I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Darin Andersen, founder of CyberTECH (CyberHive and iHive incubators) in San Diego, CA.
CyberTECH is a community of cyber security and IoT professionals. According to the web site, (http://cybertechnetwork.org), CyberTECH is a global cyber security and Internet of Things (IoT) network ecosystem providing cyber security and IoT resources, strategic programs and thought leadership events across the nation. The CyberTECH mission is to stimulate innovation and advance the adoption of cyber and IoT technologies for the economic and social benefit of the nation. CyberTECH in San Diego was spawned from CyberTECH.
The purpose of CyberTECH is to support both resident and non-resident members. To achieve this, CyberTECH provides Internet access, facilities, (including phone, desk, reception, etc.), networking events, introductions to business leaders and potential colleagues, and access to the talent that can help companies get to the next level.
It’s a new model, sometimes menu driven and sometimes custom built, is tailored to a company, time and facilities. What Darin refers to as “social incubation.” The goal is to help engineer a minimum viable product and help the companies in the program get their product to market. Each company is in a different stage, so this looks different for each company. For those that want a structured program, they can provide a template, and for those with more fluid needs, they have a network of partners (including their “Board of Advisors,” of which this reporter is a member) that can work with the companies and help them grow to the next stage. The typical benefit is access to connections, labor and capital.
I asked Darin if there are criteria for membership and his response is that CyberTECH, “is primarily a community-based model. People generally do flock together even if the affinities that attract them vary widely. So in a sense, the community actually selects the participants and there are really no formal criteria.” I also wanted to know if there was an indicator that a company was ready to graduate and the answer here was, I think, pretty typical of an entrepreneurial mindset: funding. If a company continues to get funding, they are viable as long as that funding continues. When the company can no longer attract money, the market has de-selected their idea.
While doing my research for this interview I came across statements, notably from Lucas Carlson that incubators didn’t really do the work of crafting a startup, were mostly busy work, and essentially a waste of time. Darin’s take is that while CyberTECH sponsors and drives many social events that are used to network, provides thought leadership, and fine-tunes presentations and pitches, they do not put companies through a set script so that companies can take advantage of these opportunities at a point that is right for them. “When companies take on money, that increases their runway, the social incubator helps them stretch it further.”
CyberTECH has a self-sustaining model. They have inbound residents and non-residents, each of which pay a membership fee based on what they consume. It’s not really a “pay to play” model, but each company should have “skin in the game.” For companies at this stage, resource constraints make for more creativity because necessity really is the mother of invention. CyberTECH only has one paid employee. Besides membership fees, funding comes from community sponsors, small grants (some national), and partnerships (for example, Life Journey).
Darin cited a few examples of companies that have benefited from CyberTECH’s unique “social incubator.”
One unique example is iWeb gate, a company from Australia. CyberTECH helped the Australians create a presence in the US (specifically in Silicon Valley), connected them to Cyberflow Analytics (another CyberTECH member) and the City of San Diego, and made introductions and helped build the go-to-market plan in the US. The company subsequently went public in Australia last year.
Speaking of Cyberflow Analytics, this is a San Diego-based company that performs core network analytics. CyberTECH introduced them to connections, and helped them recruit.
For San Diego startup “Brainlike”, who provides sensors and data analytics, CyberTECH helped out with physical facilities, helped with hiring, and did introductions to investors.
Another San Diego, startup, Crypteron, provides next-generation cloud security solutions and is a non-resident member. The founder, Sid Sheyte, hung out at CyberHive and met Wolfgang Wedemeyer, and then brought him in as CTO. Together, they pivoted the company in a new direction.
Our conversation also touched on the value of IoT to cities and our society as a whole. To illustrate, Darin described the impact of an IoT company in a very relatable industry: waste management. Waste management, as unglamorous as it is and as seemingly impervious to technological disruption as it is, presents a terrific opportunity to a company called Bigbelly. Bigbelly comes from Boston and uses a solar powered smart trashcan to both compact trash as it is deposited and communicate with monitors via a Bluetooth mesh grid so that trash is picked up at the optimal time, i.e., when the can is full, not when the truck was scheduled to conduct its rounds.
While this is a great way for cities and organizations to save money, it provides several additional benefits. The nature of the Bigbelly can makes retrieving recyclable items virtually impossible, which in turn reduces theft and unwanted congregation around the receptacles. Additionally, the mesh grid can be used as a WiFi hotspot thus improving WiFi coverage.
I asked Darin if he had any final thoughts. He said, "ttake the plunge. We are really evolving into a micro company world where startups are more important and the social incubator is a great place to start. It's a grassroots effort that is good for economy. Live the dream. The cost of being an entrepreneur is lower than it has ever been, sometimes with zero actual money down.”