Agency Funding Doesn’t Slow Down to Cyber Startups


Two federal agencies issued funding this month worth about $5 million to cybersecurity firms to help the government protect electrical grids and the government’s expanding Internet of Things network.

The funding isn’t a relatively large amount, but it shows the government is continuing to keep the spigot open for startups that want to work to protect the government’s digital infrastructure. This engagement will remain important in light of the federal hiring freeze that has made it nearly impossible for federal agencies to attract internal help.

DOE’s Chess Master Project

The Department of Energy issued $4 million as part of a program called the Chess Master Project to protect electrical grids. Four organizations received the funding to include one startup, Veracity Security Intelligence. The other organizations include Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Ameren Corporation and Sempra Energy.

The goal of the research and development program is to develop “next generation tools and technologies … to enhance and accelerate deployment of cybersecurity capabilities for the U.S energy infrastructure, including cyber secure integration of smart grid technologies,” according to a description of the funding opportunity.

Chris Bing of CyberScoop wrote that the greater goal of the Chess Master Project will be to protect U.S. electrical grids from the type of attacks that caused blackouts in portions of Ukraine last year.

DHS Silicon Valley Innovation Program

The Department of Homeland Security issued contracts worth about $200,000 to cybersecurity startups that advanced to Phase 2 of the agency’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program. The startups will develop systems to better protect IoT systems with the department.

Three of the companies are from California with the other two based in Atlanta and Austin. DHS was able to get each of the contracts processed through the Other Transaction Solicitation program. This contract innovation vehicle was designed with non-traditional innovators in mind and strips away some of the traditional acquisition roadblocks.

All five of the companies completed a proof-of-concept demonstration as part of the first phase of the program. The second phase will have each company produce a pilot-ready prototype.

“This marks an important milestone,” said Melissa Ho, Managing Director of DHS’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program. “We’re committed to real investments in start-ups and connecting them to new operational customers and applications of their technologies that they never imagined.”

Here’s a rundown on the companies who received funding from DHS:

  • Factom, Inc., Austin, Texas — $199,980 to authenticate IoT devices using blockchain technology to prevent spoofing and ensure data integrity.
  • Ionic Security, Inc., Atlanta — $199,800 to apply a distributed data protection model to solve the authentication, detection and confidentiality problems that face IoT systems.
  • Machine-to-Machine Intelligence Corporation, Moffett Field, California — $200,000 to create a deployable open-source version of the SPECK cryptographic protocol to address IoT security by making a lightweight crypto package small enough be run on IoT devices.
  • Pulzze Systems, Inc., Santa Clara, California — $200,000 to secure IoT infrastructures by improving visibility and providing dynamic detection as components connect or disconnect from a networked system.
  • Whitescope LLC, Half Moon Bay, California — $200,000 to build a secure wireless communications gateway made specifically for IoT devices and compliant with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11 standard.

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