The startup programme strengthening the UK's digital defence

Over the last six years, the NCSC has been instrumental in making the UK one of the safest places to live and work online.

Since its inception in 2017, the hub of NCSC’s mission has been to foster innovative approaches to cyber security, with startups playing a crucial role in this vision.

At the Plexal headquarters, Chris Ensor, Deputy Director for Cyber Skills and Growth, gave a comprehensive overview of the evolution and impact of initiative between Plexal and NCSC's engagement with startups in the cyber security sector, setting the stage for the panel talks comprised of current cohorts and past alumni to talk over four topics: Everything is an Experiment, Meeting the Mission, The Human Factor, and The Road Ahead.

An evolution of support

The partnership between the NCSC and startups has garnered some remarkable achievements.

“The companies that you're going to hear from today have raised in excess of half a billion pounds worth of equity. They've created more than 1600 jobs,” said Ensor.

This is a promising indicator of substantial growth and success in the sector; however, this progress is not just measured in economic terms but also in the development of a thriving community of founders and entrepreneurs. The network of these startup alumni is a testament to the sustained impact and ongoing contribution of these companies to the cyber security landscape.

Outlining the strategic approach of the organisation, Ensor emphasised the shift from an introspective phase, where internal capabilities and intellectual property were the focus, to a more outward-looking approach – actively engaging with external startups and innovators. This transition, marked by the establishment of innovation centres and the NCSC accelerator programme, is designed to identify and nurture solutions to pressing cyber security challenges.

The NCSC accelerator

The accelerator programme has three primary objectives:

  • Finding solutions to cyber security challenges
  • Fostering diversity of thought
  • Supporting startups on their journey to success

And the programme's success is evident in the statistics: “63 alumni companies … that’s a 66% increase in post-programme growth, and significant investment attraction.” Notably, two of these companies have gone on to become unicorns and “interestingly, only four have ceased trading out of 63,” indicating a remarkably low failure rate for startups in this high-risk sector.

Matching the tech and the business

One of the critical aspects of the NCSC's approach is its focus on matching technical innovation with business acumen. The selection panels, comprised of both technologists and business specialists, ensure that startups not only have brilliant technical ideas but that they also have the potential to build sustainable business models.

By bringing together experts, startups, and investors in a collaborative environment, the NCSC has facilitated a culture of 'engineering serendipity', where meaningful and productive connections can flourish and the importance of creating an ecosystem conducive to innovation is paramount.

The approach of the NCSC towards startups has developed into a comprehensive strategy, effectively tackling immediate cyber security issues while also cultivating a strong and dynamic industry.

"The programme has not only nurtured startups but has also played a pivotal role in enhancing the UK's overall cyber resilience," underscoring the dual impact of the programme: supporting the growth of startups and significantly bolstering the cyber security resilience of the UK.