Sentrant Solutions, the Fredericton cybersecurity company that combats fraudulent online advertising, has quietly exited, with the media-rating giant Nielsen Holdings buying key assets and hiring its personnel.
Sentrant has never announced the transaction, and two Sentrant co-founders did not respond to emails last week. But a spokesperson for Nielsen confirmed that the deal has taken place. It’s understood the deal closed in the first few months of this year.
“Nielsen did not acquire Sentrant Security’s entire business but rather some selected technology assets and hired key talent,” said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named.
Sentrant started in 2014 as a cybersecurity company that developed out of work carried out at University of New Brunswick. It evolved into a specialist in detecting and fighting fraudulent online advertising schemes that use sophisticated botnets. It helped corporate marketers control their advertising campaigns better without worrying about cyber-criminals influencing the messaging with hard-to-detect malware.
The Sentrant technology is now owned by Nielsen, a British company that operates in more than 100 countries and employs 44,000 people worldwide. Its total revenues were US$6.2 billion in 2015. The company has also hired two of the Sentrant co-founders, according to their LinkedIn profiles — chief technical officer Ehsan Mokhtari and ad fraud detection specialist Hadi Shiravi. At least one Sentrant developer has also joined Nielsen.
The Nielsen spokesperson declined to reveal any financial terms of the deal. But it appears to not have been a large amount as Nielsen is a publicly traded company and would have had to disclose a substantial transaction.
The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Technology Venture Corporation (the Moncton investment fund run by tech veterans Jon Manship and Susan Hicks) each invested $250,000 in Sentrant in 2014.
Sentrant had a storied if brief history. The company was originally called Ara Labs and was established under the oversight of Ali Ghorbani, UNB’s version of a Swiss Army knife. Ghorbani is the dean of computer science at the university, and a co-founder of not only Ara Labs/Sentrant but also social media monitoring company Eyesover. He was recently named the Canada Research Chair in cybersecurity and last week captured the regional Startup Canada Award for senior entrepreneurship.
Mokhtari and Shiravi were PhD candidates studying under Ghorbani when they launched the company. Ghorbani moved on to oversee his other duties and to co-found Eyesover. Mokhtari and Shiravi grew Sentrant, and in late 2014 the two natives of Iran became two of the first Atlantic Canadians to secure permanent residency through the federal government’s Start-up Visa Program.
Though the quasi-exit of Sentrant did not produce a big payout for investors, people familiar with the deal say the backers hope the operations continue to grow in the Fredericton area. The New Brunswick capital has a rich ecosystem for cybersecurity research and development, including the Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence at UNB. There have been other recent examples of New Brunswick companies that have had modest exits and grown large operations in the province.