You may have heard that TechSPARK has recently ventured into offering bespoke support per community. This started with the regional divisions of Bristol, Bath, Swindon & Wiltshire and South Wales, but there’s also a demand for focus to be given to the subsectors within the tech cluster. From this observation, Bristol & Bath Cyber was born. 

So, what is Bristol & Bath Cyber? Essentially, we’re a community of organisations and individuals, who are active in the digital security sector and have a shared intention to collaborate to build a unique ecosystem, that will support growth and attract talent, research, and investment into the area. We bring together cyber businesses of all sizes, from startups to scaleups, SMEs to market leaders, and members of the academic community from the four Universities within our region. Bristol & Bath Cyber connects people through its regular networking events, its workshops, education, and entrepreneurial programmes.

A recognised UKC3 Cyber cluster, Bristol & Bath Cyber shares the national mission to drive economic growth, facilitate knowledge exchange, and support skills growth, both in the region and nationally.

Meet our Cyber Community Manager

"Cybersecurity is a global issue, and we have some amazingly innovative ideas coming from enthusiastic people across our community"

Kerrianne Gauld

Connecting the cyber community

To lead this initiative, Kerrianne Gauld has been appointed Cyber Community Manager – if you want to have a conversation with Kerry about the cyber community here, do reach out: Kerry explains, “I joined the team at TechSPARK in January 2022, just as the UK was beginning to emerge from Covid restrictions, and I’ve been working to develop a series of key activities to bring together the multiple strands of the local cyber ecosystem.

“There have been no opportunities for in-person meetings for two years, so I felt it was a priority to enable the community to meet up and get to know one another. So far we’ve had two networking events, with some great speakers, and regular events are now planned for the rest of 2022. 

“I am also trying to get to know my community. I am enjoying finding out about all the interesting and innovative things that are going on in the cyber sector around Bristol, Bath, and surrounding areas. It is important for me to understand the challenges that the businesses are facing, and it’s part of my role to try to identify the solutions available.”

We caught up with Kerry to find out more about the highs and lows of the cyber community in the South West.

Why do we need a dedicated cyber community within our tech ecosystem?

There are some common needs and solutions that a broad tech ecosystem needs to thrive. Fundamentally, we need a critical mass of technology businesses to enable the establishment of a support infrastructure. This includes things like access to University research, incubators, investment community, established technology businesses that bring technical people and expertise, and affiliated services and supply chain.

Once you have some scale, differentiation naturally creates specialisms within the ecosystem. This will be driven by the skills and knowledge held within the community. Each niche has its own challenges and its own USP. A dedicated community helps that niche to grow and thrive.

Technology drives change, so it is inevitable that a tech ecosystem will develop its niche and, in the Bristol & Bath Cyber area, we are blessed with some leading edge cyber technology companies, four Universities with a focus on cyber education and research, and a strong entrepreneurial mindset. It should also be mentioned that cybersecurity touches every business. Keeping data secure is now a fundamental part of business operations.  

What challenges is the cyber community facing at the moment? How can we begin to relieve these?

Like much of the wider technology ecosystem, the cyber community is struggling to plug the skills gap. There are also many global factors that are applying pressure to the operational capabilities of the cybersecurity sector and driving the need for cyber resilience across other sectors.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has a programme aimed at increasing the integration of cyber security education into the school curriculum and into the fabric of the education of our future talent. We are part of the CyberFirst Schools Programme South West Pilot, which is extending the initial Cyber Schools Hub project, that began in Gloucestershire, across the South West from Cornwall to Wiltshire, from Dorset to Gloucester. This project brings together schools and industry to deliver a comprehensive education strategy and understanding of cybersecurity across the curriculum in a CyberFirst School.

There is also another initiative from The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) – Cyber Explorer, that aims to give young people the opportunity to learn digital skills needed in the workplace and to give them the best start to their careers.

For organisations that don’t operate in the cybersecurity sector, there is a Government-backed scheme that can help businesses to protect their operations against cyber attack. Cyber Essentials is a UK certification scheme designed to show that an organisation has a minimum level of protection in cyber security. Greater levels of cyber security is becoming more important to organisations who now have to factor in more home workers.

What’s a highlight of working in the cyber community? 

The cyber sector is buzzing at the moment. Cybersecurity is a global issue, and we have some amazingly innovative ideas coming from enthusiastic people across our community. I get excited to see what they’re doing, and to help them to access the tools they need that will enable them to define and refine their vision.

What are some exciting things coming up in the cyber community?

There is some amazing research and development being done across the cyber community in our area and nationally.

There’s a greater use of AI and Machine Learning on both sides, which is making the art of detection and security more challenging, but it is also opening up new disruptive security technologies. Teams at UWECyber are working on a range of research projects looking at a transferable and AI-enabled software security framework. There are also a number of startups in the region who are developing detection analysis systems that make use of AI and ML. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is undergoing substantial research. Projects, such as Secure Wireless Agile Networks (SWAN) being developed at the University of Bristol, will release some interim finding this year and there’s likely to be some interesting news on how to make wireless networks more resilient. This will impact on all aspects of daily life, from video doorbells to connected coffee machines, from Smart meters to health monitors.

As our vehicles become more ‘connected’ and able to drive themselves, securing the technology that controls Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) is paramount. These are just cars, larger CAVs, such as trains, drones, and delivery vans, are being developed. Software that detects anomalies in these systems has been developed to prove the theory that security anomalies can be detected and responded to appropriately. This early work will form the foundation for the future development of software in this emergent cybersecurity space.

The CyBOK project, led by the University of Bristol, is building the most comprehensive Body of Knowledge of fundamental cyber security topics, that will provide the foundations of education for cyber security across all education and professional training. They are not writing teaching manuals, they are mapping existing knowledge into a framework of Knowledge Areas, making it easier to keep track of the latest research, literature, white papers, and standards. The project includes a range of resources at all levels, including cybersecurity and cryptography learning materials for Toddlers!

How can people get involved? And why should people get involved?

An ecosystem isn’t one thing, one person, one regular night at the pub. It’s a connected network of diverse organisations that build trusted connections with other members, to fuel growth and innovation.  Bristol & Bath Cyber Cluster can help startups get started, it can help scaleups scale, it’s able to support founders, encourage investors, and organise a great networking event once a month.  But it can’t do that on its own.  It needs the community to come together, to make it work. What is a cluster if it’s not its people?

Would you like to see a more diverse and inclusive workforce? Are you struggling to recruit?  You can get involved and become a Cyber Ambassador and your organisation could become a CyberFirst Supporter. It won’t solve the problem overnight, but it will work towards a solution for the future. You could do that.

Have you got a great cyber business idea? You could get involved with the cluster by coming to one of our networking events where you can meet fellow startup founders, or investors, or mentors. You might be able to help another breakthrough idea become a viable business, or you could share some useful knowledge with the community by speaking at our annual conference or monthly networking event.

A vibrant and thriving ecosystem is like a magnet. If we can create a great community, together we can attract the talent, the entrepreneurs, the investors, the finance, and the great ideas. Bristol & Bath Cyber Cluster can only flourish if we co-operate across the ecosystem to build the right environment for growth.

You’ll find more information on our LinkedIn page, join our Meetup group or follow us on Twitter.

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Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.