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‘Fuel’ brings cybersecurity startups to Northwest Arkansas | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

While sorting through applications for the upcoming cybersecurity cohort of Startup Junkie’s Fuel Accelerator program, Sajan Gautam had some explaining to do for founders unfamiliar with the region.

“We had to educate them quite a bit about Northwest Arkansas,” he said. “Many of them do not know how magnificent this place is. We start by discussing Walmart, Tyson Foods, and the Waltons, and then the conversation goes from there.”

Gautam is the entrepreneur-in-residence who will lead Fuel’s 10-week cybersecurity program. It begins June 4 with eight companies from around the globe. Darian Harris, Fuel’s director, said they are from Arkansas, Texas, California, Idaho, Argentina, Italy, Egypt and Israel.

Gautam is a former cybersecurity executive who has become an adviser and investor in Bentonville. He has worked in that ecosystem for several leading firms, including Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young and Citi Group. Most recently, he spent 5 ½ years as the chief information security officer (CISO) for Arvest Bank before joining Fuel earlier this year.

Gautam is familiar with working with startups and wants to devote more of his time to that endeavor.

“I have always been interested in startups,” Gautam said. “Even before I came to Northwest Arkansas, when I was at Citi Group, I used to work with startups. That continued when I moved to Arvest.”

Fuel is a no-cost, no-equity program directed by the Startup Junkie Foundation of Fayetteville. It is organized in partnership with Catapult Consulting, led by Tom Douglass, former director of emerging technology at Walmart Inc., and with programming support from GrowthX, the Silicon Valley-based venture capital fund.

The program offers hands-on education, workshops and support to guide companies toward becoming “enterprise-ready.” Since its establishment in 2018, Fuel has initiated six accelerator programs with 51 cohort companies across supply chain, health technology and artificial intelligence.

Sajan Gautam

Gautam, who has instructed and lectured at universities on cybersecurity topics, said cybersecurity is becoming more sophisticated every day.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) have helped cybersecurity, but at the same time, they’ve opened up new challenges,” he said.

Regarding cybersecurity technologies and innovations, Gautam said Northwest Arkansas shows potential to be a hub.

“There are so many opportunities here, and entrepreneurs flock to where the market is,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done, especially around educating [about] Northwest Arkansas to other areas, but the potential is there.”

Bastazo, an Arkansas-based software development startup with ties to the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is one of the companies selected for Fuel’s cybersecurity cohort. Bastazo, meaning “to carry the burden” in Greek, uses AI and advanced analytics to support cybersecurity operations within industrial control systems.

Bastazo’s initial industry focus was on electric utilities. It’s looking at oil and gas and manufacturing next.

“We see [Fuel] as a pivotal moment for us to do that,” said CEO Mauricio Iglesias. “As a startup looking to grow and expand to other verticals, this is exciting. We’re hoping to land a few customers through the program.”

Bastazo was founded in 2020 by UA faculty members and is based on licensed technology from a U.S. Department of Energy cybersecurity center at the UA in Fayetteville.

Since launching its first product in July 2023, the company has grown to 10 full-time employees and is entering its growth phase. Bastazo has also started raising a $2.5 million seed round and just landed its first venture capital investor from Washington, D.C.

“We’ve bootstrapped the entire way with government contracts and grants,” Iglesias said. “By the end of the year, hopefully, we should be up to 15 employees.”


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