As part of Boise State’s ongoing wave of cybersecurity initiatives, the Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity and the Boise State Venture College have teamed up for the first Cybersecurity Entrepreneur Challenge (CEC).
The challenge is a week-long event aimed at addressing difficulties faced by the cybersecurity industry through student-generated solutions, all while competing for over $30,000 in cash prizes.
This reverse pitch competition, which took place from Oct. 11-18, was open to higher education students across Idaho.
According to the 2021 CEC event summary, “Participants chose a problem statement provided by [CEC’s] industry partners, and formed interdisciplinary teams to propose solutions to that problem, while building a viable venture for themselves and making helpful connections to mentors and industry leaders.”
The debut of this challenge came during a time of exponential growth within the state. The Idaho Department of Labor reported a 160% increase in the state’s cybersecurity job opportunities since 2015, which has been “sustained by accelerating demand across multiple industry sectors.”
The CEC is one of the many ways that Boise State is seeking to boost its cybersecurity initiatives and engage students across all disciplines with this industry.
“You don’t have to be a computer scientist to go into cybersecurity,” said Ed Vasko, director of the Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity. “You can be a sociology major; you could be a political science major; you could be a history major like me and have a terrific 30-year career in the industry.”
Nic Miller, executive director of the Venture College, explained that he and Vasko were interested in seeing cross-disciplinary participation when discussing the creation of the CEC.
“Our hope was that we would attract more than just cybersecurity students and get everyone to see that they have a role to play,” Miller said. “A cybersecurity student may understand the problem, but they will need another discipline — another skill set on the team to get that message out to the world.”
Devonne Busoy is a second-year student double-majoring in information technology management and supply chain management. She and fellow Boise State student Robert Kinney created Lexius — a contract-building software application aiming to reduce costs associated with lawyer-mediated negotiations by bridging the communication gap between cybersecurity companies and their potential clients.
Lexius tied for second runner-up at the competition, receiving the $5,000 Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity Award.
“What sparked my interest was the idea of getting to take my knowledge and apply it to a problem,” Busoy said. “I think [the CEC] is a great way to learn about the exciting field of cybersecurity, especially since it’s a growing field and demand is really high. Every business has a cybersecurity side to it, so perhaps that’ll help you in the future if you’re a business student like I am.”
Like Busoy, many other Boise State students found themselves at the forefront of the competition, including second-year computer science major Tatum Jones. Jones, alongside College of Western Idaho students Cameron White and Alexander Mitchell, took first place at the competition for their venture, TAC Security.
“Our problem statement that we were looking to solve was integrating physical security, like cameras [and] badges, with the computer side of security, so log-ins and servers,” Jones said. “Our platform kind of mended those two and looked at both aspects of security and was able to make them work together in an easier way than what’s in place right now.”
According to Nic Miller, the members of TAC Security first met each other only 10 days before claiming the $12,000 first-place prize, having been matched together by the Venture College after needing teammates to compete with.
“All of us just kind of wanted to get involved. We all have that in common,” Jones said. “We got paired up, and we actually fit together as a team perfectly. Each of us had our own different strengths, and we worked together really well, which doesn’t always happen when it’s a random pair.”
No matter the initial hesitations students may have about joining a competition like the Cybersecurity Entrepreneur Challenge, Miller encourages them to take that leap of faith.
“There is a community of people at the Venture College that want to help you try to be a successful entrepreneur,” Miller said. “Students right now, this is the time in your life to try new things … take a little bit of risk, and there can be a huge reward.”