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Zebras and Cheetahs to Tackle Cyber Challenges

Academic entrepreneur is impacting the innovation of the world.

"XNode is more and more embedded in the academia ecosystem in China. Two main reasons for that:

1) we’re sharing same values and purpose,

2) acceleration of startups or corporate projects are ultimately a different kind of training or education, perhaps one of the potential futures of education.


Yoni Abittan, a XNode friend, is sharing his perspective on innovation with academia, deep diving in this very interesting concept of Academic Entrepreneur. "

Yoni Abittan

Senior Innovation Analyst & Agnostic Thinker @ L'Atelier BNP Paribas

Disclaimer: All the ideas expressed in this post are my own and don’t reflect the opinions of L’Atelier BNP Paribas or BNP Paribas group.

After a decade of accelerating innovation with startups, it is time to think about the next big thing. Startups are great and the entrepreneurs creating startups too. Everything becomes smart and in the same time potentially hackable. In the domain of Cybersecurity, software/hardware companies (big corporates like Checkpoint, Verizon or IBM…) and startups develop tech solutions which are most of the time incremental innovation but not a disruption. At the same time, security challenges are not fixed and data breaches by criminals constitute the reality of the business. For instance, the annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy is about $500 billion in 2018 (the equivalent of the total illicit drug industry). The issue of Cybersecurity could not be resolved only by startups, big software providers or design companies. We need to think about other talents or experts who think differently, “out of the box” and could help the businesses to hack their real challenges. My intuition is the following: accelerating innovation with academic-entrepreneurs is the next form of open innovation companies should embrace & harness.

  • Academic entrepreneurs: Zebras in the business jungle

Academic entrepreneurs are atypical people, creatives, rebel guys in their mindset with a peripheral view on the world with an exceptional curiosity, empathy and intellectual lucidity: all these features shape the portrait of academic entrepreneurs who have an entrepreneurial DNA and applied-research capabilities. By analogy, in the savannah, these academic entrepreneurs could be associated as “Zebras". Why? “Zebras" are animals with black and white stripes which are unique such as the genetic footprint of humans. Zebras are then different due to their specific coat acting as a camouflage technique to face the predators. They possess generally a good sight, a sharp hearing and a developed sense of smell. In the academic arena, these people are forward-thinking with outstanding listening skills, a high level of resilience and a capability to adapt themselves to different environments. In the Cybersecurity field, corporates could not continue to buy off-the-shelf solutions to resolve tech-related business challenges without handling the cybersecurity challenge in a holistic manner because Cybersecurity problems are never technological. For these reasons, corporates need to experiment things with academic entrepreneurs specialized in computer science, behavioral science, engineering, legal, sociology, psychology, ethics and business management: it turns out that an interdisciplinary approach with this specific type of researchers is paramount to solve the core challenges of Cybersecurity.

credit: Cyber Week Tel Aviv 2018

Cybersecurity is a strategic issue, the core of the engine of any company whatever the industry considered. Academic entrepreneurs are zebras that businesses should consider & partner with in order to anticipate cyber threats.

  • Business leaders: Cheetahs in the business jungle

Academic entrepreneurs demonstrate every day their ability to tackle Cyber threats (online fraud, automated fraud attacks, advanced persistent threat, adversarial AI, DDoS, threat intelligence, misuse of technologies by employees, reputational risks…). These Cyber threats are the main painpoints of the Business leaders.

credit: Cyber Week Tel Aviv 2018

Who is considered as business leaders? These guys are characterized by 3 major traits: audacity, agility and courage. By analogy, in the savannah, these business leaders could be associated to “Cheetahs”. Why? Cheetahs are animals with a slender body, great hunters which run fast, reaching up to 120 km/hour. In the israeli ecosystem, Cheetahs are entrepreneurs who have the “Chutzpah” (meaning “dare”) and the courage to launch ventures without fearing to fail. In the cyber arena, business leaders are sponsors of tech-related business challenges focused on real pains. In other words, these business leaders need to find innovative ways to address the “cyber fatigue” challenge, meaning that a lot of investments is dedicated to cyber-technologies but the problems are not solved so far.

  • Meeting of Business Leaders & Academic Entrepreneurs

In the actual context of Cyber Tsunami, business leaders of any organization need to identify the right experts all over the world to tackle Cybersecurity challenges. I personally believe that academic entrepreneurs would be the right experts to onboard to fix Cyber challenges. Why? Cybersecurity is never a technological challenge. Solutions are technological. Grassroots are human, cultural, political, legal, sociological, psychological or economical. For instance, tech providers (startups, software providers…) do not take into account the holistic problem of Cybersecurity but just a piece of it. Partnering with academic entrepreneurs enables companies to address Cyber challenges more deeply taking into account more facets of the problem.

  • Israel, A Superpower to solve Cyber challenges

When it comes to Israeli innovation ecosystem, people are aware about the capabilities of this country to launch startups (1 startup for every 400 people). In fact, Israel is a machine to create startups. What is less evident to figure out is its R&D capabilities:

· R&D employee concentration in Israel: 140 per 10,000 (the U.S. comes in second with 85 per 10,000)

· Israel is ranked in the top 10 for cyber academic research

· Most of the israeli universities have set up a Cyber Research Center and have already a track record in terms of applied research with industry partners in Cybersecurity

· It turns out that Cybersecurity is considered and managed not only as a risk but also as a business opportunity: $815 million raised by israeli Cyber companies in 2017 (16% of the total Cyber VC investments in 2017)

· Israeli universities have a track record in terms of commercialization of technologies through their Technology Transfer Office (TTO): the dynamics of spin-off/venture creation is really embedded in the research process of any israeli university

credit: Cyber Week Tel Aviv 2018

It’s time for business leaders to consider academic entrepreneurs as the next generation of experts to deal with.

It’s time for companies to think about Cybersecurity as a bunch of risks with several dimensions to consider. Technologies are part of the solution. Problems are related to behaviors of fraudsters, political & legal issues, business and economic considerations. Interdisciplinary approach with academic entrepreneurs seem to be crucial.

It’s time for companies to educate their employees: Cyber literacy is crucial. It turns out that education is the business of academic institutions.

It’s time for companies to consider Cybersecurity as an open innovation challenge: co-designing security solutions with startups or buying licences from software providers is no longer sufficient. Academic entrepreneurs, friendly-hackers, creatives are paramount stakeholders to involve in order to anticipate cyber threats

It’s time for companies whatever the industry to consider Israel as an inspiring nation which succeeded to transform Cybersecurity from a risk perspective into a business opportunity: the first step is to design solutions to anticipate cyber threats and protect its assets. The second step could be to propose these solutions as a service to third parties. Welcome to the Cyber as a Business era!

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