CyberASAP Alumni Insights: “Be positive and believe that your idea has potential”
With over 180,000 vessels registered in the global fleet, mandated risk assessment now enforced by the International Maritime Organization, and costly cyber-attacks on shipping increasing exponentially, cyber risk mitigation is vital.
MaCRA provides both a timely solution and a very valuable commercial opportunity, according to its co-founder, Kevin Forshaw who – along with Kimberly Tam and the team from Plymouth University – participated in Year 4 of CyberASAP.
MaCRA is a unique solution that identifies dynamic, vessel, cargo and route-specific cyber-risks and enables international shipping operators and insurers to rapidly assess individual ships’ or entire fleets’ unique cyber risk profiles.
Enjoy this interview with Kevin.
What were your key motivations for commercialising your research?
When we decided to apply to CyberASAP we were pretty open-minded about what commercialisation options might be possible. We had already published the research on which MaCRA is based, so we were interested in exploring what routes might be available for developing the idea and making it commercially available.
But when we started CyberASAP we weren’t thinking of starting a company – and we probably wouldn’t have gone down the spin out route without CyberASAP. The programme made us, allowed us, to think more ambitiously about the best way to take the idea to market.
What challenges did you think you might face in doing this?
For me, the issue of raising finance was my primary concern. I know some university teams have had challenges agreeing IP etc with their university, but I wasn’t worried about IP/patents, that sort of thing. Our idea had already been published; and we knew the university would be supportive which they have been.
Why did you choose to apply to CyberASAP to progress your project?
CyberASAP looked like the perfect vehicle for us. To be honest, without it I don’t think we’d have progressed the idea at anything like the pace we are now.
Tell us about the current status of your project – is it where you’d hope it would be at this stage?
We’ve made really good progress. We are now developing the software via a contract with Secure Technologies Ltd – a contact via CyberASAP. We’ve taken this route as we really need to develop our prototype and it’s hard to do when not working full time on the project. We’re about a third of the way through this process.
Also we’ve filed a US patent, have European trademarks and we’re filing others. We have permission from the University to spin out….and have managed to raise further funding to enable the development of our prototype.
We have been fortunate to get endorsement from 3rd parties (including getting the top prize at the NSCS Cyber Den earlier this year) and this has been hugely important, helping further build our credibility; we have a string of meetings in the diary with key potential customers (shipping operators etc) to demonstrate our prototype.
How would you summarise the impact that CyberASAP has had on you?
Massive! Without it, we probably wouldn’t have progressed the project to this extent.
What CyberASAP gave us was the confidence to be bold.
If you haven’t been through the spin out process, or been through a programme like CyberASAP, you lack the confidence to imagine you have a strong enough proposition to make a commercial success.
The discipline that CyberASAP imposed on us was really useful. Plus it provides a holistic oversight of everything you might come across, so when you go out into the market, you feel really well prepared.
What were the most valuable aspects of CyberASAP? And the most challenging?
As well as the points above, what CyberASAP gave us was exposure to people who’ve been there and done it. That was the most valuable thing as we’d never have had this without the programme.
Sometimes the programme can feel like a pretty big commitment – you have to put the time in, and at times it felt quite onerous; but by having to complete tasks set outside of the formal workshops, you really do consolidate your knowledge, and that has proved invaluable.
CyberASAP gives you a good grounding on what might be possible and you learn a really comprehensive range of skills and knowledge so that when you do go out into the commercial world, nothing comes as a surprise. You know the language; you understand the challenges and you’re prepared for the tough questions.
Future plans and advice
What are your future support needs and how are you addressing these?
We need to secure further finance to continue our journey. And we need to get people in post to do things full time.
What advice would you give fellow academics considering commercialising their research?
- Have the confidence to take the first step. The UK mindset often mitigates against risk – I think we could do with a more “Can-do” attitude, as in the US.
- Be positive and have belief that your idea has potential – and remember that everything starts small.
“Maritime cyber security is only gaining in importance as more aspects of the supply chain become automated. The MaCRa team, building on the University of Plymouth’s experience in this area, is therefore commercialising its research at a highly appropriate time.
We are delighted that CyberASAP gave the team both the confidence and discipline to progress their ideas. It is particularly gratifying that, without the programme, they probably would not have gone down the spin out route at all. Winning the NCSC Cyber Den in 2021 is further endorsement of the quality of their approach and importance of this topic”.
CyberASAP (Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme) is the only pre-seed accelerator programme in the cyber security ecosystem which provides expertise, knowledge and support to convert academic research into commercial products and services.
CyberASAP is funded by the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and KTN.
Get involved in CyberASAP
CyberASAP Demo Day – Year 5. Join us on Thursday 17 Feb 2022 and be the first to preview a range of highly promising cyber security products and services from leading UK academic teams. Hear their pitches and assess their offerings in this unique showcase of ready-to-commercialise cyber security innovations. Register here.