Statewide: Code green
Pierre Naudé moved to Wilmington from Atlanta in 2012 to become CEO of nCino Inc., which sells software that helps banks trim loan paperwork. He cruises the Intracoastal Waterway on his pontoon boat, doesn’t miss big-city traffic and hopes to be in the Port City a long time. That may happen if nCino meets his projection of $50 million in annual sales by 2018, compared with $6.5 million this year. Employment has climbed to about 100 from 18 two years ago as banks in 19 states have bought nCino’s products. “We want to build the company long term,” says Naudé, 56, a veteran of public companies Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys Inc. and Norcross, Ga.-based S1 Corp. “Otherwise, I would have done this in a big city somewhere and then sold the company after two or three years.”
Equally ambitious plans are afoot at Charlotte-based software developer Tresata Inc., where annual sales might top $1 billion within a decade, CEO Abhishek Mehta says. Before co-founding the company, he worked eight years for Bank of America Corp. on computer programs that analyzed massive amounts of consumer data to identify people likely to want credit cards or checking accounts and to spot credit and fraud risks. A native of India and former executive-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, he saw opportunity by looking out of his front window during the 2006-07 housing boom. “People who could not afford to buy homes were buying homes. I could see it in my neighborhood.” In 2008-09, the housing market sank and foreclosures soared. “So why didn’t we see it coming? The more you dug into it, you realize that the data existed, but the software to analyze it, find the intelligence in it, did not.”
Mehta, 36, left the bank to start Tresata in 2011. Annual sales reached $10 million in 2013, and the company plans to double employment next year, adding 25 jobs in technology, data science, sales and marketing, most of them at its downtown Charlotte office. Software Development Times, a trade publication, named Tresata as one of 17 emerging U.S. tech companies to watch in 2015, calling it “a potential game-changer.” Its software analyzes data in a way that is less expensive and more comprehensive than previous programs, spokeswoman Katie Levans says. Though the company focuses on banks, it also targets customers such as Matthews-based Harris Teeter LLC, which was acquired earlier this year by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.
State officials hope Tresata and other promising tech companies can make North Carolina a leader in developing software used by banks, money managers and insurers. SAS Institute Inc., the Cary-based kingpin of the state’s technology industry, has sold subscriptions to its data-mining software to financial services companies for decades. North Carolina is home to major offices of many of the world’s largest financial companies, seven of which cumulatively employ more than 100,000 in the state, according to Business North Carolina’s annual ranking of largest employers. “UNC Charlotte and other groups have made analytics a top priority with the notion that Charlotte can become a national hub for the data industry,” says Olin Broadway, a former senior tech executive at First Union Corp. in Charlotte and co-founder of a publicly traded banking-software company. “Because of the companies we have here, we are very well suited for this. Abhishek is in the right place where he’s going to get rich in a hurry.”
Chip Mahan, founder of Wilmington-based Live Oak Bank, saw the potential for a software system that helped it cut down on paperwork for processing business loans. Formed in 2008, Live Oak specializes in U.S. Small Business Administration loans, a niche that has made it the state’s most profitable bank, based on return on assets and equity (“Big Gains for Small Banks,” June). The bank’s software was so effective that Mahan created nCino — from encino, Spanish for live oak — as a separate company to sell it to other banks. “They realized they were onto something big,” says Naudé, a native of South Africa. They had worked together when Mahan was CEO of S1, a financial-services software company acquired in 2011 by Naples, Fla.-based ACI Worldwide.
Another promising software company is Davidson-based Impact Financial Systems Inc., which had revenue growth exceeding 200% between 2010 and 2013, earning it a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing U.S. private companies. Former Wachovia Corp. Chief Information Officer Tim Parsons started the company, which designs systems for the brokerage, banking and insurance industries. Impact was a runner-up in BNC’s Small Business of the Year competition last year. Bigger companies are taking notice. Two large tech consultancies, India-based HCL Technologies Ltd. and Teaneck, N.J.-based Cognizant Inc., cited the state’s pool of financial companies among reasons for their recent expansions. HCL is adding 1,237 jobs in Cary, while Cognizant plans to add 500 over four years including a larger Charlotte office.
While the Triangle and Charlotte are the state’s hotspots for tech talent, nCino offers hope to other areas. “We need to support the regions, not just Raleigh and Durham and Charlotte,” says Jim Roberts, executive director of UNC Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “If we can grow innovation economies in other parts of the state, it will help us move up.”