A Canadian university-associated business accelerator for helping early-stage cybersecurity companies says its first two years of operation have been more than satisfactory.
The Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst Accelerator has had “an incredible impact” on Canadian cybersecurity entrepreneurs and founders, executive director Charles Finlay said this week in the first report on the program’s progress.
Despite having to run the program virtually because of the pandemic, 39 companies — five founded by women — have gone through the program since September 2021. Among them they have created 351 jobs, raised over $100 million, saw their combined recurring revenue grow 251 per cent and have been granted 36 product patents.
“When I look at the general accelerator ecosystem [worldwide], I would say we are definitely on the positive side,” Sumit Bhatia, the Catalyst’s director of innovation and policy, said in an interview. “That makes me really proud, given that we are a two-year-old program.”
The Cybersecure Catalyst is part of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Brampton, Ont., campus. It offers a range of cybersecurity-related programs, including entry-level and leadership training. Because the Accelerator is part of the Cybersecure Catalyst, it can offer accepted companies access to its resources, Bhatia said, including a cyber range for product testing.
Companies that have gone through the free Accelerator program, which runs for about three and a half months, include Flare Systems of Montreal (dark web monitoring), Iceberg Cyber of Toronto (system monitoring), Zighra Inc. of Ottawa (user authentication), and Beauceron Security of Fredericton, N.B. (security awareness training).
David Shipley, Beauceron’s chief executive officer — and guest commentator on IT World Canada’s Cyber Security Today podcast — said the experience was “awesome … We’re almost triple the size of the company we were when we joined.”
“We were in the first cohort,” he said. “We’d been in other accelerator programs — in the U.K. in 2018, and some other business ones as well.” But the Catalyst Accelerator gave access to well-connected people such as Microsoft Canada chief security officer Kevin McGee, who showed how his company helped startups, as well as mentors.
“We had lessons on product management, sales and marketing, how to do a better job raising money,” Shipley said. “Because it was supported by the DMZ [the university’s incubator for startups] Catalyst program, it was a pretty solid program to start with.”
“It was hugely beneficial … It was totally worth the time.”
What’s interesting is how the Catalyst Accelerator’s goals changed in a short time. Originally, Bhatia said, the aim was to support Canadian cybersecurity scaleups — firms that had a finished product and were in the early stages of growth –and offer them a network and suite of services so they could scale up.
But the Catalyst realized young firms are at different stages, that cybersecurity products are harder for customers to buy than traditional IT solutions, and there are different kinds of cybersecurity solutions. “In the same cohort we could have a quantum company, a blockchain company and a privacy and compliance company,” Bhatia explained. “We had to understand the needs of each organization much better.” That meant the program had to be tailored to each firm rather than all firms being offered common programming.
In fact, he said, some Canadian startups the Accelerator approached didn’t think of themselves as cybersecurity companies. For some firms that came into the program, the Accelerator helped build use cases management hadn’t thought of before.
Some accelerators — and investors — are very capital-driven, Bhatia said. Their attitude is, ‘Show us you [financially] can succeed.’ The Catalyst Accelerator’s approach is, ‘You have something that can benefit the overall [IT] ecosystem. How can we help you get there?’
That, Bhatia said, is one of the things he is most proud of.
“In Canada there’s a lot of money in the accelerator and incubator ecosystem. I had thought cybersecurity would bring this ecosystem together. Cybersecurity is foundational to all things technology. It is that layer of trust in the adoption of all things technology. Which means instead of thinking of cybersecurity as an afterthought, as a band-aid solution, the startup ecosystem needs to think about how to embed it into their core organizational and product development practices. We’re still in the early days of seeing that happen.”