Sequretek, an India-based cybersecurity company with 450 employees, will open its U.S. headquarters in the Little Rock Technology Park and over the next two years will employ 50 people, 90% of whom will make six-figure salaries.
Anand Naik, the company’s co-founder and CEO, announced the move Aug. 16 at the inaugural VenCent Fintech Summit, a gathering of banking and information technology professionals sponsored by The Venture Center, an entrepreneur support organization based in Little Rock. “Fintech” stands for “financial technology.”
Naik said in an interview that the company focuses on threat detection, prevention and artificial intelligence. Job positions will include analysts, programmers and data science engineers. Naik said the company does not intend to bring talent from outside the country beyond what is needed to transfer knowledge.
“Most of it is going to be local, and my hope is that I am able to find that much talent here,” he said.
Formed in 2013, Sequretek has more than 130 customers in Asia and 15-20 customers in the United States. Clients include banks and financial and retail institutions, Naik said. The company has a data center in Little Rock and employs about four or five there and about 10 people in the United States.
“We already have an office in New Jersey, which is where we were looking at setting up, but then we made the decision here. … For me as a new entrant into the U.S. market, finding a state that is supportive, that is ready to take our global ambition into account and provide all the economic as well as the other support that is required, it kind of made sense,” he said.
Sequretek was part of the 2020 FIS Fintech Accelerator program cohort sponsored by The Venture Center and FIS. It returned to Arkansas to participate in the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, another fintech program sponsored in part by The Venture Center. Accelerator programs support early stage companies through mentorship, capital, networking and other services.
Organizers said the VenCent Summit, which is happening Aug. 15-17, attracted more than 450 attendees who have the chance to see live product demonstrations from 70 Venture Center accelerator alumni, as well as hear presentations from experts in the field.
Naik made the announcement after a panel discussion featuring Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Gary Norcross, chairman, president and CEO of FIS. FIS is a Jacksonville, Fla.-based fintech company originally founded in Arkansas as Systematics in 1968. Norcross said when he joined the company in 1988, it had $200 million in revenues, and now it has $15 billion.
Norcross said FIS invested in the accelerator program because it could not make all the necessary investments in the industry by itself. He said the company invested $1.2 billion in technology last year. It also formed a venture company and deployed about $150 million through venture investments in early stage startups.
Hutchinson said the state originally invested $1 million a year in four accelerator programs and now there are about eight. This is the seventh FIS Fintech Accelerator cohort. Since it began, more than 80 alumni companies have graduated, 94% of which are still active or have been acquired.
“That’s probably the strongest throughput in an accelerator that I’ve ever heard of in any city in any state,” Norcross said.
The governor noted that eight alumni have located companies in Arkansas as a result of coming through the program.
In addition to the direct economic return, Hutchinson said an even greater value has been the enhancement to Arkansas’ reputation “as a place that startup technology companies can come and have talent and have investment opportunities and have market opportunities here. And so my goal when I started was I’d like for Arkansas to be considered a micro-hub of technology companies.”
Hutchinson tied the technology accelerator programs to his education initiative that made Arkansas the first state to mandate that computer science be taught in every high school. Since instituting that program, Arkansas has gone from having 20 teachers certified to teach computer science to having more than 650, and from 1,100 students taking a computer science class each year to more than 12,500. It has also become one of three states to mandate that students take a computer science course in order to graduate high school.
The governor said when he started the initiative, he traveled to Silicon Valley in California and asked technology companies, including Facebook, to come to Arkansas.
“They just loved our computer science program, and they said, ‘Let’s just recruit your talent out here,’” he said. “And I said, ‘Adios. This is not what I had in mind.’ And so that’s the reason we have developed more of the technology presence here.”
He said Arkansas cannot have a successful tech environment without entrepreneurial startups. He said the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new opportunities. His grandson earned a degree in computer science, wanted to work in gaming, and now works for an out-of-state company, but does it remotely while living in Arkansas.
In other business, the governor was asked by an audience member about his future political plans. He has said he will decide in January whether to run for president.
“We just need some commonsense leadership both on the national security issues but also in how we deal with civility in politics these days, and I want to focus on problem solving and not just chaos. … I will tell you that at 6 a.m. this morning I was on New Hampshire radio,” he said to applause.
He later told reporters that he was speaking to a conservative radio program where he was asked about the FBI raid on President Trump’s home and about the tax cuts passed in last week’s special session in Arkansas.