In a new feature, we sit with a cluster manager to find out a little more about them and their role. This month, Kerrianne Gauld, Community Manager, Bristol & Bath Cyber Cluster, shares her thoughts.
How did you come to work in the cyber security industry?
I have worked in the technology sector for nearly 40 years. Sometimes in a hands-on practitioner/tactical role and sometimes in administrative, investment, or strategic role. I love technology; I find it fascinating, empowering, and a little bit addictive. It makes me curious, and I like being curious.
In some of my most recent roles, understanding the regional and national tech landscape was part of my remit, so I attended networking events and conferences across the UK looking at trends and building an understanding of the emergent companies and technologies. A lot of the events in the West of England that I attended were run by techSPARK. Last year, one of the techSPARK team mentioned that they were recruiting for a Community Manager for the Bristol & Bath Cyber Cluster and sent me the job description. It really resonated with me, and I applied for the role. I was lucky enough to be offered the job and I started last January.
What does your role as a Cluster Manager involve?
I think my primary goal is to get to know my community as well as I can. I can only support the cyber ecosystem in my area if I can understand their challenges and barriers to growth. This knowledge helps me to connect organisations and individuals across the community, whether they’re a startup, a scaleup, or a large enterprise. The Cluster is a platform for collaboration, education, and innovation and for the ecosystem to thrive it needs to grow, and that means working across public and private sectors, and academia, to bring them together and help them get the support and collaboration that they need to spark ideas, investment, and the odd unicorn.
I’m very lucky to have four Universities in my region that all deliver cybersecurity education and research, so there’s always something new to shout about. I encourage them to provide me with their news and achievements, and I share that with the community.
Supporting innovation is crucial. I am currently putting together some Roundtables that will look at some of the trends in the technology sector (such as quantum, AI, space/satellite applications), and where those sectors intersect with cybersecurity. I also make sure that any programmes and initiatives that support companies starting up or growing are shared with the community. This might be the techSPARK Investment Activator Programme, or the NCSC for Startups Programme, or any other initiative that could spark growth in my community.
Even in a security conscious, camera shy, community like cyber, people still like to meet up, so I organise regular in-person networking events with topics designed to have a broad appeal across the community and at all levels of knowledge and expertise. The annual Bristol Bath CyberCon enables me to offer information and networking for more specific groups within the community. In addition to the keynote speakers, we have technical workshops and knowledge sharing, and last year it included a taster for Cyber Runway.
Supporting the delivery of cybersecurity schools’ initiatives is also very important. techSPARK is part of the CyberFirst Schools Pilot Programme consortium run by CyNam, that is working to expand the programme across the Southwest. I work closely with our Schools Lead, and the other clusters in the region (CyNam, SWCSC, and SWCC), to encourage schools to sign up to the programme, and to support existing CyberFirst Schools with access to Industry.
Community Managers foster connections between individuals, teams, and companies, and the knowledge and assistance that the community needs to grow and thrive.
Are there any upcoming projects for your cluster that you can tell us more about?
I am about to issue to Call for Speakers for Bristol Bath CyberCon23, so I’m very interested in the hot topics and challenges for the coming year, and I’m hoping for plenty of engagement from the cyber community across the region and nationally. I do hope that some of the other UKC3 Clusters will get involved too.
I will be contacting the other clusters with details of the planned Roundtables to see if they can identify any leaders and pioneers in their areas that might be interested in getting involved. I’m hopeful that the events will spark a continuing dialogue that will help to further innovation across the sector.
We are still piloting a cyber focus on the Investment Activator Programme across the Western Gateway region. There are some events coming up soon that might be of help to startups in the West of England/South Wales. https://invest-southwest.com/
Is there any work that you’ve done as Cluster Manager/in the industry as a whole that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m proud of what I do every day. Though I think my community appreciates the networking events, and CyberCon, the most. There is always a great vibe when they’re gathered in the same place to network and collaborate. It’s taking time, but more of them are getting involved and there is an energy in the cyber community now, that is growing in strength and vibrancy, and I love it!
Do you have any goals/aspirations that you hope to achieve in your time as Cluster Manager?
I’d like to see the cluster be financially independent, but that needs me to build something valuable for the community first. The little wins, the useful connections, the sparks of innovation and growth, need time to establish themselves and for their benefits to become apparent across the local ecosystem. And the organisations need to learn to trust that the Cluster will be there to support them. Once we have a tangible value proposition then the financial support should be more readily available. It’s beginning to happen, but we’re not there yet.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work?
I have a tiny tea company. It’s very niche. I sell single Estate, high quality, Seasonal Ceylon teas from Sri Lanka. These teas are specially selected for their unique regional characteristics and flavours by Robert Wilson, his family have been planters and agents, for at least 5 generations, since 1840.
All of the teas carry the Ceylon Lion logo, the symbol of quality, issued by the Sri Lankan Tea Council, and Robert has won more Great Taste awards for his teas than any other tea producer; 70 at the last count.
It’s an absolute joy for me, as I drink a lot of tea!
I used to do a range of aerial arts activities, static trapeze, lyra hoop, and silks, but an injury a few years ago (not related) followed by two years of lockdowns has severely hampered my circus skills! I don’t think I’ve got a head for heights anymore.
I volunteer at Glastonbury every year. I’m part of the team at the John Peel Stage. It’s such a great time and full of amazing experiences and memories. I met Primal Scream this year, only a few months before they lost Martin Duffy. They were all really lovely and very gracious. Not all of the bands are this nice!
I also grow chillies and like making very hot sauces and condiments with them.
Do you have any advice for other Cluster Managers?
My one piece of advice would be: Persevere!
When I first began contacting individuals and companies in my Cluster area it was hard to articulate what the Cluster was for, why it existed, why they should get involved. Everything seemed very subjective and ethereal.
Now it’s easier: Both because I know more about what I can do for them, but also because they have been to an event or the conference, or been connected to someone useful, or had a chance to share their news to a willing audience, and they can now see why they should be involved with the community and what the benefits are.
It does feel like you’re repeating yourself and being rejected by people you’re trying to help, but it does get easier, and it is rewarding.