Atlanta continues to strengthen as a hub for cybersecurity with the recent opening of CyberLaunch, a new 90-day accelerator that will provide funding, mentors, and perks (like legal services and AWS credits) to companies looking to develop advancements in information security and machine learning. The accelerator, which will be accepting applications this spring, was cofounded by Chris Klaus, CEO of Kaneva, founder and former CTO of Internet Security Systems, and co-founder of NeuroLaunch.
To kickstart the accelerator, the CyberLaunch team recently announced their Startup Challenge. It welcomes engineers, business execs, hackers, entrepreneurs, and scientists to create innovative prototypes for information security and machine learning problems. Early stage startups, teams, and individuals are encouraged to apply by January 29.
Kyle Grossman, co-founder and partner of CyberLaunch, gave Hypepotamus the scoop on where the accelerator is headed and how it will stimulate Atlanta’s already budding ecosystem.
Could you describe the curriculum? What kind of topics specific to the industry will the new accelerator cover?
The curriculum in CyberLaunch focuses on showing growth and finding the right market. Often machine learning startups create algorithms that can apply to anything and have trouble defining who their end customer will be. We have 10 different markets that we can quickly test these algorithms in both the B2B and B2C contexts. In this way, our ML startups can find the best use case and revenue model for their algorithms. In security, the focus will be very similar. We have defined 10 different markets for security as well that our security companies can quickly test and iterate through in their customer discovery phase. The accelerator will also have discussions on forming a company, equity structure, acquiring investment (angel vs. VC), nondilutive funding, etc.
What are some specific challenges to machine learning right now? Information security?
There are few startups in machine learning that have exited (IPO or acquired). This creates a unique challenge in terms of the exit path and creates uncertainty for prospective investors. There is obviously a huge opportunity right now with all the new libraries in machine learning and tools like TensorFlow that have been released by Google to rapidly prototype new neural networks and ML algorithms in a business context. Also, many ML problems faced within large companies deal with huge datasets, so startups sometimes lack the datasets they need to train their ML algorithms properly and add value to these larger corporate clients.
Security, on the other hand, is a much more well-defined field in terms of exits and investment (quarterly reports on security investments and exits are readily available). Security companies have done very well in the past, which makes them easier to invest in. The main challenge with security is not in great ideas; it’s more on finding the right people to grow the company. Finding people who have exited a company in the past or who have held a CTO role in the past can definitely help to avoid issues that could come up later (ownership, investment timeline, exit pathway, etc.).
Who are your main supporters for legal advice, pitching, financial support? Who are your main institutional supporters?
- Legal advice – Foley & Lardner
- Pitching – We have our mentors come in and critique our company pitches
- Financial support – Chris Klaus, one of our co-founders, is the sole contributor to our fund.
We do not have any deep affiliation with any one institution. Our mission is global in scope. However, we are located right in the heart of Tech Square. We also have many mentors with both Georgia Tech and Emory University.
Could you describe the startup ecosystem in Atlanta? What challenges and advantages does the city have? Does the city get enough attention as a technology hub?
Atlanta is a great place for software companies, especially in security and machine learning.
Security – In 2014, Airwatch, a cloud-based mobile security company, was acquired by VMWare for $1.6B. Chris Klaus, our main investor, exited Internet Security Systems (ISS), a network vulnerability network port scanning company, for $1.3B. There have also been smaller exits in Alpharetta in 2015, like Lancope for 450M+. Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) also houses significant defense contracts that can lead to high-value spinouts in security. Suffice it to say Atlanta has a fairly robust ecosystem to grow security startups.
Machine Learning (ML) – we have a few startups in Atlanta already in this space. Predikto is using ML to make sense of massive datasets in transportation, Kimberly-Clark is looking to use machine learning for their e-commerce business sector, CBS and CNN see massive amounts of data for television and radio that could be mined by ML startups, UPS/Coke/Home Depot are headquartered here and are always looking to ML for distribution and optimization. This is an emerging space and Atlanta is rapidly growing.
[Image Source: Advanced Technology Development Center]