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Columbia cybersecurity entrepreneurs launch multimillion-dollar initiative to attract minorities to field

Columbia cybersecurity entrepreneurs Ron and Cyndi Gula have launched a foundation to tackle issues such as finding ways to attract more minorities to the field.

The couple, who head Columbia-based tech venture capital firm Gula Tech Adventures, plan to offer several million dollars worth of grants next year through Gula Tech Foundation. It aims to help nonprofits with cybersecurity-related missions do work to make cybersecurity more accessible and less mysterious to potential workers, internet users and others.

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The Gulas will offer an initial $1 million round of competitive grants in January to nonprofits that work to involve more Black people in cybersecurity.

We want to invite more people into the industry,” through workforce development initiatives, said Cyndi Gula, managing partner of Gula Tech Adventures. “This is really important from a standpoint of untapped talent.”

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Grants in future programs will focus on different cybersecurity topics and social impact in areas such as workforce development, technology, education and policy, said Ron Gula, the founder and former CEO of Columbia-based cybersecurity firm Tenable Network Security who now serves as president of Gula Tech Adventures.

Ron Gula is president of Gula Tech Adventures, a Columbia-based venture capital firm.
Ron Gula is president of Gula Tech Adventures, a Columbia-based venture capital firm. (Handout/For The Baltimore Sun)

“The foundation allows us to attract the most impactful cybersecurity nonprofits solving tough problems,” he said.

Gula Tech Adventures invests in companies and nonprofits that help close gaps in technology and workforce needs of the cyberspace industry.

Since 2017, the Gulas have made more than 40 investments in cybersecurity startups, such as Automox, Cybrary, Huntress and Scythe, and cybersecurity funds including Inner Loop Capital, DataTribe and Forgepoint Capital.

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The firm also has supported cybersecurity nonprofits such as Defending Digital Campaigns, a nonpartisan organization that gives campaigns access to cybersecurity products regardless of party affiliation. They invested as well in voting.works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that develops voting systems and election audit tools.

Cyndi Gula, Tenable’s vice president of operations until leaving in 2015, said after the couple started Gula Tech Adventures in 2017 and began investing in tech companies and nonprofits, “we realized there was a lot of opportunity in the nonprofit space to help and enable nonprofits.”

With the foundation, she and her husband will work with an advisory board made up of cybersecurity industry leaders and nonprofit experts, such as Renaud Deraison, co-founder and chief technology officer of Tenable; Karen Gibson, a retired U.S. Army general and former deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Cyber Command; and Tom Quinn, chief information security officer for T. Rowe Price Group.

For Gula Tech Foundation’s first round of grants, the board will be looking for nonprofits that focus on education, training, scholarships, mentorship and professional development of African Americans in cybersecurity.

Ron Gula recalled that when Tenable looked to recruit minorities during his time there, “there wasn’t a pipeline. It was really difficult. Putting a grant out to focus on this is the kind of thing the cybersecurity industry needs to do to have a diverse base of employees.”

In February, the advisory board will select the top three nonprofits that have the most impact on the African American community and award grants of $500,000, $300,000 and $200,000. Applicants to the January grant program must complete a grant request form between Jan. 4 and Jan. 27.

Ron Gula said he and his wife have not committed to a specific number of $1 million grant programs per year but that it will be more than one and likely no more than four.

“We hope to start off, get the first one done and see what kind of impact we’re having,” he said.

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