Small businesses and innovation go together like mom and apple pie, Elvis and rock and roll, and summer and vacation time.
This incredible and vital small business acumen was on full display during the recently completed 2016 Government Cyber Security Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Workshop in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the lead host agency, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Cyber Security Division (CSD), the event was cohosted by the Department of Defense (DoD) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (ASD [R&E]) and National Science Foundation (NSF).
S&T’s Deputy Under Secretary Dr. Robert Griffin kicked off the SBIR Workshop by showcasing cutting-edge cyber security research and development (R&D) solutions being developed through the SBIR program.
Government, private-sector integrators and investment firms were invited to see a variety of novel technologies available for operational use during the event. In all, more than 200 cyber security professionals attended the three-day conference held August 30 through September 1.
“One of the workshop goals is to help our funded small businesses develop relationships with industry and government contacts in order to transition technology into operational use,” said Cyber Security Division Director Douglas Maughan. “Many times those relationships will lead to business opportunities that not only benefit the small business, but also keep our nation secure.”
The featured small businesses presented a range of research topics including cyber-attack detection, mobile device security, web application security and vulnerability, and threat intelligence. Each small business presented their research project during a workshop general session and then provided attendees the opportunity to “kick the tires” of the technology during the Technology Demonstration/Poster Session offered on the first day of the workshop.
For first-time attendee George Vogen, a government contractor supporting a cyber client, the workshop provided valuable new insight into the range of cyber security solutions being developed by small businesses.
“The opportunity to talk briefly with various SBIR presenters and put their efforts in context with our challenges increased my optimism that we are on the right path forward,” said Vogen. “I'll do what I can to ensure the advances of the presenters I talked to are further communicated to those people or organizations that might help close some of our cyber security gaps.”
A highlight of the workshop was the SBIR Transitions/Successes Panel Discussion, featuring a mix of venture capitalists, integrators and a small business chief executive officer and moderated by Maughan. Panelists were Jim Allen, Executive Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton; Rick Gordon, Managing Partner, MACH37™ Cybersecurity Accelerator; Robert Wiltbank, CEO, Galois, Inc.; Tom Kellermann, CEO, Strategic Cyber Ventures; and Nagesh Rao, Chief Technologist, Small Business Administration Office of Investment and Innovation.
During this lively discussion, panelists offered numerous tips to help small businesses be more successful. Among these were the following:
- The investment community is looking for a small business that is trying to solve a problem, not selling a technology, said Allen.
- A good question to ask is whether a venture capitalist (VC) or other investor will be your company’s first “yes.” You need to find one that is willing to be your very first yes. A lot of small business owners spend a lot of time talking with people who cannot say yes. Every day that goes by without a VC saying yes, you need to sell, sell, sell, sell, and then sell more, exclaimed Wiltbank!
- When looking at a small business, besides the product and team, investors look at the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) mindset, which should be agile and dynamic, said Kellerman.
- Defining successful transition is different to every business. Is it a pilot that has been operational for six months, a sale of a product or is the product on its own cash? The earlier you can determine whether a technology is a feature of a product or can be brought to market as a standalone, the better your small business will be. This decision may change the team or may pivot the technology into a new direction, said Wiltbank.
- Marketing, marketing, marketing! This doesn’t mean putting up ads, but more about how a small business identifies leads. A small business may have a solution to solve a problem and by identifying people you can help, he/she may then become a first adopter of the product, said Wiltbank.
This sage advice and much more offered by the panelists was so insightful, it prompted Maughan, at panel’s end, to inform the audience that they had just received extremely valuable counsel for free. The panel discussion was also broadcast live via S&T’s Facebook account.
Beyond the typical networking that is a trademark of most conferences, the workshop provided the participating small businesses an added opportunity to meet individually with integrators, investors and government attendees in one-on-one meetings. Ultimately, more than 60 one-on-one meetings were held over the first two days of the workshop.
All attendees and participants described the SBIR Workshop as informative and beneficial.
Carlos Aguayo Gonzalez, a DHS S&T CSD-funded small business representative, said the workshop gave his company an opportunity to showcase their technology to the cyber security community as a possible solution.
“The one-on-one meetings allowed us to engage with key government players, get direct feedback about our software as a service subscriptions, and learn about specific transition opportunities,” said Gonzalez. “After our presentation, many people interested in our solution had a chance to see our products in action during the technology demonstration. When people saw our system detecting firmware tampering in a router, they were able to get a much better understanding of the broad potential of our technology.”
NSF-funded small business representative Jason Oberg of Tortuga Logic, Inc., found the workshop experience “worthwhile.”
“The Cyber Security SBIR Workshop provided a great platform to learn what other innovators are working on in the cyber security space,” said Oberg. “It also provided me the opportunity to network with potential customers and partners. I left the workshop with several partnership and customer leads after having one-on-one meetings; that in itself made it a worthwhile experience."
The next SBIR Workshop will be in early 2018 in Washington, D.C. To learn more about this year’s workshop or to view the presentations, go to www.cvent.com/d/2fqhhy.