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Virginia Cybersecurity Challenge

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Virginia Cybersecurity Challenge logo

Virginia’s Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) aims to create a commonwealth-wide ecosystem of innovation excellence at the intersection of cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and data. CCI’s mission includes research, innovation, and workforce development. At times, CCI will work with partner organizations to fulfill this goal.

CCI, in partnership with US Ignite, is hosting the Virginia Cybersecurity Challenge to accelerate the Commonwealth’s development of talent and products that enhance cybersecurity. Virginia has emerged as a national leader in cybersecurity, boasting the second-highest concentration of technology workers in the nation. The Commonwealth considers it vital that Virginia researchers and students take advantage of opportunities to explore cybersecurity via programs such as this Challenge.

In order to ensure a more robust pool of proposals, the deadline has been extended. The new deadline will be October 15, 2021. Proposals advancing to Phase II will be notified on October 29, 2021. Please submit proposals to

The Challenge will seek submissions from researchers and faculty members at public CCI member universities to develop a cybersecurity prototype that leverages unique elements of emerging 5G technologies to provide secure operations or communications in ways not possible on previous generation networks. This prototype will ultimately develop into a commercializable product solution. Undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to participate actively on researcher-led teams.

Secure 5G networks will become the backbone to enable IoT, transportation, automated infrastructure, and other autonomous systems of the future. The security of these networks and devices will touch nearly every aspect of people’s lives and help drive digital transformation and jobs.

This is a gated, four-phase Challenge beginning May 5, 2021. This call invites researchers to submit a Phase I proposal, with finalists from each phase being awarded funds and an invitation to participate in the next phase.

Success Stories

Here are some of the prize-winning ideas submitted to past US Ignite Challenges and Competitions.

Road Vision – George Washington University

Tasked with creating an app to help address fundamental city challenges, the GWU team developed Road Vision, which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to analyze video feeds and translate visual data into useful traffic and public safety information. As the competition winners, the team earned $25,000 in start-up and research funding. The team used the funding to pursue growth and application scale. 

George Washington University students created an app to address fundamental city problems
AI platform called iNotify that recognizes wielded guns in prohibited areas to reduce gun violence.
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Plano Intelligence Inc. – SCHOOL

The winner of a reverse pitch challenge competition held in Richardson, TX, Ashlesha Nesarikar, pitched an AI platform called iNotify that recognizes wielded guns in prohibited areas to reduce gun violence.

Plano Intelligence continues to be a thriving startup committed to the constructive social impact of AI featuring a privacy and security centric cognitive AI platform, iCognet, that is a reusable, plug & play, and versatile foundation for existing and future AI applications.

“We are talking with people, with actually all around the Nation…US Ignite has helped us get to this point. We ended up winning the prize from them and the ability to use the UNICEF infrastructure” – Ashlesha Nasarikar, Founder and CEO Plano Intelligence


Questions? Please contact us at with any questions.

Please submit proposals by Oct. 15, 2021  to


If you'd like to schedule a 20 min call to learn more about the Virginia Cybersecurity Challenge, please complete this form and we will follow up shortly.

Missed the information session on May 21? Watch it now on YouTube! 


Participants will:

  • Submit an initial proposal in the format described below, responding to the Challenge pitch and outlining the proposed project, the potential for commercial success, success metrics, target audience, budget and identified commitment for the prototyping phase of the Challenge, as well as team biographies.
  • This proposal will respond to the following pitch:
    A cybersecurity prototype and relevant resources that leverage unique elements of emerging 5G technologies to provide secure operations or communications in ways not possible on previous generation networks.

Over the course of 6 months, invited participants will:

  • Develop a proof-of-concept prototype based on the proposal submitted during Phase I.
  • Demonstrate a functioning prototype for evaluation by a panel of expert judges.
  • Submit a brief proposal for product development in phase III, including a budget and identified commitment.

Over the course of 6 months, invited participants will:

  • Develop operational and scalable products based on the prototypes submitted during Phase II.
  • Demonstrate a functional application before a panel of judges for evaluation.
  • Submit a brief proposal for commercialization or adoption of the technology or application by industry

Over the course of 3 months, invited participants will fully engage with commercialization activities led by US Ignite and partners.

