lassedesignen - Fotolia

Inside the UK’s first cyber security entrepreneur boot camp

This is the first in a series of articles charting the progress of participants from HutZero, a new cyber security entrepreneur acceleration programme run by Cyber London (CyLon) and the Centre for Security Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen’s University Belfast

Many people go to boot camps and accelerator programmes to learn new skills and meet lots of people. HutZero is no different. The programme is the UK’s first ever boot camp set up to mentor cyber security entrepreneurs, funded by the UK government to reduce cyber threats in the country while also developing its position in security innovation.

With this in mind, I arrived at the offices of our HutZero hosts, Winton, much like the new boy on his first day of work. I had a fairly concrete plan of what I wanted to achieve by the end of this week, such as people I wanted to meet and questions I wanted to ask, and I found this very useful in staying focused. The initial boot camp may only be one week long but it packs a lot in. By the fourth day, everything started to get a bit fuzzy!

One of the things I can safely say about HutZero is that you cannot avoid networking. As an introvert, I must confess to typically networking and meeting far fewer people than I ought to. HutZero, however, had other ideas. Thanks to pre-arranged and structured networking sessions, you meet everyone. I know many who detest and avoid such structured events, but I will admit to finding that it worked. I did get to know more about my fellow participants and their ideas.

By day three, we had covered lots of ground, such as lean structures and minimum viable products. Whilst you can get much of this from books, it’s good to have the concepts refreshed in an engaging format.

We also had the opportunity to meet with some founders from CyLon’s own accelerator programmes; people who were in our shoes a year ago but are now running their own businesses. From this, I must also add that there are still too few females in the cyber security industry, so if any women reading this have a valid cyber security idea, take this as your cue to apply.

These businesses were all at various stages and, while none of the founders claimed panoptical vision, they were all able to articulate a detailed plan as to how they might scale up. These introductions were like gold dust, thanks to the surefootedness and credibility of the founders around any topic you might wish to discuss.

At this point, we had also spent some time with frontline staff at venture capital (VC) firms. Better yet, they weren’t in “defensive mode” as they would be in nearly every other networking event, and were therefore chatting far more openly about the best ways to cultivate relationships.

At a more technical level, whilst I’ve seen plenty of commercial agreements in my time, I don’t know my way around the VC world. To have an expert walk me through the key terms in a VC deal was certainly an eye opener.

Having the right connections

We met many mentors during our week at boot camp, and were required to prepare for this by researching the people involved and having our intros and elevator pitches ready. These people have the exact connections we, as startups, sorely lack, and you want to make sure you have an interesting hook to create relationships for the future.

HutZero’s entrepreneur in residence, David Chan, is also a fantastic resource available throughout the week, and with a history of successful startups – including one listed on Nasdaq – he is someone you really want to spend some time with. Through David and the other experts who visited, we were able to learn plenty about classic team structures, mistakes, incentives, idea formation, validation, positioning and repositioning, customer dialogue, and relationship building.

The beauty of an accelerator

There are two other groups of people who had a major impact across the week, and these were cyber security enterprises and government.

The programme was initiated, and is sponsored, by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so it keeps a keen eye on its progress. It certainly feels as if the government sees cyber security as a strategic area where the UK can take an important lead, and where government can be of assistance.

We also met people from very high up in the cyber security industry; world-class individuals when it comes to cyber security who, to my surprise, were keen to interact with startups. Similar thinking applies to cyber security enterprises. These are people high up in the industry who you would struggle to access as a startup.

Read more about cyber security

You might think you are going to bump into those very same enterprises at conferences and events. Yes, you’ll meet the company, but you’ll be meeting its sales team, and that’s a very different beast. Generally, that sales team has zero – not marginal, but zero – incentive to put you in touch with the right people internally. Trust me, I’ve tried.

It was only upon reflection that I realised part of the beauty of an accelerator is that it doesn’t just create lots of high-level introductions. It is subtly changing the nature of those introductions in a way that allows for a more open exchange.

Here is a group of people who are putting their time, energy and resources to work for very little in return. Better yet, to be invited onto the course proves that somebody – more than one person, in fact – has taken a vote of confidence in your ideas and abilities. As any startup knows, that validation really matters. It’s one of the first steps towards you making a difference.

This is the first in a series of articles about HutZero, and the next will look at how the participants are faring as the programme progresses.

Donal Carville is the founder of Circadian Capital and a member of the HutZero programme.

Read more on Hackers and cybercrime prevention