The excitement was palpable Thursday morning as City, County and tech leaders streamed into the Geekdom Event Center in the Rand Building downtown. The standing room only crowd was there for the launch of cybersecurity incubator Build Sec Foundry, which is opening on Geekdom’s sixth floor.
As the audience awaited remarks by mayor Ivy Taylor, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and City Manager Sheryl Sculley, among others, Geekdom CEO Lorenzo Gomez said the event had drawn the largest crowd to date to a Geekdom event.
“My City Council partners and I understand the importance of pursuing and supporting these kinds of collaborative partnerships,” San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor said.
Build Sec Foundry’s goal is to position San Antonio as a national leader in creation of cybersecurity products and technology, making it a destination city for young companies in that space.
It also will serve as a support network for individuals transitioning from active duty service in the military’s cybersecurity forces to the civilian startup world. San Antonio is home to some of the U.S. Air Force’s most important cybersecurity missions and one of the key National Security Administration’s installations outside Fort Meade, MD. Build Sec Foundry, if successful, will help San Antonio retain many of the talented cybersecurity specialists exiting the armed forces who otherwise might set up shop in other tech-friendly cities.
The importance of the initiative was underscored when Gomez, who also is the executive director of the 80/20 Foundation, presented a $600,000 check to Will Garrett, who will head up Build Sec Foundry. It’s one of the largest gifts in the history of the charitable foundation started several years ago by Rackspace Co-Founder and Chairman Graham Weston. The funds will be spread over the incubator’s initial three years of operation. The goal is to solicit matching grants from tech and support firms that will be associated with the startups invited into the incubator.
More remarkable was the speed at which the initiative developed. One year ago, the City and County each provided $50,000 in seed money to help fund Cybersecurity San Antonio, a new initiative housed at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. The chamber contributed an additional $50,000, which was matched by local cybersecurity firms. Garrett, who at the time served as the chamber’s vice president of economic development, was named as its director. Under Garrett, Cybersecurity SA’s analysis of the strengths and weaknesses in San Antonio’s cyber profile led to creation of Build Sec Foundry and Thursday’s announcement.
Moving the project out of the chamber’s offices and into the heart of the emerging Tech District will give Build Sec Foundry its own identity and place it in the heart of the startup economy. The Rand Building is home to Geekdom, the Techstars Cloud program, the Rackspace Open Cloud Academy, Tech Bloc and countless startups with many more locating elsewhere along East Houston Street.
The incubator’s co-working space will help connect entrepreneurial military veterans with mentors, venture capitalists, support networks and other resources as they work to create the next generation of cybersecurity product-based companies.
“We call San Antonio home because of the city’s rich cybersecurity ecosystem and numerous city sponsored initiatives making San Antonio a nexus for the industry. The city has a unique environment where the country’s top university program, industry experts, and military and private interests coexist.
“Ranked second in the nation for cybersecurity, San Antonio provides teams with the incomparable opportunities to engage with major players, test products, and affect the cybersecurity space in a meaningful way.”
Build Sec Foundry is assembling an advisory board that will include leaders in the local security industry and academia. One confirmed board member is Brannon Lacey, the senior director, projects at Rackspace, who oversees product based security at the managed cloud hosting company.
For the City and County, the development represents a significant step forward in redefining San Antonio’s approach to economic development and the growing efforts to create a more sustainable model for smart jobs growth.
Garrett described the incubator’s launch in remarks to City Council committee members Tuesday. The founding team he will lead includes Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) IT and Wireless Director Bart Bohn and Lab41 Director Bob Gleichauf, former head of engineering at the WheelGroup, a San Antonio based company Cisco Systems acquired in 1998 and currently at In-Q-Tel. John Dickson, CEO of the Denim Group, completes the core management team for the incubator.
Build Sec Foundry was created out of a unique partnership between Cybersecurity San Antonio, the Austin Technology Incubator, the 80/20 Foundation, and Geekdom. Bohn has founded several startups over his career and is a founding member of ATI’s Water (industry) Incubator. He currently runs the IT/Wireless Incubator at ATI. Weston and his team are the catalysts for both downtown development and support of a startup sector.
