John Poynton (right) and Glenn Murray are pursuing international opportunities. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Sapien Cyber takes global view

Friday, 7 September, 2018 - 11:53

While many people talk about universities and business working together, the John Poynton chaired Sapien Cyber is doing it. 

A Perth startup that emerged from Edith Cowan University’s internationally recognised cyber security research institute is targeting global opportunities after a rebrand.

Sapien Cyber is the new name for SC8, which was established in 2016 after local dealmakers John Poynton and Harry Karelis teamed up with ECU to commercialise some of its intellectual property.

Mr Poynton, who chairs Sapien, said the company was attracting increased interest from customers and investors.

“We really do have the best IP in the world and we should not be afraid to say that,” he said.

“The fact we are being engaged by some very large, multi-billion dollar corporations is an indication of that.”

Mr Poynton said the business was already generating revenue but was planning a series B capital raising later this year to help it get to a cash break-even point.

Mr Karelis, who is also a director of Sapien, said the company had raised $5 million during the past two years and was aiming to raise a further $10 million this year.

Mr Karelis and Mr Poynton – who jointly run corporate advisory firm Jindalee Partners – are working with several Australian and international companies in the cyber security sector because of its high growth potential.

Notably, Jindalee is corporate adviser to Canberra-based archTIS, which has raised $8 million via Perth broking firm CPS Capital Group, and is aiming to list on the ASX later this month.

“People keep on saying there is a shortage of risk capital in Australia, but we’ve found there is plenty of interest for the right opportunity,” Mr Karelis said.

archTIS is chaired by Perth-based former defence minister Stephen Smith, who is also chair of Sapien’s newly established advisory board.

Speaking at a recent shareholder meeting called to approve the change of name, Mr Poynton said Sapien had a three-pronged strategy for winning customers.

It was targeting large private companies with critical infrastructure, such as LNG producers, government utilities in areas like water and power supply, and federal government agencies, including in the defence and security sectors.

Sapien chief executive Glenn Murray said potential customers used ‘operational technology’ devices that were not designed to link with information technology networks.

That meant previously isolated assets were now exposed to cyber attacks, he said.

Sapien has used multiple technologies, including machine learning, artificial intelligence and industrial control system knowledge, to develop its solution.

ECU vice-chancellor Steve Chapman told Sapien’s shareholder meeting the university knew it had something valuable in its cyber security IP but could not see the business opportunity until Mr Poynton got involved.

“I don’t think universities are particularly good at commercialising their IP, because academics aren’t driven in that way,” Professor Chapman said.

“Sometimes you have collisions of extraordinary people who come together and see an opportunity.

“Sometimes, the university grasps that.

“With Sapien, this is really fantastic.”

One day after the Sapien meeting, Professor Chapman was part of a wider discussion on this topic when the Committee for Economic Development of Australia held its annual vice-chancellors’ forum.

He told the CEDA forum Perth was constrained by its isolation and size.

“The problem at the moment is the scale, we don’t have critical mass,” Professor Chapman said.

“We’re going in the right direction and there will be a tipping point at some time in the future.”

Professor Chapman suggested that commercialising Sapien Cyber would be easier in a city such as San Francisco.

“That’s going okay and it’s got good investment, but if you were doing that in the bay area, there would be so many VCs and so many angel investors,” he said.

Curtin University vice-chancellor Deborah Terry said there was a long way to go in transitioning to a knowledge economy.

“One of the step changes we do need to make as universities right across the country is to work as core parts of clusters and precincts,” she said.

“We want to collocate industry much more on our campus.”

University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater said governments in other countries had changed their funding of commercialisation.

“The funding goes direct to industry but they only get the funding if they work collaboratively with universities,” she said.