Cyber partnerships, education emerge in Springs

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CSBJ File Photo

Two developments dominated cybersecurity news in 2016: the state’s decision to create a National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs and the opening of Catalyst Campus, a training, nonprofit and co-working space for technical companies with an emphasis on cybersecurity, startups and space operations.

Through the two entities, cybersecurity professionals, military officials and education leaders gathered several times this year to share perspectives and solutions to improve local business collaboration, discover new ways to combat cyber crimes and to tackle the industry’s workforce shortage.

NATIONAL CYBERSECURITY CENTER

In January, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced plans for the National Cybersecurity Center, with a focus on two initiatives through 2018: to make Colorado the center of cyber in the United States and to create more workforce training opportunities at the state’s colleges and universities.

In months that followed, stakeholders met to create the center’s bylaws, and the state legislature awarded the nonprofit $7.8 million to renovate the former TRW building — now owned by UCCS — for its operations. By October, the NCC hired Air Force veteran and cybersecurity expert Ed Rios as its permanent CEO. A month later, the organization hosted its first conference to educate elected officials about cybersecurity threats and workforce needs.

“We received great support and feedback from representatives from 10 different states and are going to try to host the event twice a year, one possibly in early summer and the other in late fall,” Rios said.

The NCC’s next training event will occur in February. But its permanent facility at 3650 N. Nevada Ave. won’t be available to the nonprofit until July.

“We’re continuing to establish our participation and partnerships in the community so that we can hit the ground running in the new year,” Rios said.

In 2016, the NCC established its board of directors, hired its initial round of employees and held its first events, Rios said.

“[We did it] all in support of cybersecurity, with significant participation from state, local and national sponsors and participants,” he said. “We continue to be specifically focused on elected officials and small to mid-sized businesses.”

By early next year, the NCC will hire additional staff and have a volunteer program up and running, he said.

“I think the NCC has made tremendous strides toward assessing the needs of workforce development and drafting plans for supporting the NCC in the future,” he said.

CATALYST CAMPUS

Local businessman Kevin O’Neil bought the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad depot on Pikes Peak Avenue in October 2014, with the vision of creating Catalyst Campus to increase military and private-public partnerships, grow the local economy and help engineering and tech companies succeed. Its grand opening was in June.

The campus is now home to more than a dozen tech organizations. O’Neil told the Business Journal last month that the campus is doing exactly what he’d hoped it would: talking to customers without a presence in Colorado Springs.

The idea, he said, is to buy and move companies to Colorado Springs or start new ones and grow them organically.

“The [economic] engine, what it’s building and the successes behind the scenes will become very impressive for our community,” O’Neil said. “Anything that we’re finishing, we’re occupying with exactly the companies we want to be here.”

And the developments make it unique in the nation, O’Neil said.

“The customer excitement has been fun because I’m seeing customers that we didn’t think we could help, coming to Colorado Springs when they’ve never been here before,” he said.

EDUCATION

To bolster the cybersecurity workforce, local colleges and universities are expanding cybersecurity coursework. But the work doesn’t stop there: Cybersecurity firms in the Springs are partnering with high schools to develop the future workforce.

For two weeks in July, STEM Education for Southern Colorado hosted a cybersecurity camp at Sand Creek High School, and local firm SecureSet provided hands-on classwork to create enthusiasm for the field.

Roughly 30 students and 26 teachers attended Generation Cyber.

And late in the year, SecureSet announced a new partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, a move that allows former military members to use their GI Bill benefits to attend cybersecurity training provided by the company.

Depending on experience, education and abilities, salaries in cybersecurity can range from $45,000 to $120,000 a year.

“Everyone knows cybersecurity is important, but they don’t often know that they can be part of the solution and part of the fight,” said Alex Kreilein, managing partner at SecureSet.

“We’ve partnered with local schools to provide young people choices in their career and get them interested in a field that they can go right to work in.”

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