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A major new project will ensure world-leading cyber security research generated in the North West is exploited to deliver a ‘step change’ for the region’s business and economic growth.

Led by Lancaster University, the new £1.2million project will see six partner universities capture the very latest cyber security innovations and partner with entrepreneurs, investors, government and businesses to transform cutting-edge knowledge into innovative new products, services and policy, to better protect consumers, businesses and UK infrastructure.

Funded by Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund (CCF), the new North West Cyber Security Connect for Commercialisation (NW CyberCom) project will involve the universities of Lancaster, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the University of Central Lancashire. It will also be supported by Plexal, a Manchester-based innovation company helping businesses, startups and industry to collaborate with government to help deliver national security and prosperity; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and lead consultancy, CRSI.

NW CyberCom will draw on established partnerships with the National Cyber Force and GCHQ to develop an innovation ecosystem across the North West Cyber Corridor and provide bespoke training for university researchers focused on maximising commercialisation opportunities. The ecosystem will act a platform for sustained cyber focused research commercialisation, bringing together industry, innovation, universities and investment to accelerate growth. It will ensure the North West becomes the “go to” place for companies looking for investment, investors looking to enhance their deal flow and businesses who need access to the latest technology and thinking in the cyber space through an ongoing pipeline of intellectual property emerging from academic research.

This funding announcement builds on growing momentum to strengthen the North West Cyber Corridor and, alongside the National Cyber Force’s relocation to Lancashire, further demonstrates the growing importance of the region as a powerhouse for national cyber security. It follows Lancaster University’s recent once-in-a-generation £19m investment into Security and Protection Science – an initiative that will also see Lancaster recruit 33 new cross-disciplinary academics, plus 15 professor in practice roles as well as 10 support staff. It also comes after Lancaster’s move to set up a new Digital Security Hub in Manchester with a consortium of leading cyber security specialists last year, to help foster innovation and growth in the region and wider UK’s digital and cyber security sectors with the ambition of supporting 500 new start-ups and creating more than 1,000 local jobs.

Dr Mark Rushforth, Associate Director of Enterprise and Innovation at Lancaster University, said: “Lancaster University’s strong track-record with teaching, research and engagement and its recognition as an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Education means it has secured its place on the cyber security world stage.

“There has been fantastic momentum building around the North West Cyber Corridor but until now, universities, businesses and government have been working in respective silos. This project provides the opportunity for the region’s best institutions and sharpest minds to get together, share best practice and pool resources. This is a significant moment for the North West to realise a step-change in prosperity and deliver the true ambitions of the region in terms of commercial opportunities and setting a national standard that can be rolled out for the benefit and protection of the whole UK.

“NW CyberCom will leverage the cutting-edge research conducted at North West universities, which has already resulted in the successful formation of companies like Mindgard Ltd, a Lancaster University AI security spin out which recently secured a substantial £3 million investment. By stimulating more of this – and at scale – the project will help deliver sustained, positive regional economic impact.

“Enabling North West institutions to create, retain and attract new innovative businesses in cyber security will accelerate our region’s potential to create a world-class cyber innovation ecosystem.”

Lancaster University’s commitment to commercialising research, working with businesses, its focus on local growth and regeneration and working with the public and third sector has been recognised in Research England’s 2023 Knowledge Exchange Framework recently, with the institution scoring 5 out of 5 in this area. Lancaster has a well-established reputation of working effectively with industry, having worked with more than 15,000 businesses from start-ups to multi-national corporations.

Saj Huq, Plexal’s CCO and Head of Innovation, said: “At Plexal, we’ve repeatedly seen the value of closing the gap between organisations for collaboration. Therefore, we’re thrilled to further our commitment to the North West and our local partners through NW CyberCom, which will be transformative for academia and enterprise – particularly where those two fields collide to produce innovative spinouts. We’re already working with Lancaster University and University of Manchester as part of the Digital Security Hub consortium and are excited to expand on our work together.”

As one of only a handful of universities whose education, research and training is recognised by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, Lancaster is investing heavily in the next generation of cyber security leaders. As well as boosting the skills and talent pipeline in the region by building on its NCSC certified Masters degree with a new undergraduate degree in cyber security, it launched a trailblazing Cyber Executive Masters in Business Education.

Lancaster University is renowned for its support for the region’s SME community through its digital knowledge exchange teams, and has delivered a number of cyber security programmes including via the Lancashire Cyber Foundry and Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry.

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