Immersive Labs, a Bristol-based startup founded by a former GCHQ researcher

A technology startup founded by a former employee of British spy agency GCHQ has raised $8m (£6.2m) in investment from Goldman Sachs and other investors.

Immersive Labs, which is headquartered in Bristol, runs online training sessions for people to learn about cybersecurity in order to help companies defend themselves against hackers.

Chief executive James Hadley is a former security researcher and instructor at GCHQ, but founded Immersive Labs in 2017 to teach technical skills in the private sector.

The company has since brought in clients including BAE Systems, Sophos and Grant Thornton.

Immersive Labs has hired cybersecurity expert Max Vatter, a former covert internet investigator who worked in Scotland Yard’s money laundering unit, as its chief cyber officer.

Former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan advises Immersive Labs, and spoke at an event hosted by the business in November.

Mr Hannigan said that Mr Hadley had tried using his approach to teaching cybersecurity skills that forms Immersive Labs whilst he worked at GCHQ.

“It was absolutely obvious that it was meeting a massive problem that industry has on skills. I knew this in government, I experienced it there, but also in the private sector,” Mr Hannigan said.

Firms looking to hire staff with knowledge of cybersecurity are typically forced to either “wait ten years while the education supply chain improves itself and starts producing enough people” or “poach each other’s staff from a tiny pool of theoretically qualified people,” he said.

The former spy agency director urged businesses to learn from hackers when it came to cybersecurity skills.

“They have cracked the skills problem in their own way,” he said. “They don’t worry about qualifications, they don’t ask for 2:1s in computer science. They’re interested in whether you can do a particular job, and they can pull in those skills from around the internet as they need them. They are ahead of us on that.”