“I’ve gotten to know the incredible talent in both the military and academic cybersecurity communities in San Antonio,” Bohn told the Rivard Report. “We look for what is nationally distinctive, and for San Antonio, it’s the talent base. It’s what led ATI to partner on this first incubator outside of Austin.”
Gomez said he is partnering with the other entities to bring the cybersecurity incubator to Geekdom so Build Sec’s managing team can “facilitate the serendipitous collision of ideas.”
“Community is one of the core values of Geekdom,” Gomez said. “We count on that sense of community to help veterans make that transition to become successful cyber startup CEOs.”
Build Sec will support startup companies with one-on-one mentoring and will operate on a rolling admissions model. It is not an accelerator program like Techstars. Companies admitted into Build Sec will be at an initial maturation stage (pre-Series A funding). These cyber startups will be able to leverage connections to industry leaders and corporate enterprises to perform product testing, seek mentorships, and make investor connections. The industry advisory board consists of executives and security professionals from USAA, Rackspace, UTSA, Scaleworks/Assembla, and the Denim Group.
“We’ve admitted InfoCyte as the first startup company, plus we have in the pipeline 15 other potential companies,” Bohn said. “ATI is one of the longest operating university-led incubators in the country. We’re bringing ATI’s proven incubator methodology to this new one in San Antonio and adjusting it as needed for cybersecurity.”
Build Sec also will collaborate with existing R&D and testing facilities at University of Texas at San Antonio as well as with the new Cyber Proving Ground, created by the U.S. Air Force to accelerate execution of innovative concepts and technologies for improved cyberspace operational capabilities.
“ATI brings the strategic advice for the cybersecurity incubator, which complements Geekdom’s strengths in co-working and community,” Bohn said. “A successful ecosystem looks more like a networking community, with nonprofits, local government, private sector, military, and community organizations all playing key roles. The willingness to collaborate is critical—it takes an entire community of partnerships to build a healthy tech ecosystem.”
Plans are in place to develop cybersecurity curriculum specifically for the new CAST Tech high school announced last week that will be an in-district charter school for the San Antonio Independent School District, supported by a $3.6 million gift from H-E-B and its Chairman and CEO Charles Butt and the efforts of Tech Bloc. The school, which plans to open with 175 students in the fall of 2017, will be located in the Tech District or nearby, perhaps, on the former Fox Texas High School campus.
Build Sec fills a gap in San Antonio’s tech and cybersecurity industry—the need for a program to help military cybersecurity veterans negotiate the cultural transition from military frameworks to civilian business. And while most cybersecurity operations in San Antonio, especially involving the intelligence and military communities, are largely invisible to the public, Build Sec Foundry intends to have a strong community presence, hosting regular events to engage the local tech community and the larger business community. It also will serve as a magnet to entrepreneurs, startups and investors outside San Antonio.
“San Antonio is actively pursuing the recruitment of expertise, and the development and expansion of this important sector,” Sculley said.
“When the CyberSecurity Council was stood up last year, one of our goals was to formalize this incubator to help attract cyber startups from academia and outside San Antonio,” Garrett said. “What we are doing is challenging San Antonio entrepreneurs in our unique eco-system to grow cybersecurity product-based startups. The outcome we envision is to attract venture capital that we have not had in this space so far.”
“This incubator takes us to the next step, the serious development of the cybersecurity product industry, which is critical to growing economic development and attracting capital,” Dickson said.
San Antonio’s existing cybersecurity community has all the initial ingredients to support a startup incubator and broader innovation ecosystem.
“San Antonio is growing as a city of innovation, and this (incubator) will add to that growth,” Wolff said.
“The bar is rising, pockets of innovation exist. Now is the time to challenge ourselves,” Garrett said in his closing remarks.
Cyber professionals can network at the June 28 Cybersecurity Conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and the Texas Association of Business. The conference aims to help small and mid-size business owners develop, evaluate, and strengthen cybersecurity programs.
Top image: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff praises the launch of Build Sec Foundry. Photo by Scott Ball.