AustCyber-Stone & Chalk merger: Goal is Australian cybersecurity done right

Australia must play “long game” around security in an increasingly connected world buffeted by Great Power rivalries, which the combined entity will be more able to do, its leaders say.

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Australia must play “a long game” in building a national security strategy to “address the tensions between security, prosperity, and cohesion in a multicultural society,” an Australian National University (ANU) academic advised during a National Press Club speech with AustCyber CEO Michelle Price, just weeks before Price’s cybersecurity industry development body surprised the market with a significant combination of interests, merging AustCyber into private-sector small-business technology network Stone & Chalk this week.

At that event, the year 2020’s “vicissitudes have prompted an acceleration of middle players … seeking new ways to collaborate and respond to a challenge that is becoming global,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the ANU National Security College.

He also said:

Connectivity, cyberspace, and Great Power rivalries are collapsing the boundaries between security and economics, the domestic and the international, and even people and technology.

Therefore, the vital terrain for national and international security is now what happens at home. … If we are playing a long game, and I believe we must, we need a vision for a confident, resilient, inclusive Australia that explains how it all fits together—and this requires a truly inclusive national conversation.

Medcalf’s call for a nationally cohesive security strategy was echoed by AustCyber’s Price, who reported having “great hope” in building that cohesion moving forward. “Because of the pandemic,” she said, “we are having conversations now about the three elements of national interest—national security, economic prosperity, and social impact—and to see them for what they are. They are the engines for the identity of this nation.”

Cybersecurity, as an engine of growth and change, had “burst onto the scene relative to a lot of other topics that we face as a nation,” Price said, citing the rapid growth of AustCyber since its establishment in 2017. “When we started as an organisation to help propel the growth of Australia’s cybersecurity industry, there was no consensus and we couldn’t actually tell for certain how many sovereign cybersecurity companies we had operating in our economy.”

Four years later, she said, “the pandemic has proven to us that we have had an underlying dependency on digital activity for some time now [although] we haven’t really known how to measure it, and we certainly haven’t really known how to talk about it.”

Intensifying the conversation: How AustCyber came to join Stone & Chalk

Price’s observations, and the momentum that the industry has gained while coalescing around AustCyber’s stimulus, paved the way for the merger into Stone & Chalk, perhaps the most significant step in Australia’s cybersecurity startup industry.

The surprise announcement grew out of discussions that started around the time Price and Medcalf joined each other on stage and was welcomed across the industry—with advocates saying the move will redouble the resources available to help small cybersecurity firms find their commercial footing and growth.

AustCyber was established in 2017 as an Australian government Industry Growth Centre, fostering a host of cybersecurity startups through extensive networking and providing direct support to a slew of companies through its $15 million Projects Fund.

Price has been an enthusiastic advocate for Australia’s cybersecurity sector, speaking regularly at conferences and working closely with cybersecurity innovators to help them refine their go-to-market strategies in line with Australia’s Cyber Security Sector Competitiveness Plan.

Stone & Chalk, for its part, was established in 2018 with the goal of supporting startups and scale-ups across the country, “catalysing commercial success” through partnerships with experts, universities, investors, mentors, corporates, and government organisations.

What’s next for AustCyber under Stone & Chalk

Under the terms of the merger, AustCyber and Stone and Chalk will continue operating under their current brands and structures, although AustCyber will become a wholly owned subsidiary of the other firm—and will retain its national network of Cyber Security Innovation Nodes.

“We’ve got great skills in our respective swim lanes around how to grow ecosystems,” Price said in announcing the merger, and coming together means that we can not only take the lessons of our experiences so far, but take the ideas and the passion that we have for growing great Australian companies across emerging technologies, to propel them into the world.

The merged organisation will, AustCyber said, create an “impact network” spanning 11 locations nationwide, boasting relationships with more than 560 startups and scale-ups; a roster of 147 alumni companies; and more than 150 Australian companies that have successfully built export businesses.

With more than $520 million in capital already raised, the two companies have over 35 corporate and government partners; will host over 900 events, webinars and training sessions per year; and are responsible for the creation of more than 2500 jobs.

Ultimately, the merged organisations will be able to be “laser-sharp-focussed” on new opportunities, Price said—but based on her recent comments, both companies have their work cut out for them:

Cyberspace is something that is still heavily undervalued, not just by our nation but by many others around the world. This is wherein lies our opportunity: We have all the ingredients now in Australia to learn the lessons of the past decade and absolutely apply those to the next set of decades as we accelerate our growth coming out of this pandemic.

And if we don’t take this opportunity, shame on us—because it is there for us to take.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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