Ex-Intel Researchers Unveil ‘A Unicorn in the Making’

Ty Chaston
December 04, 2018

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Acceptto and the leadership team were recently interviewed by Portland Business Journal.

Read the full article.

A new Portland identity authentication and security startup has emerged this week with a Series A funding round sporting big-name backers.

Acceptto, launched by a group that includes five ex-Intel researchers, isn’t releasing financial details other than to describe the round as “significant.” The lead investors are Aetna Ventures, the investing arm of the insurance giant Aetna, along with New York-based Millennium Technology Value Partners and London-based Celeres Capital.

As part of the investment, Aetna Chief Security Officer James Routh is joining Acceptto’s board.

Company CEO Shahrokh Shahidzadeh said the caliber of the startup’s first investors shows the huge potential in its technology.

“We are a unicorn in the making,” he said, referencing the common Silicon Valley characterization of startups that hit billion-dollar valuations.

The startup’s product aims to replace the traditional security protocol of single passwords or basic multifactor authorization. Acceptto’s basic assumption is that much of the personal data used for security questions and other measures has already been breached, so a more contextualized protocol is needed.

Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the company’s software operates in the background and learns the digital behavior of users within context. By taking a holistic approach to how someone engages online, the software can determine if a bad actor is trying to access accounts.

If a user’s action seems off, the software sends the account owner real-time notifications through a secure channel.

Insurance giant Aetna is already using Acceptto as part of its next-generation authentication measures.

“We have an opportunity to improve security while also significantly improving the way Aetna joins consumers by eliminating the need to remember passwords.” Routh said in a 2017 news release highlighting this new system.

Acceptto has quietly built its technology for the past four years. Along with the five ex-Intel researchers, the 36-member team includes former McAfee and academia researchers. The team is spread across the downtown Portland headquarters, Lisbon, Portugal, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The company’s two co-founders, Chief Operating Officer Nahal Shahidzadeh and Chief Technology Officer Haitham Akkary both came out of Intel, as did CEO Shahrokh Shahidzadeh.

In addition to Aetna, the company has seven other paying customers. About a dozen others, in various stages, are piloting the software.

The money from this investment has already beefed up staffing. Shahrokh Shahidzadeh expects to hire another 10 to 12 people in the next six months, with perhaps as many as 100 arriving over the next 18 months.

“We had the option of the Bay Area or Vancouver for resources and access to engineers. We decided to stay in Portland because it is home,” Shahidzadeh said. “We are part of the fabric of Oregon.”

The startup has benefitted from the wave of talent moving to Portland because they favor the cost of living and lifestyle over higher-priced Silicon Valley.

“The people you get (in Portland) tend to stay with you and they tend to grow with you,” he said. “We have had a very stable team that is growing.”

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