Port Covington, MD re-emerges as ‘CyberTown, USA’ — ground zero for cybersecurity research

By Byron V. Acohido

When CyberTown, USA is fully built out, it’s backers envision it emerging as the world’s premier technology hub for cybersecurity and data science.

DataTribe, a Fulton, MD-based cybersecurity startup incubator, has been a key backer of this ambitious urban redevelopment project, which broke ground last October in Port Covington, MD, once a bustling train stop on the south side of Baltimore.

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The brainchild of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, Goldman Sachs Urban Development Group and Weller Development, the Port Covington project also has the enthusiastic backing of the large population of cybersecurity companies already thriving in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.

Rendering of completed Chapter 1B development of Port Covington. –Weller Development Company

When the 235-acre waterfront parcel opens for business at the end of 2020, a trio of anchor tenants — DataTribe, Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity venture capital firm AllegisCyber, and technology investment and corporate advisory firm Evergreen Adviser —  expect to be joined by 25 to 30 cybersecurity firms, as well as retail and restaurant tenants.

DataTribe itself was co-founded in 2015 by a California venture capitalist, a former CIA officer and an ex-Navy SEAL. It’s mission has been to seek out and assist government cyber specialists in a position to enter the private sector and build commercial cyber and data science companies. DataTribe recruits talent, then provide seed capital, mentoring, infrastructure and follow-on venture funding.

DataTribe co-founder Mike Janke, the ex-Navy SEAL, told Last Watchdog that Port Covington made sense because Maryland boasts a massive pool of nation-state trained cyber security engineering talent, and has long been the wellspring of pivotal data security and data science advances.

“With more than 100,000 cyber-related engineering and data science professionals, Maryland has the no. 1 cyber workforce in the world, and leads the US in cyber employment for classified nation-state jobs,” says Janke, a six-time company founder and CEO. “In today’s digital landscape, engineering talent is the new oil in the ground, and Maryland has the densest concentration of this new digital oil that you’ll find anywhere on the planet.”

Some 40 security-minded federal agencies are located in Maryland, including the National Security Agency, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Defense Information Systems Agency, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, USCYBERCOM, NASA and DoD Cyber Crime Center.

Maryland has been quietly cultivating a deep reservoir of cyber-focused engineering talent, toiling at leading security vendors such as Tenable, Gemalto, Dragos, Sonatype, ForcePoint and Baltimore-based Sourcefire, which Cisco acquired in 2013 for $2.7 billion. LastWatchdog asked Janke to drill down on the drivers behind what’s being stood up in Port Covington. Here are excerpts of that discussion, edited for clarity and length:

LW: What evidence can you point to that we are in a ‘cyber gold rush?’

Janke: Cybersecurity is the fastest growing segment in technology and is the number one risk-concern of the Fortune 500.  Data protection and cybersecurity is at the top of the priority list for most of the worlds businesses, governments and organizations.  Cities and states across the country are vying for a piece of the booming market for securing technology and data.  Texas, California, New York, Maryland, Florida and other states are all in a race for the crown to become the global cybersecurity hub.

LW: What are the key drivers behind this development?

Janke: Cybercrime remains far too easy. Many technology products lack adequate defenses, while cybercriminals use both simple and advanced technology to identify targets, automate software creation and delivery, and monetization of what they steal. In addition, nation states, such as China, Russia and Iran have begun directing their massive resources towards commercial advantages, so the commercial world is under siege from massively sophisticated attackers.

LW: How do you hope Port Covington will stack up against other more established hubs?

Janke:  Several major cities in the U.S and Israel are hubs, all vying to attract the world’s best commercial cybersecurity talent and startups. The prize is a massive economic growth and talent engine that can fuel these cities growth for decades to come. CyberNYC is building a cyber army through five new startup programs. There are established cybersecurity ecosystems in Boston, San Antonio and Silicon Valley, and new hotspots on the rise in Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta.

With over 200,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs across the country last year and hundreds of major and smaller universities scrambling to offer cybersecurity degrees, the race to win has intensified. The latest figures show that whichever city, state or region becomes the cybersecurity hub can expect to see up to 12 percent GDP increase from the high-earning population.

LW: Can you point to areas of specific emerging needs you anticipate DataTribe to make an impact?


Janke:  The speed of the cyber war going on between the various competing nation states has accelerated funding, talent and placed a massive priority on technical superiority. Coupled with the pace of business and consumer technology advances, this places DataTribe at ground zero to co-build the next great companies. We operate in areas of vast investment from the classified agencies and labs, such as AI, sensors, autonomous navigation, cybersecurity and analytics.

The parallels between Silicon Valley leveraging the massive government innovation investments at Stanford and Berkeley in support of WWII and those similarly-sized investments that have been made in cybersecurity and data science innovation here in Maryland are striking and compelling.  We have an opportunity for growth in this area that mirrors what Silicon Valley looked like 50 years ago.  Our challenge is building an integrated ecosystem that knows how to leverage that expertise and those resources into commercial success.

LW: Anything else?

Janke: This is a tremendous time to be involved with cyber and data science innovation, and the biggest institutional investors in the world are taking note. The global modern battlefield has moved from tanks and planes to digital bombs and cyberattacks. A large number of the world’s nations use their vast defense and intelligence efforts to steal an economic advantage through the theft of data. Demand for new cybersecurity solutions is also growing exponentially, and the business and employment opportunities in this industry are enormous.

(Editor’s note: LW provides consulting services to some of the organizations referred to in our coverage.)

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