Zia Bhutta, CEO and Co-Founder of Accelirate Inc., immigrated to the United States in 1989 to attend Rutgers University under a student visa. After graduating in 1993 with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Bhutta worked as a developer during the ‘dot-com boom’. He hit his stride in 2001 when he, along with two other partners, founded Synechron Inc., a global IT services firm. Following a move to Florida in 2010 for warmer weather and lifestyle reasons, Bhutta set up a second office based out of Sunrise. In 2016, as second in command of Synechron and after growing yearly revenue to $500 Million, Bhutta decided to leave the company to pursue new opportunities.
“After a short break, including a small project where I funded a startup called ‘TapToBook’, I co-founded Accelirate in January 2017,” Bhutta said. “Accelirate is a company focused on the trends of Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). We specifically focus on the technology of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), the implementation of AI and that segment of business related to Business Process Automation (BPA). Because of my background, and that of my partner, we saw a big opportunity in this area. The technology has since become the fastest growing enterprise software segment today.”
From Startup to Second Stage
In a relatively short period of time, Accelirate has made some rather significant accomplishments. They currently have 130 employees and are on pace to do $11 Million in revenue this year. Nevertheless, as Bhutta shared, there were some early challenges that he and his partner had to overcome to gain traction and ultimately take the company from startup to second stage.
“At the time, the technology was relatively unknown,” he said. “This required us to educate our client base and to focus on more general marketing. We also had to make a bet that the technology would eventually become bigger and more accepted. We invested heavily into training resources and were confident that things would take off. By our second year in operation, we caught the tailwinds and saw a pretty radical shift in the right direction.”
When it comes to niche providers in this space, Accelirate is one of the largest. Everything they do revolves around providing Business Process Automation services using RPA and AI technologies which, according to Bhutta, are both at the same stage where the Internet was in 1996 or 1997. As front-runners in the fourth industrial revolution, Accelirate provides a tremendous amount of value for its clients in order to make their processes faster and more efficient.
“The whole reason you build computer apps is to take a business process, streamline it and execute it faster and more efficiently than the current way of doing things,” Bhutta said. “That’s been the entire premise of IT in the past few decades. With Business Process Automation, you have different ways to automate a business process. AI is a newer way to do that.”
Bhutta continued, “Most back office tasks in large enterprises are repetitive and/or mechanical in nature. Some require decision making, but most don’t. We engage with clients to discover and analyze their current business processes. We then chunk them into manual/mechanical or intelligent or wastage buckets. We then identify areas where work is taking longer and/or costing more money and that’s where we apply RPA and AI technology. Much like automation in a car, RPA is simply software robots that can be programmed to operate certain apps without human intervention. Many are also capable of completing subjective tasks using AI.”
Creating a Competitive Edge
The competitive landscape consists of two types of businesses. On the one side, you have organizations like E&Y and Accenture. These are global enterprises with unlimited resources and service offerings. On the other side, you have small startups. Whereas the former is a “Jack of all trades” and the latter is still narrowing in on its niche, Accelirate defines itself as a company that only focuses on BPA using RPA & AI.
“If you need brain surgery, you go to a brain surgeon, not a general practitioner,” Bhutta said. “If you need BPA utilizing RPA and AI technologies, you come to us. Our team is passionate about what we do. We also focus on R&D and new innovations. So far, with our niche focus, we’ve been able to capture a good chunk of the market.”
Accelirate’s marketing strategy comes down to rich and relevant content. They have a sales and marketing team, but the focus is on the depth of their content and how best to deliver that content. This includes email marketing, participation in industry events and Bhutta contributing his thoughts and perspectives through various avenues. According to Bhutta, educating their clients and perspective clients is key, but so is balanced growth.
“We’re executing well, and we’re geared up for heavy investments next year, but we need to remain balanced,” he said. “To achieve that, we can’t be too far ahead of the market. From the standpoint of innovations, we are currently ahead of the game. For us, it’s a careful balance of reading the market and making sure our investments are in tune with that.”
Accelirate’s workforce consists of 130 employees with another 100 projected to be added by this time next year. According to Bhutta, the culture is young, open, engaging and fun. “Most of our employees are in their 20s,” he said. “Our reception area has foosball and ping pong. Our third office will have a pool table. We do events with the employees, provide snacks and operate with an open-door policy. Our culture is pretty ‘loosey goosey’ and that sets the overall tone. We know there’s a generational gap between management and our young workforce and we don’t pretend to understand everything that happens with them. However, we do try to engage with our employees as much as possible. We’re proud of our culture and we’ve received recognition for it. This year, we were ranked the 11th best place to work in IT, in the small organization category, by Computerworld.
When it comes to community involvement and philanthropic activities, Accelirate has some lofty goals in the works for satisfying its desire to give back. They aspire to reserve at least 1% of profits for charitable giving. According to Bhutta, their intention is not to garner exposure; it’s to “do the right thing”. “Actions speak louder than words,” he said.
Bhutta shared some interesting thoughts on why he believes South Florida is a particularly great place to launch and grow a software firm. “If you look at the Northeast and the West Coast, they’re all areas with high concentrations of tech jobs,” he said. “However, hiring and retaining talent in those locations is challenging because there are so many places to work. In Florida, you have great colleges and universities producing qualified talent, but you’re not competing against as many software firms for that talent. Like I said before, our team is young. We often hire right out of college, but we put them through an extensive training program.”
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Bhutta said. “We’re passionate about this opportunity and we love living and working here in Florida. We’re not too big into accolades, but we’re honored to be a part of it.”
Bhutta continued, “In terms of why we were selected, I think it’s a combination of our culture and how we operate. We’re very decisive and aggressive, but also very much a culture where we value our people. This award is because of the collective effort of our entire team.”
Looking ahead, Bhutta and his team will remain focused on the Process Automation space with the use of Artificial Intelligence. The goal is not to be the biggest company in this space, but rather to focus on building something of exceptional quality that their clients value. Bhutta used the analogy of Honda versus Porsche.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“One of the things I see is that when a lot of people go towards the path of entrepreneurship, they don’t do enough research on the market,” Bhutta said. “They also don’t do enough research relative to the product or service they want to bring into that market. If you try to bring a product or service into the market and it’s already saturated, you’re going to struggle. Do your research and figure out which segment you want to address and build your core competency around that. Focus on a sub-segment and then make sure the market you selected has some tailwinds going along with it.”