Mon. Sep 25th, 2023

Iraj Dabirsiaghi (center) and teammates on Iran’s national soccer team.
Sometimes a soccer game is just a soccer game. But sometimes, a soccer game changes the lives of many people.
In July 1967, Iraj Dabirsiaghi, a former captain of the Iranian national soccer team, played a match against the club sponsored by the Shah of Iran, the country’s dictator. Iraj’s team, the Shaheen Club, defeated the Shah’s club and fans in the stands chanted Iraj’s name.
The next morning, the hammer came down: an Iranian newspaper reported the Iranian Sports Organization had dissolved Iraj Dabirsiaghi’s team. The decision shocked the players and owners. For Iraj, it was the final straw. He had seen what Iran had become and how the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK) treated those who spoke out against the regime. He decided to leave Iran to further his education and for a chance at greater freedom in America.
Fans hosted a charity game for Iraj and a teammate who also planned to leave. Although Iraj possessed a prodigious collection of trophies earned during his athletic career, he had little money.
After arriving in Baltimore, his cousins discouraged him from going to college, telling Iraj he was “too old.” He ignored the advice and enrolled at Morgan State University to study math. To earn money in America, he held various jobs: breaking boxes at Macy’s, delivering room service at a hotel and driving a cab on weekends.
He earned a B.S. and became a math teacher in Baltimore. He taught math in an urban high school for 30 years, with a short break to try his hand at selling cars. He married Carolyn Murphy from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and had three kids.
Arshan Dabirsiaghi was one of those three children. Arshan earned an M.S. in computer science and artificial intelligence from Towson University. He worked as a researcher in computer security for 8 years at Aspect Security.
Arshan’s sister Shannon Edwards (formerly Shannon Dabirsiaghi) (l), his father Iraj Dabirsiaghi (c), … [+] and Arshan Dabirsiaghi (r) in 2019.
In 2014, Arshan cofounded Contrast Security with Jeff Williams, the company’s chief technology officer. Arshan became the company’s chief scientist. The company is valued at over $1 billion with approximately 400 employees. “Nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. billion-dollar companies (unicorns) were founded or cofounded by immigrants or the children of immigrants,” according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis.
“Contrast embeds intelligent agents directly into code, instrumenting applications with thousands of smart sensors that detect real vulnerabilities with game-changing accuracy and precision–left through the development pipeline and right into production, wherever your applications are deployed,” according to the company’s website.
As Arshan relates his father’s story, he sees it as an example of the American Dream. “He came to America essentially broke, with a high school education, barely knowing English and ended up a middle-class success story, raising three successful children, including one that started (as far as I can tell) the only technology unicorn founded in Baltimore,” he said in an interview.
Arshan credits both his father and mother for his values and upbringing. “My mom gets the credit for getting me into computers, giving me the space and support to explore that passion,” he said. His mother came from humble origins, earned a Ph.D. in microbiology and was a professor for 51 years. As for his immigrant father: “If I wasn’t productive, my father was annoyed. When he saw me getting into technology, he feared I would grow up working in the military-industrial complex. He always told us, ‘It’s so much harder to build than to destroy,’ and made me promise that I would never work on weapons. It was always about working and building.”
Arshan knows if his father had tried to immigrate from Iran to America between 2017 and 2020, the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban” would have blocked him. Arshan’s father was Muslim, but he drank German beers once in a while and occasionally ate something with pork in it.
Arshan’s brother Shane Ali Shaheen Dabirsiaghi (l), Arshan Dabirsiaghi (r), Arshan’s sister Shannon … [+] Edwards (formerly Shannon Dabirsiaghi) (lower right) and father Iraj Dabirsiaghi (lower left) in 2006.
Arshan believes what he got from his immigrant father was a strong work ethic and thinks that might be the most essential element of a startup’s success. “Maybe for entrepreneurship it’s not the risk-taking but about having to do an insane amount of work,” he said. “Maybe that’s one element that scares people off from entrepreneurship. There is just an insane pile of work to do in a startup and that’s all I did my whole life. And that’s also what the models of immigrants who I saw around me, including my dad, did—they worked. So, maybe it’s not about the risk. Maybe it’s about being unafraid to work.”
Arshan’s father died in December 2021. He said his father’s death caused him to reflect. “I realized that I’m more fulfilled by building things myself and at that early stage of a business is what gives me great reward and a sense of fulfillment,” he said. “I knew that shortly after my dad died, I had to build something again.”
In 2022, Arshan left Contrast Security and founded the software security startup, which has already received funding. He retains shares in Contrast Security and is rooting for its continued success.
The beauty of America, observers note, is immigrants can leave their homeland and reinvent themselves. That is what a soccer star from Iran did. Iraj Dabirsiaghi’s arrival in America benefited his future children, the students he taught, the employees at the company his son cofounded and the United States. Sometimes a soccer game is just a soccer game. Sometimes it leads to a nice life, a good family and a billion-dollar company.


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