Australia isn’t particularly well-known for being a hotbed of cybersecurity technology the way Silicon Valley or Israel is. Not yet, anyway.
But late last month executives representing a group of Australian cyber start-ups traveled all the way to New York to pitch their products to a panel of venture capitalists for the opportunity to secure an investment.
Think of it like a cyber version of Shark Tank. Presenters had only three minutes to give their best elevator pitch, and then answer one or two pointed questions about their service. And SC Media was invited along to sit in on the session, held at the Australian Consulate in New York City.
Pitched products ran the gamut from application whitelisting software to deception technology, to a cyber job recruitment service. At the conclusion of the event, one of the VC panelists teased that at least two of the companies had caught his eye.
Designed to help Australia’s leading cyber companies establish themselves in the U.S. market, the pitch event was a partnership between the independent, non-profit Australian Cyber Security Growth Network (ACSGN) and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), an investment and education promotion agency set up by the Aussie government.
This was their third such “trade mission” to the U.S., and the first ever to stop in New York City. The participants would later pitch in Washington and San Francisco.
“We’ve always been aware of the different market opportunities in the U.S., but in more recent years the East Coast opportunities are becoming more and more… significant,” said Annika Barton, trade and investment commissioner with Austrade. “This year we have been exploring the New York market as a new center for opportunity for Australian cyber capability, leveraging… the huge financial sector industry here which is an obvious counterpart for cybersecurity, but also expanding into the other industry sectors… ” she continued, noting that New York City’s recent focus on building its own cyber economy makes the region a “really nice match-up.”
If the Australian cyber market has been overlooked, it may not be for long. Michelle Price, CEO of ACSGN, said that when the organization was founded in 2017, it was aware of fewer than 60 cyber companies based in Australia, many of which provided managed services. Two years later, the organization is supporting roughly 300 companies, more than half of which are exporting their products.
“All of a sudden, people are being educated in the Australian economy about why they need cybersecurity,” said Price. “Domestic demand has gone through the roof, which has also meant that the companies that were already in the ecosystem now have the confidence from an economic point of view to be able to take advantage of export opportunities.”
Price believes within the next two years Australia is going to “be able to really compete head to head… from an innovation development point of view” with the world’s major cyber hubs.
In some areas, it arguably already is competing. “Australia has world-class cyber capabilities. We’ve had them for years, we’ve had them in niche areas, and we still have some that are the best in class,” said Barton. “There are companies that are out of Australia that have quantum encryption tools that no one else has. Some of the presentation we saw earlier today talked about active deception and we’ve got companies who do that” as well as any anyone in the world, she continued.
One of the companies that pitched was Cybermerc, a company that provides a military-grade mesh defense network for small-to-medium enterprises. Cybermerc has also been participating in Austrade’s Landing Pad startup accelerator program in San Francisco, where the company has set up an outpost office.
“There’s been a real focus at getting better at pitching over here,” said Cybermerc CEO Matthew Nevin. “We’ve gone through so many sessions now… we’ve learned what that process needs to look like and as a nerd myself, it’s gotten me out of the habit of trying to explain everything and just giving enough as breadcrumbs to make the audience interested enough to want to learn more. And that’s about as much as you can do in three minutes.”