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Cybersecurity startups ‘graduate,’ appeal for funding at demo day

Brian Hartz



Tampa Bay Wave's inaugural CyberTech|X Accelerator program held a demo day on April 23.

Tampa Bay Wave’s CyberTech|X Accelerator held a virtual demo day on Friday that signified the “graduation” of 15 companies from the three-month program that provides support to cybersecurity startups. It also gave company founders and executives a chance, via Zoom, to make funding pitches directly to an audience of accredited investors.

Tampa Bay Wave President and CEO Linda Olson kicked off the meeting with a shout-out to KnowBe4, one of the crown jewels of the region’s fast-growing cybersecurity sector. The Clearwater firm this week announced its long-awaited initial public offering and executives rang the opening bell at NASDAQ stock exchange.

“Congratulations to Team KnowBe4 on that great accomplishment,” she said.

Linda Olson, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Wave

Olson was followed by Scott Price, the founder and CEO of A-LIGN, another prominent Tampa Bay cybersecurity company, specializing in data security and compliance. A-LIGN, along with KnowBe4, Ernst & Young and the Bellini Better World Foundation, is a CyberTech|X Accelerator sponsor, and Price was part of the team that organized the CyberTech|X Accelerator about two years ago.

“We couldn’t be more excited for what you’ve accomplished so far and what you are going to accomplish in the future,” Price said, addressing the CyberTech|X Accelerator cohort, which includes highly promising companies from across the United States and one from London. Tampa was represented by Tenacious, whose CySkor technology helps companies reduce cyber risk by adding security to employees’ personal devices that connect to the company network.

“We knew we could identify fantastic companies around the globe to come to the Tampa Bay area, learn from the executives and learn from the skill sets that we have here in Tampa, and hopefully see how Tampa can help them improve their companies, as well,” Price added.

The demo day also included a pair of keynote speakers: ConnectWise founder Arnie Bellini and Cyber Florida Executive Director Mike McConnell, who served as a vice admiral in the U.S. Navy and is a vocal advocate for bolstering the nation’s ability to defend against cyberattacks, particularly attacks perpetrated by bad actors in China. Bellini, now a full-time philanthropist, sold ConnectWise in 2019 and used some of the proceeds to establish the Bellini Better World Foundation, which contributed $100,000 to support the launch of the CyberTech|X Accelerator.

“All roads point to it happening here,” Bellini said, referring to Tampa Bay becoming one of the nation’s leading cybersecurity hubs. “ConnectWise is this huge success in the Tampa Bay area, and we were able to grow everything with all the resources available here in the Tampa Bay area. We didn’t have to go outside. That was a big realization to us — that we didn’t need to be trying to pull people in from Silicon Valley or MIT or Harvard. We had everything we needed right here, from USF, the University of Florida, Saint Leo University, the University of Tampa … we also had SOCOM, right here in Tampa Bay, cranking out incredible expertise.” (U.S. Special Operations Command, commonly referred to as SOCOM, is located at MacDill Air Force Base in south Tampa.)

McConnell said Cyber Florida, which is based at USF’s Tampa campus, was created by the Florida Legislature in 2014 and tasked with building cybersecurity capabilities across the state. His military experience has taught him that some of the gravest threats to U.S. national security come from computer keyboards, not missile silos, because there’s not enough awareness of the risk posed by information theft.

“As a nation, we have become digitally dependent,” McConnell said. “If you just stop and think for a moment, virtually everything we do or touch or use, whether it’s money or electricity or whatever, is shaped and controlled by some part of the digital sphere. As a nation, we’re digitally dependent, but as a nation, we are not yet digitally literate. The nation is at risk at a strategic level.”

In addition to Tenacious, the inaugural CyberTech|X Accelerator cohort includes:

Arcanum Technology, Athens, Ga.

Arch Access, Pittsburgh

Castle One, Madison, Wis.

Cervais Inc., Ashburn, Va.

Elroi, Detroit

EveryKey, Cleveland

Foretrace, Woodbine, Md.

Gridlock, London

Hook Security Inc., Greenville, S.C.

Outpost Security, Madison, Wis.

Phylum Inc., Evergreen, Colo.

Refactr, Seattle

SmarterD, Santa Clara, Calif.

Tauruseer, Jacksonville

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