Montgomery County: Cyber Innovation Central
Montgomery County advances innovation in cyber security, artificial intelligence
The presence of key federal installations and a major communications and information technology sector have made Montgomery County the epicenter of innovation in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and IT.
The region is now home to nearly 100 cyber security companies and offers proximity to numerous federal agencies that address cyber-related issues, a major part of the $14 billion government cyber market.
“You have access to a lot of federal institutions and general proximity to the federal government, which gives companies a lot of avenues for a customer base and a lot of avenues to innovate,â€ says Robel Worku, business development specialist at Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. (MCEDC). “In addition, the talent pool is highly educated and there is a lot of money available to entrepreneurs who are trying to start companies.â€
Collaboration is vital in the cyber industry, not just for the purposes of innovation but to avoid having to continuously reinvent the wheel.
In fact, identifying best practices and working with interested stakeholders is a big part of the job of Sokwoo Rhee, associate director of the Cyber-Physical Systems Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The NIST established the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Rockville. The Center of Excellence works with private-sector partners to strengthen U.S. economic growth by supporting automated and trustworthy e-government and e-commerce, and safeguarding the country’s ideas and innovations from spies, thieves and attacks by cyber terrorists.
Rhee, who focuses on Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities innovation, believes the key to fostering exponential growth is to encourage collaboration and remain on the lookout for replicable solutions.
“It’s very important for the industry to think about how to reuse or build on top of what others have built already instead of starting from scratch,â€ he says.
Great Startup Culture
More and more, it appears companies are looking to do just that.
“One of the trends I am starting to see is [out-of-area] companies looking to connect with local companies with specific capabilities,” says Lynne Stein Benzion, director of business retention and expansion at the MCEDC, citing AI as one example where this is happening.
More than a few Montgomery County startups are developing expertise and promising products and services in other breakthrough areas. One example is Rockville-based startup Atomic Mole, which offers a SaaS security solution that looks at the communications emanating from IoT devices and assesses whether there are vulnerabilities associated with those devices.
Ajit Thyagarajan, CTO of Atomic Mole, says Montgomery County is ideal for launching an IoT company.
“There is a great startup culture and lots of incentives and the talent pool is amazing. We also have an excellent education system that is producing the next generation of architects and developers,â€ he says.
Dave Baggett, CEO of Inky Technology in Rockville, agrees with that assessment.
“The talent pool is the best I’ve encountered,” he says. “It’s not an overstatement to say that the smartest people from around the world come here.”
Inky Technology has developed a next-generation phishing protection solution built on machine learning technologies. Inky Phish Fence protects users from so-called “deep seaâ€ phishing emails that use tricks and realistic looking branding elements that evade traditional mail protection software.
The company, which was named Infosecurity North America’s Cyber Start-up Company of the Year in 2017, received $5.6 million in venture funding in June 2018, which will allow it to add 12 workers to its staff.
Companies in key areas like cyber security have access to Montgomery County’s population of highly educated people – more than 59 percent of adults 25 and over have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“That makes for teams that are brilliant, diverse, hard-working and creative,” Baggett says. “It’s an entrepreneur’s dream.â€
A Growing Industry
A network of 16 Maryland colleges with Center of Academic Excellence certification programs continue to enhance the quality of the workforce.
A pair of new state programs are designed to further the region’s cyber industry: One provides tax credits directly to angel investors and venture capitalists who invest at least $25,000 in Maryland cyber security companies; the other provides tax credits to small businesses that purchase Maryland-made cyber security products and services.
Moreover, participants in the region’s cyber industry are seeing more opportunity to shape their own environment.
“We just opened a cyber security working group,â€ says Benzion of the MCEDC, which will allow the companies to connect with each other and exchange ideas. “Cyber security is such a young industry and a lot of the emerging technologies are young, so we are offering a venue for cyber security companies to actively participate in growing the industry here.â€