Virginia accelerator welcomes new cohort of cybersecurity companies

September 1, 2014

A business accelerator created specifically for cybersecurity start-ups in Virginia will welcome a new cohort of companies Tuesday, one year after its doors opened with the goal of establishing the commonwealth as a hotbed for the cybersecurity industry.

Among the companies is the developer of a database where companies can securely store customer information, such as credit card numbers, and the creator of software that makes messaging on Facebook Chat private and confidential.

The start-ups accepted into the three-month MACH37 program, which is funded with state money, receive a $50,000 investment, access to a network of mentors and instruction on how to develop their ideas into viable businesses.

“We want to create companies that can be sustainable and that we can get a return on investment from,” said Rick Gordon, the program’s managing partner.

The program also wants those companies to stay in Virginia.

The commonwealth is competing with a number of areas around the country, including neighboring Maryland, to become a hub for companies that sell cybersecurity software and other technology to both the federal government and commercial industries.

Spending on cybersecurity technology has risen dramatically in recent years as government agencies, their contractors and other corporations experience a growing number of cyberattacks that are both increasingly sophisticated and damaging.

“It is a Main Street issue now,” Gordon said. “It’s not just folks in the financial services sector that are worried about it or folks that are involved in the electric grid that are worried about it. Everyone is worried about it because the Internet is pervasive and part of the fabric of everyone’s lives.”

Entrepreneurs are creating companies in response to that concern and, in turn, economic development officials are courting those companies as a potential source of well-paying jobs and tax revenue.

Maryland is home to the U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade and the soon-to-be-built National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Montgomery County. Last month, a state-backed investment outlet, Technology Development Corp., created a $1 million fund that will invest up to $100,000 in promising cybersecurity ventures.

Gordon at MACH37 said companies in the program that accept the $50,000 investment must form a “significant presence” in the commonwealth within two years.

“We think what that means is at the very minimum a Mid-Atlantic or government-focused sales and delivery mechanism,” Gordon said. “Ideally what we think makes a lot of sense is they’ll headquarter here, but we’re not pushing that far.”

The companies in the latest cohort of the MACH37 program include:

● BiJoTi, which helps smaller companies meet compliance requirements and fend off cyberthreats with the same capabilities as large companies but at a lower price point.

● CypherChat, which has developed an encrypted messaging service for Facebook Chat users that is “simple, secure, private and completely confidential.”

● IAspire, which encrypts e-mail within a large company to make it less susceptible to hackers.

● SecureDB, which provides a cloud database where companies can more securely store customers’ sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

● Syncurity, which creates software for mid-size businesses to respond to threats, document lessons learned from them and keep track of security improvements.

● Virgil Security, which develops software that makes it easier for developers to encrypt applications, cloud services and other technology.

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.
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