​Austrade to promote Australia's cyber talent to the US

Australia will be sending around 20 cybersecurity companies to the RSA Conference in San Francisco next year to showcase what the nation has to offer.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia's cybersecurity capabilities and researchers will be showcased to global players in the United States in February, in a delegation sent to the RSA Conference in San Francisco led by Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Alastair MacGibbon and recently appointed CEO of the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network Craig Davies.

According to Nicola Watkinson, Austrade's senior trade and investment commissioner for North America, 18 to 20 Australian companies comprising of startups with a particular technology or solution right through to established businesses that are keen to move more into the US market will be participating in the trek the US.

Based in New York, Watkinson told ZDNet that due to the huge demand for cybersecurity in the US, Austrade has been looking at what capability Australia has, and how that ties in with the US market.

"In fact, it is a very good fit," Watkinson said. "A number of the companies we've been talking to who have come to Australia to have a look at what we have to offer have said that what's on display in Australia is totally world class, and certainly on par with the US -- and certainly, in some cases, has some real distinct areas of competitive advantage."

Watkinson said Austrade has been encouraged by such claims, as well as by the growing ecosystem of cybersecurity in Australia. She said both played a large part in the decision to send Australian talent to be showcased in San Francisco.

The US government is the primary driver of the US cybersecurity industry, Watkinson explained, budgeting a cyber spend of $19 billion for 2017.

"It doesn't work in all sectors, and particularly the US is not a market that automatically values the role of government in the way that some Asian markets do, but in an area like cybersecurity, it is really important," she said.

Austrade is in six locations in the US -- New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, and Houston -- and the government trade commission is there to help US-based companies set up operations such as such as R&D centres, joint ventures, and manufacturing operations in Australia.

Additionally, Austrade assists Australian companies enter the US market and find new opportunities and partners in the US, while also arranging partnerships, be that institution to institution or from US companies funding research in Australia in a particular field.

"It's really the reason the cybersecurity topic is so interesting to us, because it brings all of those together," Watkinson added.

The Bay Area in California is home to a handful of global cybersecurity firms, including Symantec, Intel, Palo Alto Networks, Cisco, and FireEye, and all have established a presence in Australia.

"This provides Australia's cybersecurity businesses with an added advantage. We are also assisted because Australia is a popular testbed for technology, as well as the home of some of the best cybersecurity research institutions, making us an attractive ecosystem," Watkinson said.

"What attracts companies to other markets in the world is a number of things, one of which is the talent pool. This is a really fast-growing business, and it's hard to find the right qualified people with a really good understanding of the industry.

"These companies look around the world for where the hotspots are in areas like cybersecurity or med-tech, for example, and in this particular space, Australia has a really good story to tell."

The US mission builds on initiatives managed by Austrade, which includes Australia's Startup Landing Pad program that kicked off in San Francisco's RocketSpace technology campus in February.

At a cost of AU$11 million, the Startup Landing Pad initiative is aimed at helping Australian entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market.

Tel Aviv was announced as the second host city for the government-funded project; Shanghai was unveiled as the desired location for the third landing pad; Berlin was revealed as the fourth location; and Singapore was confirmed as the fifth and final landing pad in May.

When announcing the Landing Pad initiative, the Australian government said the billion-dollar promise would be used to incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship, reward risk taking, and promote science, maths, and computing in schools.

Watkinson said the initiative is now onto its second startup cohort at RocketSpace, with the first batch finishing their tenure in early November.

"Already two of them are on the verge of some quite good deals, which is really encouraging -- it really does show that this sort of approach is delivering really tangible benefits to our startups," she said.

Looking forward, Watkinson said Austrade hopes to plan further interaction with Australian cybersecurity-focused companies in the coming year. Similarly, she said Austrade will be undertaking work in a similar vein around blockchain, and in medtech, where Watkinson said some thriving hotspots in the US can be explored.

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