Albany Business Review | November 19, 2015

Apprenda co-founder Abraham Sultan talks immigration, recruiting tech talent

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute brought Abraham Sultan, co-founder and vice president of engineering at Apprenda, to the area in 2000, during a tumultuous time in Venezuelan politics.

The idea of someday growing a business like Apprenda made him stay in the U.S. and fight to get a green card.

After graduating from Rensselaer, he worked with a Saratoga Springs software company and for the state before co-founding Apprenda. Apprenda builds a software platform that allows its customers to create computer applications, such as those used in ATM transactions. The company has raised $56 million in venture capital and is using the money to build its software products, which help companies like JPMorgan Chase, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen.

The Albany Business Review spoke with Sultan recently for a 10 minutes with profile (out tomorrow). Here’s a selection from that conversation. Check our weekly edition tomorrow for the full interview.

Q: You stayed here after college with the thought of eventually starting a company, like Apprenda. What challenges did you face to stay and work in America?

A: My work visa only allowed me to focus on the company that was sponsoring my visa. After a little bit of time, we had enough money that Apprenda was able to sponsor my visa so I could work full time. Luckily most of it is behind us. I have a green card now and so does my wife and my daughters are born in Schenectady, so they’re American. We’re still not 100 percent through with it but we’re close to almost done.

When you hear on the press about immigration reform people immediately think about unskilled workers crossing the border for minimum wage. A lot of times it’s a much bigger issue where very skilled workers come and study here and end up not being able to stay. We end up training the best and having to send them back because immigration policies don’t allow us to keep them. It’s very sad and it’s just a challenging situation. There’s plenty of debate around it. Luckily I was in a position where I found a way to stay, but it wasn’t easy.

Q: What do you wish this area had that it doesn’t have now?

A: We don’t have any family nearby. The other thing we miss is we’re Jewish and there isn’t a huge Jewish community in the area. If we had family and a bigger Jewish community, it would be awesome.
We also don’t do a great job at advertising how great this area could actually be. A lot of people think, ‘What’s upstate New York? Do you have McDonalds and movie theaters?’ The area can do better is marketing itself.
It would be great to have more culture around development and technology hubs. Bigger companies little by little like GlobalFoundries and nanotech … The challenge is people are coming to great schools and leave because they don’t know what’s available, why this can be a great place to set roots. People do great here in all different realms. Highlighting more of that would go a long way.

Q: How do you sell Albany to recruits from outside the area?

A: People care to know about the company, so we start with that. Why Apprenda? Part of it is our culture, our people. We go through our process and then they come here and see it and we sell them more on the area.
If you like the outdoors and skiing and being by the water and mountains and so close to Montreal and New York City and Boston. The standard of living is so much higher and the cost of living is way lower. You can get a lot more for your buck here. You get to enjoy the four seasons. You’re close to the city for a night out, you can have a beautiful home that’s affordable, great schools and lots of things to do.
People get a feeling that we’re not just in the middle of the woods. The fact that there’s this cool tech company here, that can make a huge difference. We’re able to attract people at all levels.