On Friday, Jun. 3, the Southwest node of the Commonwealth Cyber initiative (CCI SWVA) and workforce technology company CivilianCyber announced the winners of the Student Entrepreneurial Ideation Challenge (SEIC), which culminated in team pitches on May 25 via Zoom.

First placeTrain, not Strain, Chiwoo Chang (University of Virginia’s College at Wise) and Sam Williams (Radford University).

Second placeBusiness Information Defense Systems, Dylan Do, Phillip Ma, and Siddarth Selvakumar (all University of Virginia's College at Wise).

Third placeHow to Counter Cyberattacks in Small Business, Adam Flowers, Sandile Hill, and John Ramsoondar (all Radford University).

Student teams from institutions across Southwest Virginia designed strategies for cybersecurity challenges commonly faced by small businesses. After researching techniques and formulating solutions, the teams presented their approaches with business polish and savvy before a panel of judges that included IT professionals from Bon Secours, TDX International, Civilian Cyber, and Wise Solutions as well as observers from start-up accelerator programs RIoT, Mach37, and 757 Accelerate, Inc.

Sam Williams, Radford University cybersecurity major, and Chiwoo Chang, former University of Virginia’s College at Wise computer science major, collaborated across two universities and 13 time zones to present their winning strategy.

“We came up with our solution by thinking realistically: How would a smaller company be able to defend themselves without spending thousands of dollars?’” said Chang, who worked with his partner, Williams, on the challenge while in South Korea.

For Williams, the challenge caused him to question what small businesses are actually willing to pay for cybersecurity, and how much that truly costs.

“Trying to put a sticker price on peace of mind was very difficult, but I feel like I have a better understanding of how hard it is to balance talent, time, and business operations with security,” Williams said. “Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, as are many of my mentors. This challenge showed me that I’ve come a long way, but there are still many skills to master before I can become successful.”

The in CCI Student Entrepreneurial Ideation Challenge took place on May 25 via Zoom.

Cybersecurity as a career and a service 

Working together over the course of several months, the students came up with ways a small business could prepare for and defend against phishing scams, malware/viruses, denial-of-service attacks, ransomware, and password hacking — the five largest threat areas for small businesses as identified by the National Institute of Standards & Technology.

For Jessica Wintringham, a former small business owner and Virginia Western Community College student, the SEIC program further confirmed her interest in cybersecurity as a way to serve her community and the greater commonwealth.

“A cyber attack would be detrimental for a small business owner,” Wintringham said. “I wanted to be a part of finding solutions to keep businesses and livelihoods as safe as possible.” 

Wintringham is currently an IT project management intern at Carilion Clinic and will be transitioning to Radford University in the fall to pursue a cybersecurity degree.

“All submissions were top notch,” said Walt Galler, chief digital officer from Civilian Cyber. “We were thrilled with the level of engagement and the quality of the solutions.”

Gretchen Matthews, CCI SWVA node director, encouraged participants to maintain momentum and capitalize on what they had learned.

“We are looking forward to your participation in future challenges and internships that will shape your careers to meet the growing demand for talented cybersecurity professionals in Virginia,” she said. “We will be watching your careers with keen interest.”