Get all the right people in the same room at the same time, and Augusta will benefit.
That’s the mission and purpose of an inaugural conference that brought about 200 entrepreneurs, cybersecurity experts and potential investors to Augusta on Thursday.
At the Invest Augusta Cyber Conference, a scheduled slate of 15 speakers took the stage at the Legends Center on Washington Road to share their experiences and to dispense professional advice about starting a cyber business and fostering it to success.
Founders of several startup companies also attended to pitch their business concepts and pique the interest of angel investors.
Self-described Augusta “serial entrepreneur” Tony Lever first hatched the idea for the conference about a year ago, and started putting it together in earnest last February.
Lever was involved in other small-business startups for about 20 years before turning his attention three or four years ago – as many Augustans did – to cyber.
Two compelling factors are driving cyber growth in the Augusta area.
One is the transfer of the U.S. Army Cyber Command to Fort Gordon. The fort is the region’s largest employer with its vast communications and cybersecurity training centers, and has an annual economic impact on the region calculated at $2.26 billion.
The other is the $60 million Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, now under construction downtown on Reynolds Street. It will be the centerpiece of Augusta University’s Cyber Campus.
To cultivate success, involving the business community is key, Lever said.
“We have all the pieces in place to become a major player in this,” he said. “We have the research facility being built down on the river by the school, we have the fort, and now we’re trying to bring the investment community together.”
The fort and the university give the Augusta area a competitive edge, Anthony Robinson said. He is director of RSI Augusta, an information technology firm that connects companies to IT professionals in smaller cities. He helped emcee the conference.
“We can’t compete with every other community that has a healthy startup environment on every basis,” Dr. Robinson said. “But we could potentially compete when it comes to cybersecurity, because we have a competitive advantage. We have something they don’t have.”
G.B. Cazes, another speaker at the conference, agrees. The president of the cybersecurity and IT service company Metova also assists the CSRA Alliance advocacy group with its Fort Gordon Cyber District initiative.
“Every time I come to this region I always say the same thing: I would give up $100 million every day of the week to take what this community’s got,” he said.
Other speakers included Dan Woolley, a co-founder and former partner of MACH37, a seed accelerator that specializes in growing successful cybersecurity businesses. He said the Augusta region “is poised to take extract serious value from the cybersecurity market.”
One of his key pieces of advice for entrepreneurs: Be able to sum up your business idea in three seconds.
Developers spend months, sometimes years, on creating their products or services, But if they can’t successfully hook customers, Woolley said, “they wither and die.”
“When you think about startups, if you can’t tell me what you’re going to do and I can’t pick that up fast, I’m going to walk out the door,” he said.
Glen Whitley is the director of the Center of Innovation, Science and Technology for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. He attended the conference to network, and to gain a better feel of how cyber is developing in the Augusta area.
“If it’s good for Augusta, it’s good for Georgia,” he said.
Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.