NYC's latest moonshot challenge targets cybersecurity for small businesses

The building at 462 Broadway in SoHo, Manhattan, is home to HUB.NYC, the city's international cybersecurity investment center. (HUB.NYC)

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Officials in the New York mayor’s office recently discovered that while the city’s tens of thousands of small business owners are aware of the serious cybersecurity threats at large, they can’t afford to defend against them the way big companies do. So, the city announced on Thursday a “moonshot challenge” for industry to develop “cutting-edge” but affordable cybersecurity solutions for small and midsize businesses.

With more than $1 million in funding up for grabs, the challenge represents a “significant opportunity” for the city, said Jeremy Goldberg, NYC’s deputy chief technology officer and managing director of NYCx, a technology division of the mayor’s office that runs the challenges. Past challenges have encouraged local entrepreneurs and businesses to solve major urban problems like how to charge electric vehicles and how to provide broadband connectivity to areas lacking traditional infrastructure.

This latest challenge is part of $100 million public-private investment run by the NYC Economic Development Corporation aimed at making the city a global hub for cybersecurity innovation and workforce. That initiative, called Cyber NYC, has also spawned a suite of software tools to help the public stay secure online and a research and startup incubator.

Goldberg said the city settled on this particular challenge after a series of workshops and interviews that included owners of more than 50 small and midsize businesses. Eighty-six percent of them, he said, recognized cybersecurity as important, and 76 percent said they wanted more affordable cybersecurity solutions.

“We also saw that many of the people who are the most educated about cybersecurity best practices were concentrated in big companies and they can afford the cybersecurity software, the periodic training, and support staff,” Goldberg said.

Ana Ariño, NYCEDC’s chief strategy officer told StateScoop in an email that there is indeed an unmet demand in the marketplace for cybersecurity tools for small businesses.

“Unfortunately, existing cyber technologies–and many of the latest innovations–are tailored to large corporate enterprises and are not designed to be deployed in small businesses,” Ariño wrote.

The challenge’s website names several recent trends as contributing factors the cybersecurity threat facing small businesses, including the growing tendency of businesses to operate some public-facing website or online payment service; a trend in business owners using personal devices for business transactions; and general gaps in education — 62 percent of those surveyed by the city admitted they wouldn’t know what to do in the event of a cyberattack or data breach.

Small businesses, which New York defines as those having fewer than 100 employees, employ 1.6 million New Yorkers, according to NYCEDC. There are nearly 240,000 small and midsize businesses in New York, according to the city. Goldberg said he hopes to see this challenge spur the industry to serve that market with low-cost but “novel, cutting-edge” solutions.

Securing many small businesses isn’t a challenge unique to those inside New York’s boundaries, but the city won’t be facing the challenge only using local talent, either. Earlier this month, the city named Jerusalem Venture Partners as its partner to develop HUB.NYC , an international cybersecurity investment hub that so far has announced partnerships with the cities and countries of Israel, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Berlin, Helsinki, London, and Paris.

JVP general partner Yoav Tzruya wrote in a statement emailed to StateScoop that cybersecurity challenges are universal, which means international collaboration is essential.

“On top of the technological solutions that we are looking to source and invest in through this program, we also hope the collaboration would have positive impact on awareness, information exchange, standardization, legislation, incident response and best practices, that are so much needed for [small and medium-sized businesses’] cyber security,” Tzruya wrote.

The city says between four and eight finalists will receive awards of up to $20,000 to test their proposals in New York, along with “structured support” to deliver their technologies internationally. JVP has dedicated more than $1 million in investment to go toward selected proposals with the idea of accelerating economic growth locally.

The concept submission deadline is February 8, finalists are slated for announcement between the spring and summer of 2019, and winners are to be announced sometime in summer 2019.

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Cybersecurity, Innovation, moonshot challenge, NYCx, State & Local News, Tech News
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