Even if you’ve never visited the Gateway Arch or attended a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium, chances are good that a piece of your personal data has made it through a processing center somewhere in St. Louis.
After all, the region is home to Mastercard’s operations center as well as omnipresent financial services firms including Edward Jones and Wells Fargo Advisors. That cadre of companies and the region’s growing startup community made St. Louis a strategic launching point for SixThirty, a global financial technology venture fund and business development program.
Many startups seeking money, mentorship and other resources were “information security companies wrapped in fintech clothing,” said managing partner Atul Kamra, referencing the overlapping space that SixThirty serves.
The partners and staff at SixThirty — named after the Arch’s dimensions, 630-feet in height and width — also recognized that the overlap presented an opportunity to create a second business development program focused exclusively on cybersecurity startups.
Like its sister seed fund, SixThirty CYBER invests up to $250,000 each in a handful of startups per year and also provides the emerging entrepreneurs with training, mentoring and networking opportunities with leaders in government defense, finance and intelligence agencies. SixThirty CYBER also provides established corporations and agencies with an early look at products, services and other industry innovations designed to keep their networks safe.
“SixThirty CYBER is a magnet attracting some of the best ideas in cybersecurity from across the globe,” Kamra said. “And we’re a source of intelligence and a catalyst for ideas for the community on one side and the entrepreneurs on the other.”
The venture fund is part of an emerging infrastructure business that leaders hope will make St. Louis a center point for the cybersecurity industry, which is expected to expand exponentially as companies deal with data breaches and try to predict the next cybersecurity threat. St. Louis is also home to the largest local chapter of the Security Advisor Alliance, a nonprofit trade group of information security professionals. The alliance’s advisory board includes executives from local corporate powerhouses such as Monsanto, Mastercard, Express Scripts and Thomson Reuters.
Those corporations and other local organizations and agencies provide a deep pool of mentors and money to the cybersecurity entrepreneurs who come to work with experts in the region. The collaborative culture that has evolved among area academics and information security officers from firms that span finance, healthcare, defense and other industries provides deep roots for St. Louis’ cybersecurity ecosystem, Kamra said.
“Our mentorship capacity and our buying power are extremely valuable assets for some of the best solutions that are being developed around the globe,” he said. “And to get companies here to work with our academic talent, work with our corporate players, work in this collaborative culture, are adding to the ability to attract talent. So it brings it together.”
Meeting a global need
ISACA, a nonprofit information security advocacy group, estimates there will be a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019. Already, 40,000 jobs for information security analysts go unfilled in the U.S. each year and employers are trying to fill 200,000 other cybersecurity-related roles, according to cybersecurity data tool CyberSeek.
Although St. Louis has an expanding framework of resources, other regions are also vying to become cybersecurity centers to meet wide-ranging demand. For instance, officials in Ohio are developing the Cincinnati-Dayton Cyber Corridor and the state of Georgia is investing $50 million in the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a state-owned research and education facility set to open later this year.
“No region around the country has their workforce shortage figured out right now,” said Tony Bryan, executive director of the Midwest Cyber Center, a nonprofit that provides cybersecurity certification training, youth education programs and other services aimed at expanding the region’s cybersecurity workforce and educating the public about industry issues.
Among other initiatives, the Cyber Center, located near Scott Air Force Base in Southern Illinois, operates a registered apprenticeship program that enables people to train as cybersecurity analysts. Colleges and universities across the region are also introducing or ramping up cybersecurity programs, but colleges alone won’t be able to meet the burgeoning need for cyber-savvy workers, Bryan said.
“It’s going to take educators to be creative,” Bryan said. It’s going to take employers to be creative in how they’re hiring and whether they’re willing to take some entry-level folks and then invest some time and some risk in babysitting — quite honestly — some of the candidates.”
The Cyber Center also operates the CTRL Cyber Technology and Research Lab, which offers hands-on information security exercises for students as well as cybersecurity professionals who want to test tech solutions under certain scenarios.
Events at the CTRL lab include CyberPatriot trainings and competitions, which put teams of middle and high school students in the shoes of newly hired IT professionals charged with managing the network of a small company, identifying cybersecurity vulnerabilities and improving security systems while maintaining critical computing services. Introducing more students to such real-world training is an important part of the Cyber Center’s mission.
One in four young people don’t realize cybersecurity is a career path they can pursue and many others don’t know what the industry is all about, Bryan said.
“The important part is how do you provide tangible activities for them to do to help them decide whether it’s something they like or don’t like,” he said.
Bryan said there’s a strong possibility the Cyber Center will launch a second CTRL lab at T-REX by the end of the year. The co-working space and technology incubator located in downtown St. Louis would offer easier access to people who live in or near the city and hopefully attract more diverse populations to participate in programs and events, Bryan said.
Closing the talent gap and attracting more women and minorities to technology careers is also high on the priority list for the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, which hosted its second Gateway 2 CyberCity conference in November 2017. The event’s original intent was to focus on issues facing the financial services industry, but planners soon realized cybersecurity overshadowed other concerns and cast a pall over the business community as a whole, said Len Reynolds, director of the financial services sector at the chamber.
Organizers hope ongoing efforts increase awareness of key issues in the industry for business leaders, highlights employment and economic opportunities in the industry and eventually increases the number of job openings for information technology professions in the area. Last year’s conference attracted more than 350 attendees who shared ideas and best practices, said Reynolds.
“So we are bringing people to the table not just for the purpose of having a discussion, but using this event as a catalyst toward change in what they do,” he said.
Reynolds anticipates some of those changes will soon start happening in human resources departments, where hiring managers will not only have to ramp up efforts to recruit and retain in-demand cybersecurity experts, but educate everyone to be more cyber savvy.
“Everywhere in the organization, from reception to the loading dock, is potentially a vulnerable spot for a cybersecurity attack,” Reynolds said. “So everyone really has to be on top of what’s happening.”