UK’s new largest cyber accelerator is D&I focused

The programme will support more BAME and female-led cyber firms and nationwide investment

Innovation firm Plexal has just launched Cyber Runway, currently the UK’s largest cyber accelerator for cyber entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs, and scaleups.

Delivered by Plexal in partnership with CyLon, Deloitte and CSIT (The Centre for Secure Information Technologies) the programme is backed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Replacing three DCMS-funded programmes: HutZero, Cyber 101 and Tech Nation’s cyber accelerator for scaleups, Cyber Runway will fast-track the growth journey of at least 160 cyber entrepreneurs and their early-stage businesses, helping them turn ideas and innovations into commercial success stories.

As well as Cyber Runway, Plexal is responsible for supporting cyber startups through other Government-backed programmes: LORCA, NCSC For Startups and the Manchester Digital Innovation and Security Hub.

What attendees can expect

Attendees on the six-month programme will get support across three streams based on the growth stage of the business. These include the launch stage where entrepreneurs will get support with launching their business and building a minimum viable product and creating a network.

The second is the growth stage where startups and SMEs will get business support to help them address their growing pains, access funding, and achieve commercial success. The third stream is scale, where scaleups will access support (including 1:1 mentoring) to help them grow rapidly in the UK and globally.

Additional benefits programme members will receive include:

  • technical product development support.
  • international trade delegations.
  • investor roadshows and the opportunity to pitch to investors.

Tackling lack of diversity and psychological safety in cybersecurity

Cyber Runway aims to address the lack of diversity in cybersecurity. In particular, they want 30% of cyber companies involved to be female-led and at least 15% of founders to be from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

The programme also seeks to ameliorate the issues raised in the “Decrypting Diversity: Diversity and Inclusion in Cyber Security” report from KPMG and the National Cyber Security Centre, which found that one in five respondents felt they could not be themselves at work and that over 40% of Black cybersecurity professionals have experienced discrimination over their ethnicity in the past year.

The programme also wants to embed inclusivity into its design. In this regard, they plan to include underrepresented groups in the design and delivery of Cyber Runway and connect members with a diverse mentor pool. To ensure they back up their promises of real inclusivity the programme will:

  • Work with specialist groups that support underrepresented communities, including Seidea, WyCis, NeuroCyber, Specialisterne on the design and delivery of the programme and to encourage underrepresented groups to apply.

  • Establish founder, investor and industry forums.

  • Educate members on the importance of building diverse teams, tackling unconscious bias in recruitment and talent development and retention of underrepresented groups.

  • Build a diverse mentor pool featuring mentors from a variety of backgrounds, including women, people living with disabilities, ethnic minorities, neurodiverse mentors and people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Ensuring investment equality across the UK

Despite record levels of cyber startup investment in the UK last year, investment remains concentrated on a small number of high-growth firms mainly in London (51%) and the South East (34%), according to 2021 data from DCMS. Cyber Runway wants to diversify investment by extending its reach across the UK and Ireland including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and North East, North West and South West England.

The programme will be delivered in person and virtually to ensure that startups located across the UK benefit, where Cyber Runway has a goal of welcoming at least 50% of member companies based outside of London and will work with regional partners to deliver local initiatives.

Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman said: “The UK’s cyber sector is booming and we’re working tirelessly to ensure the benefits are felt by businesses and individuals right across the country.

“Our new Cyber Runway programme will help tackle barriers to growth, increase investment and give firms vital support to take their businesses to the next level.”

Saj Huq, director of innovation at Plexal added: “COVID-19 has catalysed the need for effective cybersecurity across industries, and a record level of capital is being invested into the sector. But there is still a need for support for businesses at the earliest stages of their development and innovators and entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities still face barriers when entering the ecosystem.

“These are challenges we look forward to addressing with Cyber Runway by supporting the best innovators, regardless of their background or geography, to thrive and grow.”

Companies wishing to submit their interest to Plexal should click here. Plexal is also keen to hear from investors and potential mentors who come from a range of backgrounds or who focus on supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs and want to be involved.
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