US Ignite Challenge logo.


Researchers and faculty members at public institutions of higher education in CCI who are deemed eligible by their home institution to serve as a Principal Investigator (PI) on an external grant are eligible to apply.

Applications from under-represented groups are particularly welcome, as are applications from researchers who have not previously engaged with CCI.

Students at eligible CCI institutions are encouraged to reach out to researchers who are eligible to serve as a PI to participate on a project. Similarly, Virginia-based researchers are encouraged to recruit interested students to join researcher-led teams and continue on to the commercialization phase.


Following Phase I, Challenge judges will invite up to seven (7) teams to move on to Phase II, awarding each finalist up to $20,000.

Following Phase II, Challenge judges will invite three to five (3-5) teams to move on to Phase III, awarding each finalist up to $32,000.

Following Phase III, Challenge judges will invite two (2) teams to move on to Phase IV, which will support teams in developing commercialization strategies. and efforts.

Please note: this Challenge is a gated competition. Only teams selected at the end of each phase will be invited to participate in the next phase.

Successful applicants are expected to participate fully in the activities of CCI, including providing materials needed for reports, participation in CCI meetings, and responding to data collection requests by CCI. All publications and presentations resulting from the grant should acknowledge support from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI). Grant award letters will supply an example of this acknowledgement.

Restrictions. According to the terms under which CCI is funded, the following costs are not allowable:

  • Indirect costs.
  • Costs of developing and delivering undergraduate capstone programs, except as part of the larger effort to align cyber and CPSS-focused undergraduate program content with industry needs.
  • A portion of salaries and benefits of faculty for time spent teaching undergraduates, including teaching cyber-related courses.
  • Scholarships for costs of attendance at institutions of higher education.

Identified Commitment

Because this is a CCI Node-funded program, the awardee must provide a 1:1 identified commitment to this grant. While indirect costs (IDC) are NOT eligible costs in the proposals submitted in response to this RFP, unrecovered IDC can be used to partially fulfill this requirement. No funds from other CCI-funded projects can be used as identified commitment.

Proposals and budgets should go through the appropriate approval process at the PI’s institution. For instance, many universities require researchers to include a proposal and budget which have been approved in the standard OSP pre-award procedure.

Proposal Format

Please submit proposals by Oct. 15 to

Proposals must use 1-inch margins, 11-point font or larger (Arial or Helvetica), and single line spacing. The following outline is to be followed for Phase I:

  1. Title page (up to 1 page), including:
    1. Title of the proposed project
    2. PI Name
    3. PI affiliation
    4. PI contact information
  2. Proposed project (up to 2 pages), including:
    1. A clear statement of the proposed cybersecurity prototype and approach.
    2. Discussion of the technical requirements and engineering/scientific justification.
    3. Description of the potential for the prototype (and ultimately product) to deliver substantive innovation within 5G cybersecurity.
    4. Discussion of market potential likely to open up avenues for research and/or workforce development.
  3. Proposed commercialization or industry adoption strategy (up to 1 page).
  4. Budget and budget justification (up to 1 page).
    1. The budget must contain both the requested amount and the identified commitment. The latter should be in the form of a table according to the following format: 
    2. Download worksheet PDF.
  5. Biography (up to 2 pages). Use NSF format.
Event Date
Call for Proposals Released May 5, 2021
Question Period Ends May 14, 2021
Proposers Workshop May 21, 2021
Phase I Proposal Submissions Due Oct. 15, 2021
Phase I Award Notification/Phase II Start Oct. 29, 2021
First round of award funding disbursed.
Phase II Prototype Submissions Due Feb. 25, 2022
Phase II Award Notification/Phase III Start March 11, 2022
Second round of award funding disbursed
Phase III Product Submissions Due Aug. 15, 2022
Phase III Recognition and Public Review Aug. 29, 2022
Phase IV Commercialization Activities Commence Sept. 12, 2022
  • Phase I: May 5, 2021 ー Oct. 15, 2021
  • Phase II: Oct. 29, 2021 ー Feb. 25, 2022
  • Phase III: March 11, 2022 ー Aug. 15, 2022
  • Phase IV: Sept. 12, 2022 ー Dec. 16, 2022

The Phase I proposal must be submitted via email to no later than the close of business (5:00 p.m. ET) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Please indicate “CCI Cybersecurity Challenge_PI Last Name” in the subject line.

