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High-tech guru pursues vision to turn Ybor into a cybersecurity hub

Adam Sheffield is director of SecureSet Academy.
Adam Sheffield is director of SecureSet Academy.
Published Jun. 14, 2017

TAMPA — From an office undergoing renovation on the second floor of an old Ybor City hotel, a high-tech visionary is on a mission: Turn the historic Tampa district into a cybersecurity hub and cash in on a growing industry that's projected to be worth more than $1 trillion by 2025.

This mission even has a name, combining the location with the concept — Cybor.

"It's like an economic development council for cyber," said Adam Sheffield, 31, an Army veteran and cybersecurity guru who came up with the Cybor name and concept.

With the world now connected through the Internet, cybersecurity — protecting users and systems against attacks, intrusions and compromise — has spawned the need for hundreds of thousands of highly skilled workers. More than 15,000 jobs are open in Florida right now, according to

Sheffield, who was an intelligence collector in the Army, developed the idea while working for the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida.

The USF center, known as FC2, is doing a great job offering college-level cybersecurity training, Sheffield said, but he saw a need to grow a larger community than already exists in Tampa.

After three years at FC2, he left to become director at the Tampa branch of SecureSet Academy, a Colorado-based company providing boot camp-style, comprehensive cybersecurity education programs.

Beyond holding classes, the SecureSet offices will serve the Cybor effort by hosting meetups, cyber and tech-related events. Skilled professionals will act as mentors.

And within its 7,000 square foot space at the historic Don Vicente hotel, recently redeveloped as office space, the company will offer a secure place for students to practice their skills, Sheffield said.

Cybor, he said, will be a centralized hub to bring together elements of the cybersecurity realm that often don't interact.

The Colorado Impact Fund, a Denver venture capital firm that invested $4 million to set up the academy here, agrees that Tampa is the right place at the right time to capture a piece of the cybersecurity boom.

Said Bret Fund, SecureSet Academy's chief executive officer, "I absolutely love it."

• • •

Ybor City is already seeing a high-tech boom.

The U.S. Special Operations Command, through a contract with the Doolittle Institute, set up Sofwerx — an innovative high-tech incubator across from the Cybor academy.

Sofwerx enables academics, inventors and those involved in the industry to work with SOCom outside the gates of MacDill Air Force Base on getting tools to commandos in the field.

In September, SOCom plans to open a much larger center in Ybor, called Drone Works for now, that will focus on unmanned vehicles.

"Not only flying things, but crawling things and swimming things, too," said James "Hondo" Geurts, SOCom's acquisition chief.

Though he hadn't heard the Cybor name before, Geurts said SOCom has a need for cyber innovations too.

"Any capabilities that the local community puts together might be of use to help SOCom solve challenges that are of interest to me," he said. "There is certainly synergy in marrying up efforts in the cyber arena with existing efforts at Sofwerx and now Drone Works to come."

Other local tech leaders see great merit in Sheffield's Cybor vision.

"Cybor is a cool concept," said Jeremy Rasmussen, cybersecurity director of Abacode, a Tampa company that provides cybersecurity services for growing organizations.

It helps that Tampa has SOCom and U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in the Middle East, Rasmussen said.

Mike Ferris, who owns Abacode and another high tech firm called Occam Technology Group, said he is considering a move to Ybor City among other places. Abacode now is in the Research and Innovation Park at USF.

Ferris likes the idea of Cybor, saying "any effort like that is a good effort. Any kind of awareness about cybersecurity and trying to put an effort around building that ecosystem is good."

He isn't wedded to Ybor City as a cybersecurity epicenter, though. He sees potential in other local areas, as well.

But to Dave Scott, a retired Air Force major general and a community leader in Ybor City as owner of the Bad Monkey bar, the pieces are in place to make the Cybor vision succeed.

"A cyber community is growing right now in Ybor City including government, tech training, academic, and industry sectors," said Scott, who served as deputy director of SOCom's Center for Special Operations.

"Interestingly, the epicenter of this movement is the Don Vicente hotel. Ybor's development still radiates from this site as we move from cigars to cyber."

• • •

Among those who believe in the Cybor concept is Sri Sridharan, managing director and chief operating officer of USF's Florida Cybersecurity Center.

"I feel the cybersecurity area is moving like crazy," Sridharan said. "Take a look at SOcom, CentCom, nearby agencies and institutions. They are all looking for solutions in terms of people with the right skill sets to do the job."

Sheffield, he said, is building something akin to Silicon Valley.

"This is a very smart thing to do," Sridharan said.

He sees Cybor as a complement, not a competitor, for the work done by FC2.

As movers roll in furniture and go over floor plans, Sheffield says he has a long way to go to make his vision a reality. But with so many jobs to fill, he is taking the Field of Dreams approach.

"We are building a center of gravity," he said, "to bring the entire info security ecosystem together."

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.