Gula Tech Foundation has $1M for nonprofits increasing diversity in cybersecurity - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Dec. 8, 2020 10:40 am

Gula Tech Foundation has $1M for nonprofits increasing diversity in cybersecurity

Starting in 2021, former Tenable execs-turned-investors Ron and Cyndi Gula will seek out nonprofits with a series of competitive grant programs. The first is focused on African American engagement in cybersecurity.
Cyndi and Ron Gula speak at Startup Grind in Baltimore in 2017.

Cyndi and Ron Gula speak at Startup Grind in Baltimore in 2017.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The Columbia-based venture firm founded by former Tenable operators Ron and Cyndi Gula is launching a foundation to fund cybersecurity nonprofits.

On Jan. 4, the Gula Tech Foundation is opening a competitive grant program with $1 million in funding for nonprofits that are focusing on increasing engagement of African American people in cybersecurity — a group that is underrepresented in the growing industry.

Nonprofits focusing on education, training, scholarships, mentorship and professional development are invited to apply. Three grants will be awarded for $500,000, $300,000 and $200,000. Here’s the grant request form.

Cybersecurity faces a workforce shortage globally, and increasing diversity in the field can help to close that gap. But even with lots of job openings, there are shifts that need to take place where nonprofits can play a role, Cyndi Gula said. For one, starting with exposure that such a career is possible early is important. And there’s room to be more purposeful about breaking down barriers and providing the training that builds skills necessary to prepare for entry into the field.

When it comes to presenting cybersecurity to the public and attracting new people, Cyndi Gula has also taken to using a new term: “data care.” It offers a bit more of a personable approach, she said.

“When you say data care, people tend to want to listen and hear more,” she said. “They understand that it’s protective of their privacy.”

The first call is one of several such programs the foundation expects to run each year, with each taking on a different theme focused around workforce development, technology, education and policy. The married couple, who were former CEO (Ron) and employee number one (Cyndi) of Tenable when it was founded 16 years prior to the 2018 IPO, have gotten involved in nonprofit work. Ron Gula is involved in national cybersecurity policy work like Defending Digital Campaigns and the Center for Internet Security. Cyndi Gula is involved locally as a member of the Howard County Economic Development Board and as a Johns Hopkins Medicine Howard County General Hospital board trustee.

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They’ve enlisted an advisory board with 29 members, including leaders like CrowdStrike cofounder Dmitri Alperovitch, former NSA Director of Information Assurance Debora Plunkett and T. Rowe Price CISO Tom Quinn.

While it is focusing on nonprofits, the foundation is taking a similar approach as it does to companies. And with the funds it is providing, there’s a chance to offer the grant equivalent of a Series A round, which can help orgs grow. With the help of the advisory board they hope to identify the best organizations out there, and then amplify their message.

“What we’re committed to is trying to shine a light on the work that people are doing and helping them out a good bit,” Ron Gula said.

And they’re adding some competition because, just like startups, organization heads should be able to communicate clearly about what they do. Ron Gula said it comes down to five questions: What problem are you solving? How do you solve it? Do you have any proof of effectiveness? What are you going to do with the funding? And what is your vision of success?

“Were hoping to sharpen the toolshed, so to speak, of what people are working on out there,” Ron Gula said.

They’re looking nationally, but think it can also be a catalyst in the Baltimore-D.C. area, where there are plenty of other cybersecurity pros who could join in support.

“Hopefully if we amplify message of what’s happening locally, those cyber experts will get involve and help advance their mission as well,” he said.

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