Abstrakt is Co-Winner of Eighth Startup Showdown
Abstrakt is one of the two winners of Startup Showdown, a monthly pitch competition from BIP Ventures designed to showcase and fund early-stage tech companies.
We're pleased to announce that CyDeploy is the winner of our fifth Startup Showdown pitch competition designed to showcase and fund early-stage tech companies. CyDeploy, which creates a cloud-based replica of a company's IT systems and uses AI and machine learning to test the functional impact of cybersecurity updates (configurations and patches), has received a $120,000 investment prize and joins the BIP Ventures portfolio.
To learn more about CyDeploy and its experience in the pitch competition, we interviewed Tina C. Williams-Koroma, the company's founder and CEO.
I was born in North Carolina, but my father was in the military, so we moved around quite a bit. I've lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area for the last 23 years and I've been in the cybersecurity field for 19 years, working for large organizations such as Lockheed and Unisys as well as for small businesses before starting my own cybersecurity risk-management company, TCecure. CyDeploy is my newest venture.
I'm a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). My academic background includes a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), a master's degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law.
Although I've worked at several organizations as an employee, I've always been an entrepreneur at heart. I started my first venture at age seven on a military base where my dad was stationed and where we lived. There was a golf course near our neighborhood, and I assembled my friends to start a "business" of retrieving golf balls that were hit off the course into messy areas that the golfers didn't want to bother with. We'd wash up the balls and resell them to other golfers along with lemonade. When I got a little older, I shifted to babysitting and pet sitting. I had a dot-matrix printer and I'd put up flyers all over the base advertising my services. That's also when I learned about "stakeholder engagement," with my parents being the stakeholders. They weren't very happy with my pet-sitting, especially when there would be strange dogs in the house. That business didn't last long.
I also tried several entrepreneurial approaches right out of college, doing software development and even starting a nonprofit. I founded TCecure nine years ago (executing for seven years), which is a cybersecurity risk-management company for public sector and commercial clients. I first realized the need for a solution like CyDeploy while working with many of my TCecure clients.
CyDeploy is an on-demand, AI-driven platform that helps organizations answer the question of "what will break if I make these necessary security changes to my systems?" Essentially, it mirrors the organization's IT systems in the cloud so that you can test the impact of security updates before you make them to the actual systems. It provides a very efficient way to identify security gaps and apply solutions while being confident that changes won't adversely impact IT operations. This is important, since many organizations don't make updates or do things to improve their cybersecurity for fear that it might cause something to break or go down.
Our targets are enterprise organizations, which is defined as organizations with 1,000 or more employees, and managed service providers (MSPs) with on average 50 customers. We're currently wrapping up our pilot program for CyDeploy and working on our go-to-market strategy with a goal of having the solution commercially available by late 4Q21/1Q22.
Earlier this year, we received a $90,000 grant from the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program, which provides grants for promising new technology innovations. MIPS connects the resources of Maryland's public universities to its grant recipients, enabling them to leverage the universities' facilities, resources, and expertise to develop their products.
I submitted the MIPS application alongside Dr. Anupam Joshi, a professor and the chair of computer science and electrical engineering at UMBC who has specific expertise in AI and cybersecurity. The grant is allowing me to do the research and functional development work for CyDeploy with him and post-graduate and undergraduate students within the college.
I was introduced to one of BIP Ventures' managing partners by a highly successful entrepreneur in my network who is also an investor in CyDeploy. We were at an earlier stage of development than the types of companies BIP Ventures typically invests in, but the partner told me about Startup Showdown and suggested that I apply to pitch, which I immediately did.
The investment capital will go toward helping me build CyDeploy's leadership team, including most immediately a CTO/product manager. It will also help pay for the cloud-hosting services we'll need to scale the technology beyond the pilot program.
While I'm an experienced entrepreneur through TCecure, building a technology product company is very different from building a services company. The opportunity to leverage the advice and experience of the mentors and judges was highly beneficial as many of them have significant experience with B2B SaaS solutions, which CyDeploy is, including road mapping this kind of product.
I believe the connections I made through the competition will help in gaining access to our target customers.
The competitions not only help you to refine your pitch, product roadmap, and business model, they're also a great potential source for funding and a way to build important industry connections. There's an application process, but it wasn't overly onerous or burdensome. My advice to other founders is that you can't win if you don't try. It's worth the time and effort even if you don't walk away with the investment prize. It's definitely a win-win.
Startup Showdown is held monthly, with winners receiving a $120,000 investment prize. The next event will be held in-person in Charlotte, NC and broadcast globally on Tuesday, November 16th. Click here to apply to pitch.