Martin McGregor

Farewell to CyRise: Reflecting on the venture accelerator's impact on Australian cyber security

Venture accelerator, supporter, and champion of cyber security startups in the Asia Pacific, CyRise officially closed their doors on 19 May 2023. 

Their closure means Australia is now left without a sovereign cyber security startup accelerator. 

CyRise made a significant contribution to the future of numerous cyber startups and the Australian cyber security community. While it's often said all good things must come to an end, their closure is incredibly disappointing. 

Having gone through the accelerator program myself, I know first-hand what CyRise means to the community and the impact they have on cyber startups in Australia. CyRise opened in 2017 headed by CEO Scott Handsaker and backed by NTT and Deakin University. They have achieved remarkable milestones, made incredible contributions and secured investments for 39 promising startups—including Devicie. 

"I leave with a deep appreciation for the work Australia’s cyber security founders are doing. It would be hard to find a more mission-driven, passionate and ambitious community and it has been a privilege to play a small part in their growth," shared CyRise founder and CEO Scott Handsaker. 

As we bid farewell to CyRise, I want to reflect on the impact they had on Devicie and the rest of the community. I know it's an end of an era for CyRise, but I am certain their legacy will live on through the extraordinary growth and accomplishments of the startups they accelerated.  

CyRise achievements and milestones: The legacy they leave behind  

CyRise was established to support and encourage entrepreneurial ambition in the Australian cyber security ecosystem. 

"We saw a discrepancy between the low number of companies created and the high volume of talented founders in Australia, and we wanted to help fix that," said CyRise CEO Scott Handsaker. 

While the accelerator program has come to an end, CyRise leaves behind a legacy underpinned by a vision of creating a cyber security ecosystem in Australia. 

As Australia’s only venture accelerator focused on cyber security startups, there is no denying CyRise accelerated security startup investment momentum. Let's not forget when the company launched in 2017, the environment was not what it is today. Now investing in Australian cyber startups is seen as a sound investment, but back in 2017, there was plenty of hesitation. 

''Over the last six years we have helped to show that not only is cyber a growing and relevant sector, but that Australian cyber security startups can make for outstanding investments."

Scott Handsaker, CEO, CyRise 

CyRise secured investment for 39 promising startups. These ventures, nurtured under CyRise's guidance, have thrived with 55% of them securing additional funding amounting to over $40 million. With a return multiple of 3.55x and an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 50%, the success of CyRise's alumni illustrates the quality of Australian cyber security startups. 

It's clear the program paved the way for national and international success for many Australian cyber security startups. The impact of CyRise extends beyond monetary gains and scaling businesses. The companies who emerged from the program created over 150 high-value jobs in Australia, amplifying the growth of the local cyber security industry. 

"Looking at all the CyRise founders, all 39 portfolio companies, all building amazing products, I am always humbled by your courage and conviction. This is still only the beginning of exciting new horizons. Global success awaits you."

Kirstin McIntosh, Chief Operating Officer, CyRise 

The Devicie and CyRise journey: far more than just securing investment 

Reflecting on Devicie's journey with CyRise, I think about how fortunate we were to be part of such an extensive and considered program. 

I first heard about CyRise through my mentor Bradley Busch, whom I sought advice from before launching Devicie. Knowing the intricacies and difficulties of starting and running a cyber company, I wanted guidance from someone with extensive experience in scaling cyber security startups and taking a product to global markets. We were fortunate to find mentorship in Brad who at the time was CISO and CTO of Macquarie Capital. 

Brad played a crucial role in helping Devicie navigate early business decisions and identifying areas where we needed improvement. One key area was effectively marketing and selling Devicie at scale, which is why he recommended applying for the CyRise program.  

That advice and decision was a game-changer for us. 

There is nothing like CyRise in Australia and I don't know where we would be without them—something I imagine is true for many other startups who went through the program.  

From the beginning, the program set a fast pace that reflected the realities of startup life. This intense pace became something we learned to appreciate and maintain. It provided us with a crash course in various disciplines, including financial management, projecting expenses, and effectively utilising investments. But, it was about so much more than just securing investment.  

