In May 2016, Crossword Cybersecurity plc led a group of leading UK cyber security academic researchers on a week long mission to the US, funded by the UK Government Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The objectives were to meet with counterparts at world class US institutions to gain insights into the commercialisation process within the cyber security research domain and to understand the US approach to commercialising academic research relative to the wider cyber ecosystem.
The UK group represented a range of cyber security research interests and institutions, all at different stages of exploring whether to commercialise their research activities. The mission was hosted by the University of California (UC) Berkeley, Stanford University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a number of external speakers participating such as the Department of Homeland Security, SRI International, start ups and venture capital investors, in addition to the university research staff and technology transfer representatives.
This note is our summary of findings that resulted from the mission, with a particular focus on drawing out key insights relating to the commercialisation of cyber security research. These insights, in our assessment, fall under five headings.
- Fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship with a particular emphasis on changing attitudes towards failure.
- Reflecting on time, by moving with real urgency at one end of the spectrum whilst simultaneously taking the long view.
- Moving away from the lone “hero” entrepreneur towards a more team based mindset.
- Crafting smart rewards that serve to foster spin out activity rather than restrain it.
- An open and commercial mindset towards licencing models, including open source approaches.
In our opinion there is a rich seam of world class cyber security research in the UK. Whilst the scale of cyber activity in the US is huge, with US Government expenditure in the region of forty times the UK Government cyber budget, we estimate that over 250 cyber security research projects have been conducted or are on-going in the UK since 2007, leveraging in excess of £200m in grant funding. There are some very positive examples of cyber security research being commercialised in the UK and several UK universities are already world class in their technology transfer activities. With the huge amount of outstanding cyber security research going on, the potential to scale up the UK’s cyber security commercialisation activities is vast.
We hope that by applying some of the learning that emerged from this important mission, the UK cyber academic research community can unleash the next wave of cyber ventures that will have a major impact on cyber innovation in the UK and beyond.
Tom Ilube, CEO, Crossword Cybersecurity PLC
Paul Lewis, CTO, Crossword Cybersecurity PLC