disciplines of technical development.
HutZero: the UK's first cybersecurity bootcamp
After the intensive programme in September, participants will get a further three months of mentoring from CyLon and CSIT staff before meeting up for an alumni event on 1 December.
“We will see where they’ve got to, see what progress they’ve made to develop their ideas to a point to where they are ready to make a decision about starting a business and putting their ideas into practice.”
Where people might end up is hard to predict but the one possibility is that they would connect to a current or future company inside CyLon’s own advanced accelerator programme.
“The two interesting examples are the US and Israel, both with thriving cybersecurity sectors,” says Luff. “Israel is a tiny market but it has a well-established structure and a huge focus on this area for the purposes of its national defence and security. It has an extraordinary pipeline of talent that it explicitly develops.
“The UK sits between the two. There is a depth of talent and a sophisticated market but without the scale you have in the US or the structures you have in Israel.”
HutZero, the government hopes, will bridge that gap and was presumably picked it over of a number of rivals that bid to run the programme because it combines CSIT’s engineering nous with CyLon’s record as an accelerator that has housed and mentored cybersecurity stars such as SQR Systems, RipJar, and AimBrain.
“At the moment, accelerator programmes tend to be generic and are focused on teams of people with fully-fledged business ideas. There’s a mass of people out there with ideas, but nowhere to take them. This programme provides the first step,” commented CSIT’s director, Dr Godfrey Gaston in HutZero launch press release.
Everyone agrees that the UK needs more home-grown cybersecurity firms – just consuming what is produced elsewhere only gets local industries so far - but getting there is turning out to be more complex than imagined when the Government got involved in trying to kickstart the sector after 2010.
Accelerators are part of the solution as are universities which can mentor or spin out startups, but a lot more is needed. HutZero is perhaps an attempt to offer a new route that its founders hope could run on an indefinite basis if it is successful enough.
“Can we find 20 high-calibre candidates – I’m absolutely certain we can,” says Luff, upbeat about what is effectively a grand experiment that puts its faith in untapped potential. “The idea is that we are part of a shift in security.”
Anyone who believes they meet the bill should contact the HutZero team which will carry out interviews on 27 and 28 July.