In July 2018, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation establishing the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative to “serve as an engine for research, innovation, and commercialization of cybersecurity technologies, and address the Commonwealth’s need for growth of advanced and professional degrees within the cyber workforce.” That legislation required Virginia Tech to develop a blueprint for development and operation of the initiative. After five months of discussions with over 80 stakeholders from 50 organizations, the CCI Blueprint was delivered to the Virginia Research Investment Committee on December 1, 2018. Read the Blueprint here.
In June 2019, the four CCI Nodes were certified by the Virginia Research Investment Committee, completing the establishment of the statewide CCI Network. These nodes, working with their regional stakeholders, established strategic plans and received their initial funding in early 2020. In March 2020, Luiz DaSilva joined the network as CCI’s inaugural executive director. DaSilva previously led CONNECT – the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Future Communications and Networks. In April 2020, CCI’s funding for its second year was renewed, a $17.5 million investment by the Commonwealth of Virginia in fiscal year 2021.
History of growing cybersecurity capabilities in Coastal Virginia and the Commonwealth of Virginia
HRCyber – 2016-2018
In October 2016, Old Dominion University was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce as one of five regional alliances and multi-stakeholder partnerships (RAMPS) to stimulate cybersecurity education and workforce development under the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) objectives. This grant established the Hampton Roads Cybersecurity Education, Workforce and Economic Development Alliance (HRCyber). This grant ran from October 2016 to April 2018.
HRCyber provided an opportunity to bring together community and private organizations focused on expanding the cybersecurity ecosystem in the Hampton Roads region. Crossing multiple boundaries and priorities, HRCyber coordinated efforts from a host of partners to address this key economic development issue. These organizations included the region’s community colleges, three large public-school districts, universities, several cybersecurity related businesses, non-profit organizations, and the advocacy and support of local government economic development offices. By bringing together this diverse group, HRCyber fostered mutually beneficial relationships and expanded existing relationships. To illustrate the amount of interest generated by this project, the number of partners grew from 16 to over 40 in less than six months; showing the region’s desire to expand the cybersecurity workforce and economic opportunities.
HRCyber aligned regional educational and skills development offerings to the workforce practices and activities of business and non-profit organizations within the Hampton Roads region with the specific goal of supporting local economic development and job growth via establishment of a multi-stakeholder alliance. This was accomplished by addressing the workforce needs of cybersecurity employers and by increasing the pipeline of students pursuing cybersecurity careers from high schools, community colleges and universities.
Virginia Cyber Alliance – 2018-2020
As funding for HRCyber expired, ODU working with its regional partners was awarded a Go Virginia grant to establish the Virginia Cyber Alliance (VCA). VCA was a continuation of the partnerships and workforce development activities started HRCyber. The focus of the Virginia Cyber Alliance was on job creation and workforce development with the overall goal of expanding southeastern Virginia’s influence in cybersecurity through a partnership of industry, government, and academic institutions. VCA had three primary funded activities; 1) Internships and a new employee salary subsidy program (Digital Entrant), 2) Technical assistance through a collaboration with ODU researchers at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center and business partners (Cyber Arena), and 3) Outreach and networking opportunities through the Cyber Trail program.
Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and Coastal Virginia Center for Cybersecurity Innovation (COVA CCI) – 2018-Present
The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative was created in July 2018 after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation designed to bring together cybersecurity faculty and researchers from across the state to “serve as an engine for research, innovation, and commercialization of cybersecurity technologies, and address the Commonwealth’s need for growth of advanced and professional degrees within the cyber workforce.” Shortly after the legislation was passed, Virginia Tech brought together more than 80 stakeholders from higher education institutions, industry, and government agencies and charged those stakeholders with the task of creating a blueprint that would guide the development of initiative.
The framework eventually agreed upon included the development of four nodes in Coastal Virginia, Central Virginia, Southwest Virginia, and Northern Virginia with the expectation that those nodes would work with the Hub to promote a statewide effort in cybersecurity research, innovation, and workforce development. Institutions leading the coastal, central, southwest, and northern nodes included Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, and George Mason University, respectively. Within each node, the leading institution created networks with regional institutions, businesses, and workforce/economic development agencies. Collectively, the four nodes and the Hub comprise the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.
CCI started full operations in 2020 with $20 million in funding for FY 2020 and it received an additional $17.5 million for FY 2021. CCI continues to be funded in the state’s biennial budget process and it has created a network of 41 institutions of higher education, representing community colleges and 4-year universities across the state working with over 320 researchers. It is Virginia’s main access point for cybersecurity research, innovation, workforce development, and news.
The vision of CCI is to establish Virginia as a global center of excellence in cybersecurity research and serve as a catalyst for the commonwealth’s economic diversification and long-term leadership in this sector. According to a study completed by RTI International on the economic and research impact of CCI during its first two years of operation, they determined that CCI generated over $77 million in external funding and created over 1,035 jobs, corresponding to $80 million in labor income and $208 million value-add to the Virginia Gross Domestic Product.
COVA CCI is southeastern Virginia’s node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. It is an engine for research, innovation, and commercialization of next-generation cybersecurity technologies particularly in the areas of Cyber Physical Systems Security (CPSS), 5G, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Maritime, Defense, and Transportation business sectors. COVA CCI partners with eight 2- and 4-year academic institutions, over 20 industry partners, and over 120 researchers. COVA CCI researchers received over $5 million dollars in external grant funding in 2022 and provided over $1 million for sponsored research projects.