Awen Collective provides cybersecurity solutions and products which help to secure critical infrastructures for a safer society.
Across the world, we’ve seen cyber attacks which have impacted our energy, water, transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and financial infrastructures, disrupting the organisation running that infrastructure, and also causing a damaging impact to the communities which rely on them.
Just imagine if a cyber attack hit our electricity grid here in Wales, causing outages – homes might not have power for heating, businesses wouldn’t function. So, we’re reducing the cyber threats to those sectors. We’re doing this by developing software for industrial organisations which identify threats, simplify cyber security processes and ultimately save precious time and money.
Our focus is specifically on what’s known as Operational Technology (OT). Back in 2016/2017 we recognised that cyber security offerings on the market for OT were nowhere near as advanced as IT-based cyber security, so we founded the company in 2017 specifically to address the particularities of industrial sectors.
We’re providing one of our software products, Profile, for free to healthcare and its supply chain, to help those organisations consider cyber security best practice.
What have been your proudest achievements and biggest challenges so far?
We’ve come a long way since we started, working with large organisations such as Raytheon, UK’s water companies, and even securing a large contract from the Ministry of Defence.
We have also been on the first cohort of several initiatives,, including CyberASAP (2017), the IoT Accelerator Wales (2018) and Tech Nation Cyber (2019).
In 2020: We are now one of 10 companies in the Google for Startups Immersion Programme, in the Business Cloud Top Welsh Tech Companies, and in the Top 10 Security companies in the international Accenture Blue Tulip Awards.
Our initial challenge as a business was being able to describe our value propositions properly. We were misunderstood, people thought we were primarily a services company, but we’ve fixed this over time by continually evolving the language we use and by pushing out our brand.
Recently, our main challenges have been around i Welsh investment, with most of our interest coming from investors based in London, Europe and the USA. It’s challenging getting Wales-based investors to understand that high-growth tech product companies have more losses than revenue in their first few years.
What do you think the biggest advantages of being a tech company in Wales are?
We have access to top quality talent straight out of the wonderful universities here in Wales. We’ve found that Wales is a great place to live, and by creating great jobs here, we can attract great people to work for us.
We also have some very good ecosystems here, including Technology Connected, CyberWales and Global Welsh, which all do great work in promoting Wales in the UK and across the globe. These ecosystems are well supported by Welsh Government.
For us there are also a good number of manufacturers and critical infrastructure organisations here in Wales, with whom we are gradually building up very good relations.
What would you like to see happen to the industry in Wales and beyond?
We’d like to see a shake-up of the tech start-up investment here in Wales. We have great talent and great innovation here in Wales, but unless that talent and innovation is getting the funding and follow-on support that it needs in order to grow explosively, then that innovation will almost always end up dying or going elsewhere. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a public sector driven investment, and in fact, may even be better coming from a private sector or even a co-operative form of investment. Perhaps this could be done through equity-investment powered accelerators. Perhaps it could be done through large company – small startup partnership competitions which are very popular in other parts of Europe (e.g. Bind 4.0 in the Basque Country). There are lots of options which are better than the current initiatives in Wales, and some exploration needs to happen into what would work best here in Wales.
What does your organisation have in store for the future?
Providing the socio-economic ecosystem does the best as it can do during this COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, then we have great things planned for the future. We have already released two software products released into the market, which are continuing to be sold and evolved. We have further products on the horizon, and all will come together to form a suite of software for use in industrial environments. We have a investment plan in place which will support our growth in the UK, and shortly in Europe, and then into the Americas and MENA.
Our home is Wales, and so our headquarters will be here for the foreseeable future. This means that for as long as we can continue getting revenue and investor support, then we will continue to create awesome jobs here in Wales and to do what we can to support the local economy!
What is the best piece of advice you've been given?
One thing that we’ve discovered is that it’s very easy to get advice from people. Unfortunately, a lot of that advice probably doesn’t apply, and is incredibly subjective. So, consider things logically and within perspective.
Aside from that, the best bit of advice we’ve had, which is sometimes difficult is: “right money, right time.” If taking money, whether that is investment or revenue, is going to cause issues in 6 months, 1 year or 4 years, then it’s probably not a good thing to be doing. This includes not giving too much equity away during investment rounds. Know your market, the ecosystem around you, and seek the opportunities that work for you. Investors (whether equity investors or even innovation funding) should be there to help you fill in the gaps between revenue and support you to reach the best possible future.