Could your cyber research have legs beyond the lab? How do you grow them, where will they take you, and what should you expect along the way?

These were the types of the questions posed to a group of 24 doctoral candidates, master's students, and postdoctoral researchers during the first ever Cyber Startup Lab in April. The single-day event furthers the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) mission to cultivate the next generation of the cyber workforce and make Virginia the best place to start a cybersecurity business.

“The goal of this workshop was to get students to start wondering if this was something they could do, if their research or ideas would be strong contenders for a cyber startup,” said Gretchen Matthews, director of CCI Southwest Virginia. “And if so, how?”

Led by Mark Mondry, director of Virginia Tech’s LAUNCH and CCI Southwest Virginia’s associate director for partnerships and engagement, the workshop combined seven hour-long start-up labs into a half-day marathon, touching on some of the most critical issues to consider before creating a startup.

Six tips from the Cyber Startup Lab

  1. Wipe imposter syndrome. Higher education teems with smart people, achievers in their fields, who face crippling anxiety when they consider entrepreneurship. Imposter syndrome means feeling like you don’t belong somewhere, and there is no place for that feeling in the startup environment. By definition, a startup is a temporary organization in search of a successful and scalable business model. Pro tip: The Virginia Tech I-CORPS program can help a startup move through the early-stage process.

  2. Get ready to get messy in the dynamic and uncertain startup environment. A successful startup begins with a mind shift: Let go of the desire to control a precise process. Teams change, markets change, products change. An entrepreneur may get a bull's-eye but may also need to pivot or start over. 

  3. Recognize signs of a poorly functioning team and adapt. Most startups fail because of the team.  Fights among founders increase when things start to go well, because suddenly something is at stake. Have the hard conversations — like how to share ownership — early. Strategically assemble a team to complement strengths and compensate for weaknesses. Investors invest in the team first because they know technology and market opportunities are dynamic. Can the team adapt?  Pro tip: CCI offers the opportunity to meet investors at Meet up to Startup events around the state. 

  4. Lock down intellectual property early. If an idea isn’t protected by patents, it’s freely copyable by anyone. For a startup, more patents are better because an investor sees them as added value.

  5. For deep tech, consider technology bundling. Lack of scope or application is a common obstacle for emerging technology entrepreneurship. If the tech isn’t broad enough to be a stand-alone company, consider bundling the idea with complementary technologies to increase the value. 

  6. Know what the tech achieves. Nobody cares about the tech. They care about what it does. Is there a demand for the technology? Focus on the human-centered need being met or problem being solved. When pitching to potential investors, emphasize the value that the technology is creating.
Headshots of 23 of the 24 scholars arranged in a grid.
The 2023 Cyber Innovation Scholars hail from departments across Virginia Tech, including agricultural, leadership, and community education; computer science; electrical and computer engineering; food science and technology; and mathematics.
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