Data Protection Data Protection
07 Dec 2020

5 Startups That Are 'Making It' and the Stories Behind Their Success

Media Mentions

There’s no question: Durham has become a promising place to launch a startup. That’s in part thanks to American Underground, which has partnered with Google for Startups and earned a reputation as a startup hub of the South. Since 2016, American Underground and Google have also collaborated on the Black Founders Exchange, connecting Black-owned companies with the resources needed to grow. 

It’s also because the talent is here and growing. The Durham-Chapel Hill metro area is rated No. 7 most educated in the country, churning out graduates from Duke University, N.C. CentralUniversity, UNC and N.C. State University. The area also draws in new tech talent due to a lower cost of living than San Francisco or Boston.


Founded In 2001 as StrongAuth, rebranded in 2017
Employees 26 in Cupertino, California, and Durham
Top clients AT&T, Wix, StubHub, SurveyMonkey

It’s annoying when someone hacks your personal Facebook account. But to a company working in finance, medicine or government contracting, a data hack can be an existential threat. 

StrongKey sells products to prevent hacks and make them irrelevant through data encryption. In January 2018, the company received $10 million in series A funding from Japanese software company Systena. Since then, StrongKey has grown to 26 employees, with half located in Durham. There are plans to continue growing after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. 

Pashara Black, PR and content marketing manager, said that interest in data security has grown since the start of the pandemic. Some company leaders have more time to think about IT projects, and most now realize the need to scrutinize the home office.

“They’re no longer in a secure office, so that brings a different level of vulnerability to companies, especially if they’re dealing with sensitive data,” Black said. “Companies are thinking about that: How do I keep my remote employees secure at home?”

StrongKey’s clientele includes big names. The company was recently chosen by the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, under the U.S. Department of Commerce, to work on several projects to prevent data breaches and fraud. StrongKey is also a member of the FIDO Alliance, a group of the biggest technology companies working on “solving the world’s password problem” with simpler and more secure authentication. 

“In a lot of ways, we’re a company that punches above our weight as far as the customers that we work with,” Black said. She credited much of that to the expertise of founder and CTO Arshad Noor, a public speaker who travels the world to talk about cybersecurity.

COO Jake Kiser also said a successful startup relies on “the ability to somehow discern when to sense the market, listen to the market, respond and adapt appropriate[ly] – and the ability to know the rare occasion when to disregard that and build something new that the market may not realize it wants yet.”

Black said the average consumer hasn’t realized that keeping the internet safe could require eliminating passwords entirely. Industry leaders are looking to replace passwords with touch IDs and other less hackable methods in the future.

“The password that we use to log into social media, websites, banking, was created in 1960,” Black said. “It’s extremely outdated. And so one of the biggest conversations in cybersecurity now is: What’s next?”