Building a stronger cyber industry

As discussion turns more and more to how cyber security is no longer just an industry, but a must-have in a large part of the technology world, we turn to talk with Mary Beth Borgwing, co-chair of Uniting Women in Cyber, and founder of Standish Cyber Corporation. Borgwing works both here and in Boston, bringing the two regions together to build strong cyber companies.

ABERMAN: Mary Beth, thanks for joining us.

BORGWING: Thank you, Jonathan.

ABERMAN: It’s a really great opportunity to talk about how two distinctly geographically separate regions really have a lot more in common. You’re striding both communities. First of all, why are you finding that companies that are based out of parts of the country really need to be in the D.C. region now?

BORGWING: If I look back at my 30+ years in technology, and the last 20 years in security, now we call it cybersecurity, I think that’s my rating to be inclusive of critical infrastructure, and unmanned vehicles, and anything that has a security component to it that we touch every day, which is anything, basically, now, that’s technology driven. I think that this region is so ripe to help grow up really well-run private companies, because of the talent that we have here that’s so unique.

Plus, the ability to be close to the federal government, and to actually be very close to New York, where a lot of private companies are headquartered. Some people have dubbed us the Silicon Valley of the east, but I think that we’re evolving beyond that. We’re creating a convergence here, with all of the talents that we have, and it’s just starting to bubble up.

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ABERMAN: What I find interesting is, when I speak with people who know the region, they tell me that, even though they hear about all these great resources, they sometimes find it’s really hard to figure out where they are. Is that your experience?

BORGWING: I think companies today that come here, think that there’s only politics going on. They don’t understand how the region is a green field for them. So, they need leadership, and they need programs that speak to them in the private sector, to see the value of working with the federal government, and the public sector. It’s funny, because I took a company from Santa Barbara, California, that a friend of mine at Amazon introduced me to. He said, they need your help, Mary Beth.

So, my background is that I’ve helped a lot of companies get funding, get their start, what we call their product-market fit, and their investment. And I know most of the investors in the venture capital world and private equity. The people at this company were in need of guidance to get to their client base here in D.C., but also to get to investment. One cannot happen without the other. In order to get clients, and users of your products, you need to have money to build a product. But you get to a certain point, the two have to come together on that road to creating a company. So, when they came here. So, for a startup to get cooked, get started, you need a village, right? So, you need mentors, you need really good advisors around you.

So, I made a few emails and phone calls on Saturday, and that next week they had fifteen meetings. They said that they were so surprised to see the depth and the breadth of the people here that could help them. They just thought that there wasn’t a rapid way to get information about what the government agencies need for cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. We were able to rapid-time that with some of the groups that work within Crystal City, and some of the early-stage investors that really want to be part of this ecosystem here.

And so, I think that we need more vehicles to get these startups, and not just startups, but really good ideas and innovation to be think-tanked here. Not like the big think-tanks that are here, but the WeWorks of the world. We need to have that kind of innovation office in different places around the D.C. region. I think it would be incredibly valuable to new technology.

ABERMAN: Just about every agency that I speak with will tell me, oh, we already have innovation outreach, and often that outreach it an office in Silicon Valley, or Austin, or some other place. Why is it that they don’t focus their innovation outreach efforts here in D.C.?

BORGWING: That question is something that you get a different answer to when you ask it to different people. From my experience about being on the East Coast, in New York, and growing up companies in New York, and growing them up in Boston, and not having to go to Silicon Valley always to get the money, there is a big great divide between—they say if you grew up a company in Silicon Valley, you’re not going have to prove the value of what you’re building if you have a reputation. There’s a very strong sort of bonding network there.

And so, we need to do that here. We haven’t done that here because everybody was going to Silicon Valley. But now, I think there’s a shift happening, because there are more investors that want to come here, if there were more companies that would be headquartered here. So, with the convergence of critical infrastructure, and drones, and unmanned vehicles, and cyber being in all those things, but also being very highlighted now by the regulation that’s starting to happen in Europe, and here, with the federal government trying to decide how to regulate cyber, I think that there’s going to be more and more companies here. I don’t really think that they were ready before. I think it’s the right time, now.

ABERMAN: Give me an example of a company that’s doing something that was rather unexpected, that unexpectedly, probably, creates cybersecurity issues. You mentioned, before you came on the air, a company in Boston, doing some really interesting things around drones, for example.

BORGWING: Absolutely. There is a company, they’re actually headquartered in Washington state, but they’re Boston at the Air Force Techstars incubator, and they’re at MIT. They went there because they wanted to get some of the MIT talent, they have a drone that can morph in real time. So, it can logistically help the government, but also help private industry.

Anybody that has an indoor manufacturing facility, or, in probably two years, the regulation is going to change significantly, that drones will be doing a lot more for logistics, or other security, with cameras. They already are doing some of that, enclosed vehicles where the FAA doesn’t have to regulate them. There’s a lot of drones being used for that. So, drones are being used, but now they’re going to be used for a lot more things.

So, that company actually came here to talk to some early-stage investors, and we’re still talking to early-stage investors here, because there’s a lot of talent here in the D.C. area that has been working with drones on the federal government side for a long time. So, they’re able to actually build critical infrastructure inside their drones, and they’re also able, because they can morph their payload in real time, they actually don’t have a problem if they’re carrying something, or if they’re having to land on a moving vehicle, or whatever, they’re able to morph their payload so that they can do that landing. A lot of drones, they can’t do that.

ABERMAN: I really appreciate taking the time, Mary Beth.

BORGWING: Thanks, Johnathan.

ABERMAN: That was Mary Beth Borgwing, co-chair of Uniting Women in Cyber, and founder of Standish Cyber Corporation.