Gula Tech Adventures, the investment firm started by Tenable cofounders Ron and Cyndi Gula, is planning to hold a cyber pitch competition this spring with national reach.
CyberQuest 2020 will award a $150,000 investment from Gula Tech Adventures to one company. Applications are open to entrepreneurs from anywhere in the U.S. through March 20. The final event is scheduled for April 21 in Columbia.
Along with cybersecurity, the firm is accepting pitches from companies in artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, cloud, virtual reality and automation.
The Gulas launched Gula Tech Adventures in 2017, drawing on experience in key leadership roles at Tenable — Ron Gula was CEO and Cyndi Gula was an executive — from its founding in 2002. The Columbia cybersecurity company IPO’d in 2018, and continues to expand. Among its portfolio, Gula Tech Adventures has invested in notable funding rounds from local cybersecurity companies over the last couple years, including Racktop Systems, Bandura, Cybrary and Inky.
With the pitch competition, they are planning a public-facing demonstration of the firm’s work investing in new technology that they feels is needed, such as working on cyber policy and encouraging more folks to enter the cyber workforce.
“We hope a public event like this will inspire more people to be cyber entrepreneurs and solve tough cyber problems,” Ron Gula said. “We also think it is a great opportunity to bring together many cyber experts from across the country who have an impact on policy and workforce development.”
The top five companies chosen from the applicants will get an invite to the April 21 event. At the event, judges will be given a virtual budget to invest across the companies, with the winner getting the real-dollar investment.
So, what are they seeking in the company that ultimately gets funding? It comes down to five areas.
“Ideally we will select a company that has focused on a specific cyber problem, developed a solution to that problem, demonstrated some sort of success with a customer, has a sense of what funding they need to take their company to the next level and has some sort of vision for how this plays out,” Gula said. “This is a lot to ask of a startup, but a mistake many startups make is to focus on areas other than these five things.”
They’re sending out invites to folks around the country, but the event’s location naturally puts a focus on Columbia, and Maryland. It’s a point of pride for Gula that Tenable grew in the state, representing a commercial success in an area known as the headquarters of the government cyber’s force. With more companies coming along, it’s also a place where they see opportunity.
“Cyndi and I want to do CyberQuest here in Columbia, because we believe the state could easily have 10 more ‘IPOable’ cyber companies in the next decade,” Gula said. “We need more cyber startups to join the fight keeping our nation safe, our data private, our elections secure and our AIs tamper-free — the opportunity and the threat is simply enormous.”