Bringing Digital Security to All through our Cybersecurity Moonshot Challenge

Midway through our NYCx Cybersecurity Moonshot Challenge, 169 global organizations have expressed interest in helping us deliver digital security for small to midsize businesses.

Our NYCx Moonshot Program invites global problem-solvers to partner with the City to develop and test novel solutions to pressing real-life challenges. In searching for our latest Moonshot Challenge, we came across an unlikely and yet highly relevant topic area: cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity has been top-of-mind in New York City for some time. Since 2017, the City of New York has positioned itself as a global leader in cybersecurity jobs and innovation. New York City Cyber Command (C3), via Mayoral Executive Order, was formed as the City’s cybersecurity center of gravity, launching NYC Secure in October 2018, a first-of-its-kind free consumer app to help New Yorkers secure their personal devices and WiFi networks. At the same time, New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced the winners of its Cyber NYC initiative to drive substantial cyber startup growth, train residents for cyber careers, and deepen commercialization partnerships between academic institutions and cyber companies.

In analyzing the cybersecurity landscape, we discovered a deep inequity: while more of life and commerce moves online and digital security relies on resilience across a city’s entire network of people and institutions, only the largest, most sophisticated and well-funded institutions can protect themselves from digital threats. Similarly, we discovered a market inefficiency: innovative cybersecurity companies are laser-focused on supporting large institutions while largely ignoring the small businesses (SMB) and nonprofits that may be most at risk.

It was in this backdrop that we launched our NYCx Cybersecurity Moonshot Challenge, an initiative aimed at making all of New York City’s 240,000 small businesses as resilient to cybersecurity threats as their Fortune 500 counterparts.

OK…is this like your other Moonshots?

The answer to this is tricky. On the one hand, tackling SMB digital security is sufficiently challenging and urgent. And yet, the way we designed the Challenge was substantially different from our previous work on broadband connectivity and climate action.

Let’s analyze the evolution of our Moonshot Challenge programming. Our Governors Island Connectivity Challenge helped us validate two critical things: 1) startups want to work with government but don’t quite know how and 2) our Moonshot Challenge model can expand the world of possible solutions over a traditional request for proposals. Our Connectivity Challenge also taught us something meaningful: while a startup’s stated performance and previous track record are useful data points, we must use real-world, urban testing to validate their ability to perform.

Our Electric Vehicle (EV) Climate Action Challenge was similarly clarifying: we validated that 1) our internal government partners are in fact highly interested in soliciting unconventional solutions to persistent problems and 2) our Challenges can be a vehicle for regulatory and policy innovation by unlocking City lightpoles for electric vehicle charging uses. While we launched the EV Challenge with two different application “tracks” in mind, we discovered that process simplicity and a singular, unified problem statement was best for engaging innovative organizations and eventually combined the tracks in the final round.

Midway through our Cybersecurity Moonshot Challenge, we’re excited to share several exciting learnings. First, we’ve learned that City contracting is not the only motivator for participation in our Challenges: in lieu of a direct opportunity to contract with the City, this Moonshot offers participants the ability to expand their business to markets outside of New York City and makes available a $1M investment via a partnership with NYCEDC’s Cyber NYC operator, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP). Second, we’ve learned international partnerships are immensely valuable coalitions for Challenge reach & attractiveness: our eight international municipal and national partners helped us reach a record number of global startups and companies.

Well, how’s the Cybersecurity Moonshot going?

So far, we’re proud to share that this has been the most successful Challenge we’ve ever run. Let’s start with the basics:

Achieving Global Reach

We received 169 proposals from 77 cities representing 18 countries from around the world!

Driving Exponential Programmatic Growth

How well did our international partners do in supporting this Challenge? Exceedingly well. Our strong global partner network built on the growth of our previous Challenges to drive record-breaking interest worldwide.

Engaging Diverse Founders

In keeping with our program’s core tenets, we generated interest from largely small, innovative startups, many with diverse founders.

Facilitating Government Exposure

While the vast majority of our applicants have small business experience, many will use the Challenge as their first chance to work with government.

Bringing Innovation to New York City

Moonshots are fundamentally about pushing emerging technology to serve the public good. Nearly half of participating companies propose solutions that are so novel that they aren’t available on the market. Beyond this, a plurality of companies express a desire to establish a presence in New York City.

What’s next?

Our Challenge Evaluation Panel is immersed in reviewing Round 2 proposals and planning a set of demonstrations and technical evaluation exercises in early Summer 2019.

Want to get involved?

Preach the Good Word

Download and share our Cybersecurity Moonshot infographic!

Share Your Feedback

Email us at nycx@cto.nyc.gov and follow us on Twitter so you can be the first to hear about our Moonshot work!

Connect with Our Partners

We’re proud to partner with NYCEDC’s $100M Cyber NYC program and New York City Cyber Command. As part of the NYCx Challenge, JVP will be investing up to $1M in a Challenge participant, so stay tuned for that announcement. Finally, connect with our outstanding international partners: Paris & Co, City of Helsinki, Berlin Partner, London & Partners, Singapore National Research Foundation, KOTRA, IPA, and Israel Innovation Authority

Youssef Kalad — Program Director, NYCx Moonshots