All proposals must be submitted as a single PDF document.

A committee including representatives from CCI, outside technical experts, and US Ignite will review the proposals and make award recommendations. Evaluation criteria will include demonstrated expertise in at least one of the following areas:

  • Understanding of cybersecurity requirements within 5G technologies; network architecture; and identity management.
  • Potential for the prototype (and ultimately product) to deliver substantive innovation within 5G cybersecurity.
  • Feasible commercialization strategy and market potential (offering potential for job creation within the Commonwealth)
  • Clear performance and evaluation metrics proposed for the project.
  • Sufficient budget and matching resources to develop prototype
  • Track record of the PI/team involved and likelihood of achieving the stated goals.

I’m a recent graduate of a college or university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Can I serve as a PI?
Only faculty or researchers are eligible to apply for grant funding as a PI at a public CCI member institution may apply to this Challenge. Students are encouraged to reach out to a PI to participate on a project.

Do I need a team to apply?
The PI may lead a team of any size for this competition. The PI will serve as a team lead and all competition correspondence. All awarded funds will be disbursed to the PI.

Is there a registration fee?
There is no registration fee to apply.

What is required for each submission?
Each phase requires different materials for submission, but all submissions must include a budget and justification. Budget information should only be 1-2 pages of material.

Informational Workshop FAQ

I am a principal investigator (PI). If I have a student on my team, will they need to do anything (e.g., paperwork) prior to submission?

We strongly recommend you run your proposal through your OSP structure to review the budget and ensure your proposal follows the regulations of your institution. Your proposal must be reviewed by the sponsored program personnel within your institution. If you have already selected a student, feel free to mention any special qualifications they have, their proposed responsibilities, and duration of performance (if applicable).

I’m a PI and would like a student to join my Challenge team. Do I need to identify this student at the point of submission?

You will need to identify the student position in your budget, but will not need to identify a particular student at the point of submission. Also, please review the response to question 1 above.

I’m a student looking to join a Challenge team. Is there a list of PIs participating in this Challenge that I can refer to?

CCI does not currently have a list of the PIs participating in this competition. However, CCI can provide a list of PIs that have previously engaged with CCI in other ways, please visit CCI’s people’s page.

Any faculty member or researcher eligible to be designated as a PI by any of CCI’s 40 participating institutions is eligible to submit a proposal. If a faculty member or researcher hasn’t engaged with CCI before, they are more than welcome to submit. We suggest searching for faculty members or researchers within your institution’s expert in cybersecurity, computer science, wireless communications, architecture, etc. Students cannot submit a proposal by themselves. A proposal must come through one of the researchers whom your educational institution identifies as being an eligible PI.

There are many avenues you can take to find a PI, so think broadly. CCI has funded other opportunities that had PI’s from departments such as geography, cyber biosecurity, agriculture, political science, education, communications, and more. Keep your mind open within the scope of the call in all possible areas where innovation can occur. The call’s focus is cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and intelligence, which is a technical focus, but it often involves expertise outside of the core security area.

Can the project idea be related to 6G networks?

Yes, we are looking for advanced wireless solutions broadly interpreted.

Is there a set number of persons on a team, or a max number?

There is no minimum or maximum number of persons on a team. The number of team members is up to you, but we advise you to be cognizant of the budget available and what the team hopes to achieve.


Additional Resources

●      ICAP: Josh Green is the Director of the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), Virginia Small Business Development Center Network with George Mason University. Josh will assist with the commercialization phase of the Challenge. Find more information on ICAP below, along with Josh’s contact information. 

  2. Josh Green:

●      VA Cybersecurity Challenge Informational Workshop Presentation

●      US Ignite 5G Background Information

If you have any additional questions following this workshop please reach out to

Specific questions concerning this call and the requirements set forth herein should be directed in writing to the email address: