GCHQ Cyber Accelerator doubles down for second intake

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A cyber security accelerator with links to the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency is doubling down for a second program that’s larger and longer than the inaugural bootcamp which kicked off in January.

The second cohort, announced today, will go through a nine month program vs three. There’s also more of them: Nine startups vs seven. And more cash on the table for selected teams, with £25,000 apiece vs the original £5k grant.

Startups in the first cohort were not required to give up any equity to participate, with neither GCHQ nor Wayra investing at that point. We’ve asked whether that situation has changed for the second batch of teams now that the program has been expanded and will update this story with any response. Update: No change, but see below for a quick Q&A with a spokesman for the accelerator.

The expanded program will offer selected teams access to technological and security expertise from GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre and Telefónica, which is the partner organization running the accelerator program (under its Wayra UK bootcamp banner), as well as the usual mix of mentoring, business services and office space.

The nine startups selected for the program play in a wide range of areas, from age verification online, to security skills, to blockchain cybercrime to IoT (in)security.

They are:

  • Cybershield detects phishing and spear phishing, and alerts employees before they mistakenly act on deceptive emails 
  • Elliptic detects and investigates cybercrime involving crypto-currencies, enabling the company to identify illicit blockchain activity and provide intelligence to financial institutions and law enforcement agencies
  • ExactTrak supplies embedded technology that protects data and devices, giving the user visibility and control even when the devices are turned off
  • Intruder provides a proactive security monitoring platform for Internet-facing systems and businesses, detecting system weaknesses before hackers do
  • Ioetec provides a plug-and-play cloud service solution to connect Internet of Things devices with end-to-end authenticated, encrypted security
  • RazorSecure provides advanced intrusion and anomaly detection for aviation, rail and automotive sectors
  • Secure Code Warrior has built a hands-on, gamified Software-as-a-Service learning platform to help developers write secure code
  • Trust Elevate solves the problem of age verification and parental consent for young adults and children in online transactions
  • Warden helps businesses protect their users from hacks in real time by monitoring for suspicious activity 

For cyber security startups joining the program it’s proximity to the UK’s domestic spy agency and the chance to impress spooks — and potentially tap into a chunk of the £165 million ($250M) Defence and Cyber Innovation Fund announced by the government two years ago — that is surely the biggest draw here.

The government said the aim of the fund was to widen procurement for security technologies via investing in cyber security and defense startups. It has been said to be “loosely inspired” by In-Q-Tel — aka the CIA’s VC arm.

parliamentary question to the UK secretary of state for defense last month, asking how much of the money had been allocated so far and for what purposes, suggests around £10M per year apiece is being made available for defense and cyber security related support — including investing in startups.

“£10 million out of the £155 million is available in this financial year to the Defence Innovation Fund, to support innovative procurement across Defence. The Fund is harnessing the best ideas from inside and outside of Defence through activities such as themed competitions and the Open Call for Innovation, delivered using the Defence and Security Accelerator,” said Harriett Baldwin, responding to the parliamentary question.

“The government also allocated £10 million to establish a Cyber Innovation Fund. This supports the UK’s national security requirements by providing innovative start-ups with financial and procurement support,” she added.

The GCHQ Cyber Accelerator is part of a wider £1.9 billion investment aimed at significantly transforming the UK’s cyber security capabilities via a national strategy.

Q&A

TC: It’s a big jump from three months to a nine month program. Was three months judged to be just too short?
Spokesman: After the successful first phase of the program, we believe we can develop the start-ups even further via a longer program, ensuring the companies gain maximum advantage of this opportunity.

TC: Where is the funding coming from? Is this all UK government money?
Spokesman: The Accelerator is funded through the National Cyber Security Program, delivered through the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the NCSC. Wayra UK and Telefónica provide additional funding support and activities to further increase the benefit for the cohort.

TC: Where are the teams from? Presumably not all from the UK?
Spokesman: All of the companies are UK-registered companies. The founders include British, Spanish, Venezuelan and Irish nationals, and we received applications from all around the world.

One of the requirements is that they be UK-registered in order to grow the UK cyber ecosystem and support the NCSC’s mission to make the UK the safest place to live and work online.

TC: Can you also confirm whether Wayra (or GCHQ) is taking any equity in the teams this time around?
Spokesman: Neither GCHQ, the NCSC or DCMS will be taking equity in any of the companies. However, our accelerator partner (Wayra) and other companies supporting the start-ups are welcome to invest if they wish and the companies agree to this, but this is not a requirement for entry to the program.

Featured Image: GCHQ/Crown Copyright