2017 Finalist: Outstanding Science And Technology Start-Up

Cyber Security company shows that Tech can be done in Alberta

For many people, technology developments in Alberta are reserved for the oil and gas industry, but Passportal is proving technology innovation also plays a significant role in the province.

Calgary-based Passportal’s cyber security technology has been supported and developed in Alberta. Their success shows that the community, people and innovation climate in the province is helping entrepreneurs like Colin Knox, founder and CEO of Passportal, make Alberta a leader in new technologies.

In 2011, Knox ran a consulting firm and he saw a need for a password management system in his own business. He founded Passportal to address his own cyber security needs. For several years, the project sat on the sidelines until the team saw how the technology could help other companies.

“We really started to focus on it in 2014 when we recognized a much larger opportunity and the overall maturity of the market started demanding more of that type of service,” says Knox.

Their first product, Ocular, is a password management system that is tailored for IT service firms. Through innovative technology developments and enhancement, Ocular has evolved with various integrations to automate and therefore increase efficiency for much of the work of these IT technical teams.

Knox explains, “Without any effort from the companies buying our products, we can naturally increase their level of security, improve their operational efficiencies, and overall drive better profits and success for their firms.”

Natural Progression

From this original platform, Passportal has begun to see some natural transitions and pathways into complementary services and products. The first step was to allow IT service firms to rebrand the platform and provide Passportal’s password security Software-as-a-Service product to their end clients. The clients are generally small and medium sized companies who, on the advice of their IT service providers, have started to implement various cloud services, other websites and other web services into their business. Increasing the applications in their organization has led to an increased amount of credentials and passwords each individual user needs.

Knox says, “In the IT services space, one of the top burden tickets or service requests are password related: ‘I can’t remember my password for this, it’s telling me to change my password, it’s not accepting, how do I change my password?’”

Passportal’s solution allows customers to spend less time tying up resources of their IT service desk by empowering every one of the users to reset their passwords from their mobile phones.

“Instead of having a phone call come in and waiting up to two hours to gain access to their systems again, they can self service themselves, get back to work and not be consuming capacity or resources of the IT company or IT department,” Knox explains.

Passportal products are now active in 32 countries, and counting. Their newest product is a module that supports and secures sensitive IT documentation.

“With many cloud services and various other systems, the security of documentation that explains all the inner workings of that business and their IT systems is very sensitive,” explains Knox. “As a security company focused on cyber security and protection of sensitive data already, it was a natural evolution for us to build in to that space now and offer that service.”

Building in Alberta

Knox says that creating a technology company in Alberta has been a challenge but also a positive and rewarding experience. Some of the biggest struggles have come in trying to secure funding. With many people burned on tech investments, Knox adds, “Traditionally Alberta hasn’t been seen as a tech hotbed environment, so approaching people locally for investment opportunity is quite outside the norm of what gets investment dollars here.”

Undeterred, Knox saw a positive response to his technology innovations and he gained support from various provincial and national groups, including Yaletown Partners, the Business Development Bank of Canada and the C100 and A100.

Knox also says working in Calgary and Alberta has had a unique impact in encouraging the hardworking entrepreneurial spirit necessary for a tech company.

“Culture is a huge part of our organization,” says Knox. “Compared to other major cities in Canada, cultures are very different in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. I think a lot of the culture in Calgary and in Alberta is very hard working but very fun loving, courteous and with a team-oriented approach of having people’s back and wanting to help. That has really helped drive an exceptional culture for us.”

Knox says he has gathered an outstanding team of local talent to grow the business from development to marketing and finance. From the t-shirt and jeans atmosphere to the office Nerf wars, Knox says both the company and the technology being developed are very refreshing.

“I think the rest of the team is very motivated about having a challenge to build something new and pretty cool. But they also get a big boost to their own confidence and passion from seeing the adoption rates. When we see tens of thousands of users and a map grid that shows everywhere in the world that users are logging in from, it has been a little bit mind blowing.”

As Passportal continues to grow and provide both efficiencies and savings, Knox says he is seeing real impact for their customers and clients. He says he had been in the shoes of these companies and knows what troubled him and now he’s able to provide those solutions for others around the world.

“Business owners (tell us they are) sleeping better at night because they feel more secure, and are able to focus on other areas because they know everything is running well. We’ve added to their profitability line whether from our resalable service or through the efficiencies they’ve gained,” explains Knox. “Overall, it’s been a very exciting business to be a part of; it’s a very close-knit group and the community of people who use our products continues to grow.”