The National Cybersecurity Center is tapping into Colorado Springs’ reputation for pitching in, when needed, to push ahead with the building that will be the center’s permanent home.
It’s a way of solving a progress-and-funding conundrum, and it takes the collaborative spirit that is the trademark of the city’s cybersecurity industry to a new level.
The issue: The pace of buildout work on the 135,000-square-foot former TRW building, which will house the NCC, depends on the flow of donations and in-kind contributions — but the donation rate is unlikely to accelerate further until the NCC is occupying the building.
“We have very great partners, fantastic folks who are just waiting to help,” said CEO Ed Rios. “Some of these are Fortune 100 companies that are sponsoring us because, as a nonprofit, they know we’re trying to do the right thing at the foundational grassroots levels of cybersecurity and so they want to help. But when we’re not in [the building] yet, it’s kind of hard for them to roll in with a commitment.”
Rios said he expected funding to “take off in a couple of months” when the NCC has completed plans and bids, and is able to communicate its progress to potential sponsors. Finishing the first buildout stage and having people working in the building will help significantly, he said.
To speed the process, the NCC Volunteer Program was launched in June. Through the program, the NCC seeks to harness “all aspects” of local expertise, Rios said.
“You know we’re going into the new facility, so we need interior designers; we need cybersecurity experts; we need architecture and network engineers — basically skill sets in any capacity that you can imagine a large corporation would require,” he said. “… We look for folks who want to provide additional capability to our community and to the NCC.”
So far, more than 100 people and companies have signed on.
The NCC should have the keys delivered for the initial construction in July, Rios said. The Cyber Research Education and Training Center venue would be the first stage of the buildout, expected to take three months.
“Our plan is to build out training venues … first because that’s what’s needed the most; we can answer the phone calls from anywhere else,” he said. “Then once we receive the resourcing and funding and sponsorship we’ll build the [operations] center, because although we can answer the phone from anywhere, there’s a tremendous increase in efficiency and synergy gained by bringing all that together in one place.”
Rios is “pretty confident” the NCC will have complete funding for the operations center this year, but it may not be fully operational in 2017.
“In reality the operations center probably won’t be [open] till next year, and it’s not because we don’t have the need — we clearly have the need — but it’s because we don’t have the resources yet.”
The NCC has raised almost $25.9 million so far, from government and private sector donations and grants. This includes:
• $7.8 million from the Colorado Legislature (for building renovations only; not buildout);
• $6 million from Congress through UCCS to train Army reservists;
• $300,000 from philanthropic charitable organizations;
• $215,000 from private individuals;
• $35,000 from corporate entities; and
• $11 million from in-kind contributions, including the UCCS facility.
Rios said that much of the dollars are actually in-kind donations or money that went directly to UCCS to refurbish the new NCC home on North Nevada.
The NCC’s total grant request to date is about $1.125 million, Rios said. They expect to acquire a portion of that later this year.
The NCC’s new sources of revenue include its events and programs, including training, he said. Additional new revenue will come from the NCC’s subscription model, to be launched late summer.
“A philanthropic donation and another corporate donation have recently provided a new influx of cash to help us continue to provide capability while growing,” Rios said in an email.
“We are also now approved as an El Paso County Enterprise Zone Contribution Project, which is something we are proud of.”
El Paso County provides a 25 percent state income tax credit for contributions to nonprofits that make improvements in its enterprise zones, those areas of the city and county deemed to need both jobs and infrastructure improvements.
There is no solid figure for the money the NCC has in hand for the buildout, Rios said, “because the amount of cash available for buildout depends on timing of our building occupancy. Also, much of the buildout will be done through corporate in-kind equipment donation so money is not exchanged. Instead it’s a donation to our 501(c)3 nonprofit and El Paso Enterprise Zone initiative.”
Also unknown is the total cost for all buildout stages, because the NCC is still negotiating tenant improvement contracts and lease terms for the building.
“Since a lot of it may be provided in-kind by equipment donation, for our server room or cyber threat information-sharing operations center as examples, it’s hard to know a total amount of funding required,” Rios said in an email.
“We should have the cost finalized before the end of this year.”
Also in June, the NCC launched a Ph.D.-level fellowship program, in which fellows work on protracted research projects to address specific problems. The projects last six to 12 months and are funded by specific research and education grants or corporate grants, Rios said.
The NCC has started the fellowship program with three students from UCCS and intends to expand it to other institutions and organizations. Already there is a list of six projects requiring intensive research, in various stages of development.
The fellowship program is “exploring many topics, ranging from the cybersecurity of voting machines, to automating processes from a technical sharing standpoint … down through an automated notification on your smartphone that would say, ‘Hey, you have a cyber problem,’” Rios said.
“Those types of things don’t exist yet so they’re very, very hard to do, so we put that into our Ph.D. fellowship programs.”
In May, the NCC also launched an internship program.
Businesses and individuals can sign up for the NCC Volunteer Program at nationalcybersecuritycenter.org or by calling 719-255-5225. n CSBJ