Charlottesville Tech Scene Growth Leads to Cybersecurity Boom

Each year, the Tom Tom Founders Festival brings together artists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and other creatives for a celebration of founders and innovation right here in Charlottesville, VA. Though Tom Tom celebrates creativity of all kinds, as Charlottesville’s tech scene grows, the focus of the festival has become increasingly high-tech. This year features summits on machine learning and biotech, and speakers ranging from local students to startup celebrities. The energy is palpable, and ideas are readily exchanged as people hop from panels to town-halls to breweries and back again. This convergence of influencers may make it harder to find outdoor seating at your favorite downtown restaurant, but it also serves as positive affirmation that Charlottesville is a growing tech hub.

Don’t believe that our little town is booming? Charlottesville was recently named one of the 15 best cities for entrepreneurs, local startups received over 39 Mil in funding in 2017, and a brand new technology center is set to break ground later this year. There is no denying that something has shifted in the past ten years, and Charlottesville is quickly becoming a mecca for innovators who aren’t interested in daily of grind of big cities like DC, NYC or Silicon Valley. Charlottesville’s abundance of breweries, wineries, and nationally-acclaimed restaurants, a thriving music scene, comparatively low cost of living, and proximity to oceans, mountains, and larger cities make it a natural choice for founders from all walks of life.

Tom Tom Founders Festival tech

Tech Growth Creates Opportunities in Advanced Cybersecurity

One of the coolest things about the Charlottesville tech boom is the influx of advanced cybersecurity startups. High-tech companies demand better cybersecurity solutions,  and several local cybersecurity startups are filling that void— and thriving. We are thrilled to be in good company with Mission Secure as leaders in bringing next-generation cybersecurity solutions to the Charlottesville community and beyond. In the spirit of celebrating innovators and founders, I spoke with the CEOs of these companies to see what they think the next big cybersecurity trends will be, and why they chose Charlottesville as their launchpad.

David Drescher, CEO + Co-founder, Mission Secure Inc (MSi)

Mission Secure is working to protect industrial control systems (ICS) from cyber threats, supply chain interdictions and trusted insider attacks. Their platform has been developed and deployed over the past seven years by a world class team of cyber security professionals, control system engineers, PhDs, military and business experts, and provides unprecedented control system cyber security visibility and protection. David Drescher, CEO + Co-founder of MSi, spoke with me about what they are doing to prevent ICS breaches, and why he chose Charlottesville.

What do you think the greatest challenges in Information Security will be in the next 5 years?

As industrial companies continue to expand connectivity, securing the Operational Technology (OT) environments (which have historically mainly focused on up-time, not security) will become exponentially more challenging. Recent studies show over 50% of industrial companies have already experienced a breach into their control systems, and we have seen an uptick in attacks in 2018. Securing the operational technology systems will be critical.

How is your company working to solve those challenges?

Mission Secure has been working closely with thought leaders within Aviation, Oil & Gas, Transportation and electrical distribution to assess critical cyber risks, and field protections such as our patented MSi Platform.  Our cyber advisory services help board members, c-level management, IT and controls managers understand important cyber risks and how to defend against them. Our technology provides the ability to have both cyber visibility and protection for virtually any Industrial Control System. It doesn't matter if it’s a new system or one that has been in operation for over a decade.  We are spreading awareness to industry leaders on how their systems and physical assets can be comprised and we are providing an affordable solution to mitigate the risks. Our clients are spread across the US, and work in oil & gas, military, transportation and more.

Why did you pick Charlottesville to launch your company?

Many reasons— the original engineering team at Mission Secure came out of the University of Virginia. Also, Charlottesville has proximity to Washington DC without the downsides, and you can fly just about anywhere in the US from the local airport. I ran my last start up in Boulder and saw all the benefits of Boulder and more. You can raise a family in the countryside, send them to excellent schools and have a thriving business...  these are all things Charlottesville offers. 

When did you first become involved with the Charlottesville tech scene? How has it evolved in your time here?

During my first startup we ran several capstone projects with the University of Virginia from 2002 - 2006. In 2010, I was introduced to a team of researchers at the University of Virginia who were working on a game changing approach to securing control systems for the military, and we formed Mission Secure in 2014. We continue to hire talented engineers, developers and consultants looking for exciting opportunities to live and work in Charlottesville and enjoy the wonderful surroundings. We have also connected with a growing number of cybersecurity companies located in the area. 

What is your favorite thing about Charlottesville?

The ability to work in and access a thriving city, and to build a successful business with wonderful people, restaurants, activities, and education opportunities, while being able to bush hog the fields on weekends on a working farm at the base of the Shenandoah mountains. What more could two young kids, my wife and a big kid at heart ask for?

Liam Bowers, CEO + Co-founder, Bluestone Analytics

Bluestone Analytics is helping local businesses defend their data. Most cybersecurity companies focus on large businesses and enterprises, which have bigger security budgets and huge IT teams. Our founder, Liam Bowers, saw a gap in the market, as smaller companies are simultaneously more vulnerable to cyber attacks as well as more impacted by the aftermath. He brought together top cybersecurity and intelligence talent to create a team that makes enterprise-level security solutions available to small and mid-sized businesses. I asked him where he sees the cybersecurity industry headed, and why Charlottesville is the perfect place to solve today’s information security challenges.

What do you think the greatest challenges in Information Security will be in the next 5 years?

Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly regulated. Obviously, these regulations are intended to help people, but it can be very challenging for businesses, especially smaller businesses, to figure out how to incorporate these regulations into their processes. 

How is your company working to solve those challenges?

We focus on providing small and mid-sized businesses with enterprise-level cybersecurity expertise. Big companies have entire cybersecurity teams that help them handle incidents and regulatory compliance, and we offer that level of support to these smaller companies as they work to achieve cybersecurity compliance. We simplify the cybersecurity compliance process, and help companies mitigate their cyber risks by offering advanced cybersecurity solutions like managed detection and response an AI-powered threat hunting. These technologies are not only for giant companies, and we are working to educate and protect businesses of all sizes.

Why did you pick Charlottesville to launch your company?

I was really looking for somewhere my wife and I could settle down and raise a family. Charlottesville has so many great activities for kids, and that really attracted us to the area. We also love being so close to the mountains and to so many great restaurants and breweries. All that, combined with the great resources available for local startups, made Charlottesville an easy choice.

When did you first become involved with the Charlottesville tech scene? How has it evolved in your time here?

I became a mentor at the UVA i.Lab in 2016, while I was still working with Booz Allen Hamilton. That experience introduced me to CBIC and VABio, and I was really inspired by all the local entrepreneurs I met there. In part, that experience motivated me to launch Bluestone. I think the tech scene has definitely grown since then. There is an increased focus on venture capital, and the Charlottesville Angel Network has become more involved in local tech events.

What is your favorite thing about Charlottesville?

Definitely the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love that we are less than an hour away, and have gorgeous mountain views even from the city.

Predicted Job Growth for Cybersecurity Professionals

The outlook for cybersecurity job growth in Charlottesville is fantastic. As high-tech industries in Charlottesville continue to thrive, cybersecurity jobs will be plentiful, and Charlottesville’s unique charm and culture of innovation will undoubtedly lure many top information security professionals looking for a more relaxed attitude and a way better beer list.