How do you turn a development that’s being called a “clean slate” into the nation’s cybersecurity hub? It starts with the talent and technology that’s already in the surrounding area.
Port Covington is being positioned to become Cyber Town, USA in the near future, leaders announced Thursday. The first phase of mixed use development on the South Baltimore peninsula will focus on cyber companies and the moniker will likely be on the building, they said, but bringing the companies to Baltimore is not only about construction. After partaking in the announcement onstage outside Rye Street Tavern, AllegisCyber Founder Bob Ackerman and DataTribe cofounder Mike Janke – both of whom are relocating to the development – talked about some of the elements at play.
The people already in the area are at the top of the list. Access to talent is often a key for employers seeking to grow or relocate. When it comes to cybersecurity, Maryland has the highest concentration of employees in the U.S., said Data Tribe cofounder Mike Janke, who plans to move the startup studio in by the end of 2020. This talent was spoken about as the equivalent of “oil” – a natural resource capable of driving a boom time. They pointed to the NSA, government-facing labs and 16 national centers of academic excellence in the state. Among the stats cited throughout the day: Maryland has more than 100,000 workers in cybersecurity and data science. Janke had just told the assembled crowd that there’s an “economic war” for cyber talent. And the sheer number of engineers alone differentiates the state from other spots that are looking to attract cybersecurity companies like New York, Atlanta and Texas, Janke said. It’s why state government officials have already looked to brand Maryland as the “cyber capital.”
And that talent has already benefitted Baltimore, as workers opt for an urban environment and startups have chosen to put down roots in a commercial center. Officials believe the Port Covington move will help further concentrate those engineers and founders.
The fact that workers inside the government are realizing their potential to thrive in a commercial environment outside the government also plays heavily into locating private-sector companies, Janke said. Undoubtedly, the state’s companies have seen commercial cybersecurity highs. Take recently IPO’d Tenable and Sourcefire, which was acquired by Cisco for $2.7 billion, to name a couple.
But Janke and Ackerman are continuing to find promising technology inside the labs. Since starting DataTribe, the startup studio in Maple Lawn has worked with companies like Dragos and Enveil who have raised Series A and gotten wide recognition over just a couple years. DataTribe said more government workers–turned–founders are on the horizon, and said it’s showing more potential for startups.
“The momentum is moving so fast in Maryland’s commercial ecosystem. Maryland was big in government services companies, it’s one of the largest. Now that commercial ecosystem, like the Tenables, like the Sourcefires, now that just caught fire,” Janke said.
They believe creating a central place for that community which now congregates in the areas around Baltimore and D.C. and giving it a central place to gather will help it grow.
“What we are doing is consolidating it, and making it the global cyber address,” Janke said.
The environment is also important, Janke and Ackerman said.
Port Covington was identified by Janke and AllegisCyber founder Bob Ackerman as a place where a “live-work-play” environment is being created. Ackerman also added that it can be built “for purpose” to appeal to cybersecurity and data science teams. The fiber internet will be cyber-hardened, Janke said.
“We’ve got a clean slate to build it here,” said Ackerman, who founded Allegis Capital in Silicon Valley and made a name as an early cybersecurity investor.
Creating an environment around the companies that helps foster growth was another key point. Allegis can help attract capital to fund companies. Evergreen Advisors, another of Thursday’s announced tenants provides advisory, M&A and investment services. DataTribe helps build companies alongside founders who formerly worked at government agencies.
“DataTribe is your partner in taking a vision and building a business. So it’s the capital but it’s also the playbook, it’s the relationships and the access to all the resources you need,” Ackerman said.
Janke said more than two dozen additional companies are already in talks to move in, adding that large companies locating an East Coast office in Baltimore could be among them. So even without Amazon HQ2, it’s clear leaders see tech as a means to help Port Covington grow.
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