Editor’s note: The below is a commentary article written by Justin Daniels, the attorney leading Baker Donelson’s cybersecurity incubator in Atlanta.
While rivals like Washington DC, Silicon Valley, London and Tel Aviv are all forces to be reckoned with, Atlanta has a truly unique blend of ingredients that position the city well in the race to become a global cybersecurity capital.
A recent Fortune article placed Atlanta as one of just seven cities qualified to pursue this crown. But putting the city’s stake in the ground as a hub for an industry tasked with safeguarding the modern digital economy requires recognizing why we’re already part of the conversation and why it’s so important that we stay in the game.
For nearly two decades, cybersecurity has been one of the fastest growing and largest technology sectors in the world. The global market, in fact, is expected to have expanded more than 30-fold from 2004 through the end of 2017. Spending on cybersecurity products and services is predicted to exceed $1 trillion over the next five years, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.
Metro Atlanta has three key advantages in pursuing its part of the growth. For one, it’s home to some of the original cybersecurity startups, like Internet Security Systems (ISS), which was launched in Georgia Tech dorm room and later acquired by IBM. The city also hosts a significant concentration of Fortune 1000 companies that serve as customers to cybersecurity startups (particularly in fintech, health care IT and other sectors). Thirdly, it plays host to distinguished universities, many of which offer strong cybersecurity programs designed to fill the ever-expanding need for a cyber workforce.
Clearing Up Misconceptions
One oft-repeated misconception is that Atlanta isn’t an investment hub. While it’s true that our region’s high-growth cybersecurity companies like Luma, Ionic Security and Pindrop Security have received venture capital rounds led by firms in California, New York and Washington, local investors participated in 62.5 percent of cybersecurity investment rounds completed since 2015.
Atlanta also outpaces the other tech hubs in terms of opportunities for corporate customers. Atlanta is No. 3 on the list of cities with the most Fortune 500 headquarters, including The Home Depot, UPS and Delta, all serving as customers to high growth cybersecurity companies. By comparison, San Francisco is ranked No. 10 for Fortune 1000 headquarters with only 11 companies, while Atlanta has 26.
There’s also a perception that Atlanta struggles to retain the talent that its colleges and universities produce. Georgia Tech, for example, has the most graduates working in the Bay Area other than Cal and Stanford.
However, Kevin Campbell, PwC‘s Southeast market advisory leader, notes that Atlanta has become a hub that attracts and keeps talent from across the Southeast, particularly recent graduates holding cyber certifications and degrees.
“PwC has built out and sustained its extensive Atlanta cybersecurity team through its ability to heavily recruit directly from Atlanta’s talent base,” Mr. Campbell has said.
Further, the state of Georgia employs more than 10,000 network and computer system engineers and counting, providing plenty of opportunity to stay in Atlanta after graduation.
Preparing the Workforce
Many schools are already in the process of preparing the next generation of cyber workers. Cybersecurity programs at Kennesaw State University, Augusta University, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University produced 182 undergraduate and 155 graduate degrees over the last five years. Moreover, the number of cybersecurity certificates and degrees granted in Georgia increased 91 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Entrepreneurial cyber talent, meanwhile, is nurtured through renowned incubators and accelerator programs like the Advanced Technology Development Center, Baker Donelson Cybersecurity Accelerator, Cyber Launch and Techstars, all of which offer mentorship, resources and connections to help those seeking to build scalable businesses.
Cybersecurity research is also thriving at these institutions and beyond. in the city. Georgia Tech’s Institute for Information Security & Privacy (IISP) aligns the expertise of 200 researchers, nine labs and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) to collaborate and connect academia, industry and government to work on solutions for national security, economic continuity and individual safety.
More recently, the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center broke ground in downtown Augusta and is set to become the state’s “centerpiece for cyber security research and development.” It will also serve the needs of the U.S. Army Cyber Command, which established its headquarters at nearby Fort Gordon. In addition, the National Security Agency/Central Security Service has maintained a well-established presence in Georgia for over 16 years.
A Globally Connected Hub
All of these assets give Atlanta a chance to make its case on the world stage, starting in its own backyard. Metro Atlanta already has considerable global representation, with 81 consular and trade offices and 34 bi-national chambers of commerce. With more than 104 million passengers last year, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the most transited airport in the world and has direct flights to and from many key international cities.
Foreign companies are already beginning to take notice.
Waratek Inc., an Ireland-based cybersecurity company, chose Atlanta in 2016 to launch its award-winning Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) in the Americas. Waratek’s RASP technology is the winner of the prestigious 2015 RSA Sandbox Innovation Award, and has been described by SQL Server Pro as “revolutionary.”
“Atlanta gave us access to two seasoned executives in CEO John Adams and Chief Marketing Officer James Lee who bring a combination of experience in cybersecurity and scaling enterprise solutions.” Waratek founder Dr. John Holt said.
Mr. Adams added, ”Atlanta is an obvious choice given its business-friendly environment, high concentration of Fortune 1000 enterprise customers and direct domestic and international access provided by its airport.”
Other globally headquartered companies have established a beachhead in Atlanta or hired executive-level talent from the city for the very same reasons. Such companies include Minerva Labs (Israel), ODIX (Israel) and Cipher (Brazil), underscoring the strides the region’s cybersecurity community continues to make in telling its story beyond the U.S.
To highlight the pillars of Atlanta’s cybersecurity ecosystem to the world, the inaugural Atlanta Cyber Week (Oct 2-6) will create an opportunity for meaningful interaction between growth oriented cybersecurity companies and the region’s Fortune 1000 client base. Past events have included substantial representation from Israel, the United Kingdom and Canada.
The third annual Cybercon and the first annual National Technology Security Coalition (NTSC) CISO Policy Conference will serve as the anchor events.
CISOs and cybersecurity companies from around the world interested in attending can find a complete calendar of events at www.atlcyberweek.com.
Justin Daniels is a shareholder at Baker Donelson and executive director of the firm’s cybersecurity accelerator. He leads the Atlanta Emerging Companies Group and is a member of the Global Business Team.