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Cyber Start-Ups

Researchers aim to match interns studying a tech-focused entrepreneurship curriculum with local cybersecurity startups and subject matter experts (SMEs). The students will come from George Mason University and the University of Mary Washington (UMW), and will include transfers from regional community colleges. 

Funded by the CCI Hub

Project Investigator

Principal Investigator (PI): Gisele Stolz, Senior Director, George Mason University Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Impact’s Entrepreneurship Programs

Rationale and Background

Providing cybersecurity students with  experience that's relevant to their course of study is crucial to ensure a skilled and diverse workforce in Virginia.

Experiential learning is key to preparing them for the workforce, but the required technical and soft skills are becoming more difficult to acquire through traditional college programs and internships. 

There are a limited number of internship opportunities to support the growing cybersecurity student population, and they often require security clearances, limiting the number and type of students who can apply. 

On the other hand, finding quality internships can be a problem for undergraduate students.

Another issue is the challenge that startups and small businesses face in recruiting talented interns when many large corporations or government entities court the same talent pool.


The semester-long program will be offered twice a year, in the Spring and Fall, placing 42 Mason students and eight UMW students into internships.

The opportunity will be advertised through relevant Cybersecurity, Computer Science, Information Technology, and other departments, as well as with career services. 

Applicants will be pre-screened, then presented to employers based on company requirements. Startup companies interview candidates and select their interns, who are then put on Mason’s payroll for $19 an hour.

Students work up to 125 hours during the internship and are expected to complete projects defined by the host startup.

The program manager and the PI hold regular check-ins with interns and the hosts to ensure the internships are going well, projects are progressing in a timely manner, and any issues can be quickly remedied.

Projected Outcomes

Because startups and small businesses are an important, dynamic, and growing part of the Virginia cybersecurity ecosystem, the project aims to::

  • Provide students in cybersecurity degree programs with relevant, hands-on experiential learning opportunities while providing them with training and guidance.
  • Provide cybersecurity startups and SMEs with the talent they need to scale their businesses.
  • Introduce students from a diverse background to the world of tech entrepreneurship, so that in a few years, some will consider launching their own startups.
  •  Inspire students to launch their own entrepreneurial ventures.

Students will also have the opportunity to earn a digital cybersecurity and entrepreneurship badge. They must:

  • Work a minimum of 80 hours (out of a maximum quota of 125 hours).
  • Attend three business-related workshops.
  • Submit two sets of homework assignments, a midterm self-reflection one-pager and a final PowerPoint presentation with a Q&A session.