The program covered crucial aspects of marketing, with industry professionals and sales leaders sharing their expertise. These individuals were and still are the absolute leaders of their industries. Driven by a desire to give back and support emerging companies, they generously offered their guidance and support, which was instrumental in securing our first customers and partners.  

"For the startups in the accelerator program, I hope we showed them that they were capable of being great. That they had everything they needed to build a global company if they aimed high enough."

Scott Handsaker, CEO, CyRise 

Along with giving our business a tangible boost, the program fostered a sense of community among all participants. What remains true is the strength of that community is unwavering. 

From mentee to mentor  

Since going through the CyRise accelerator, I have come full circle and become a mentor to other startups in the program. It has been a fulfilling and exciting experience to work with companies who are at the same stage we were just a few years ago. They face the same challenges and need support and advice. 

The program successfully filled a gap in the industry and Devicie owes much of its success to CyRise and the community it cultivated. The connections made and the support received have been pivotal in our growth. That’s why we're committed to maintaining these connections and contributing to the community. 

Take a stroll down memory lane and see our original Demo Day pitch.  

The final Demo Day: Cohort Seven 

Emotions were high at the final Demo Day in Sydney on 9 May and not just for Cohort Seven who were undoubtedly nervous as they pitched to investors. 

The final five startups to go through the program and be put through their paces on Demo Day were  Ensignia, InfoSecAssure, Nullify, Onqlave and 6pillars. They walk away with incredible support, potential investment and a wealth of knowledge and a place in the cyber security ecosystem CyRise created. 

Kirstin pointed out on the night that while this is the end of the program, it is not the end of the community. CyRise created a strong foundation for the future of cyber startups, and she encouraged the audience to continue to be risk-takers, continue to be part of the ecosystem and continue to support cyber security startups in Australia.  

Strongs words she reiterated in a recent post: "Together, we have created something very special— an ecosystem which will flourish in the future, because there are so many of you today who will nurture it and help it to grow. With an innovation mindset, you can’t ‘unsee’ potential." 

With the mentorship, support and knowledge Devicie gained from the program, I know many of the companies in the CyRise portfolio will continue to thrive and achieve global success. 

What's next for cyber startups seeking a sovereign accelerator program? 

When it comes to supporting cyber startups in Australia, the lack of available systems and services is concerning. The landscape is already highly competitive and it takes more than just financial backing to bring a company to fruition. 

Something that is often highlighted when talking to my peers, domestically and internationally, is starting a cyber company in Australia is more challenging than it should be. 

It is an issue CyRise helped 39 startups overcome. 

So, without CyRise and outside of financial investments or incubators, what are the capabilities of the community and the Government to assist new startups in finding their first customers, understanding marketing strategies, and clearing a path for both initial and future success? What is there to help these startups hit the ground running? 

Despite the abundance of talk and posturing in Australia regarding support for cyber startups, there is a significant dearth of actual assistance when it is needed the most. The closure of CyRise serves as a disheartening demonstration of this issue. It is particularly frustrating considering the extensive rhetoric coming from politicians and the Government about supporting Australian technology and businesses that are focused on defending against cyber-attacks. 

CyRise was a high-performing accelerator that not only aided startups but contributed to the broader cyber security industry. 

Consider the 39 companies who went through the CyRise program. These startups actively developed products and services that solve real problems for Australian businesses. Without the support and capabilities provided by CyRise, would these startups, their products or their services be where they are today? And, if not, we must ask ourselves if these businesses’ customers would be left vulnerable, especially in the face of growing cyber threats. 

So, what does it mean for Australian businesses and their ability to defend against cybercrime if future startups don't have the support to get their companies, products and services to market? 

If the government and politicians are genuinely committed to supporting businesses in the face of rampant cybercrime, investing in innovation and empowering security professionals is a logical step.  

What I can be sure of is that I will be watching what the community does next closely and I look forward to seeing what comes of the legacy of CyRise.