30 Jun 2021

Surevine: Collaboration: predicting success for Tech SMEs

Being asked to mentor tech startups is one of the most rewarding activities for me as an experienced founder. The question I am most commonly asked is how we succeeded in selling to the public sector, particularly the seemingly impenetrable domains of cyber security, national security and defence.  The tech sector (particularly cyber) is characterised by a spirit of generosity: successful founders take time to support the next crop of startups.   

In the West Coast of the USA, with multiple generations of successful exits, this generosity is not just measured in time, but in investment. It is too soon to see that effect at scale in the UK, with the first generation of cyber startups just starting to exit/IPO.   

One of the key ideas I encourage new founders to embrace is the need to collaborate.  

First-time founders, in particular, can be very protective of their “baby”.  Out of a mixture of secrecy – driven by a concern that someone will steal their precious idea – and pride (they often feel they have single-handedly built their businesses to date) – they can miss opportunities to expand into lucrative markets and scale their businesses in ways that don’t exclusively rely on external investment.   

To tackle the first concern head-on: the reality is that most startups/SMEs are far too busy pursuing their own dream to have time to consider stealing somebody else’s idea.   

Similarly, it is much harder to access public sector contracts without collaboration.   

Firstly, sales to the public sector are usually via a framework contract. The effort required to understand and qualify as a supplier is a blocker to SMEs, and so collaborating with a supplier who is already registered is often the only way to quickly gain access to the market.   

Secondly, there can be a real issue with scaling. However much your innovation meets the needs of, say, a Defence client, they aren’t going to procure without the ability to rapidly scale to deploy, support and maintain a user base of tens of thousands or more, distributed globally in challenging environments.  Again, this is where collaboration with a supplier who already has the people and access to deliver can act as a real accelerator. 

To be the Founder of a startup or a leader of an SME requires bravery.  The UK has a world-class Tech sector and is a global leader in cyber security. For that sector to continue to grow depends on collaboration: it will rely on the ongoing spirit of generosity of each generation of founders, and it will demand bravery from the next: to trust that, working together, we can only grow our position of strength, winning on the global stage. 

This article was published by Stuart Murdoch, Founder and CEO, Surevine. Stuart is a leading figure supporting developments in the UK's cybersecurity information sharing capability. We first met through Surevine's work on cyber information sharing for CERT-UK (now NCSC), where Surevine's technology powers the 'CISP'. A great ambassador for 'UK cyber' and active in developing the next generation of talent. Stuart has some unique experience and insights, plus a modern outlook. Amongst the wider Surevine portfolio, Stuart provides organisations with solutions for sharing intelligence that requires action but also careful dissemination. Read more...

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