Inside the Accelerator — Data Sentinel
The Catalyst Cyber Accelerator is the first cybersecurity-focused commercial accelerator in Canada. Headquartered at the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst at Toronto Metropolitan University, the Accelerator offers technical, strategic advice, mentorship and business resources to cybersecurity businesses that are ready to become national and international competitors.
In August, the Accelerator launched its third cohort with five innovative Canadian cybersecurity businesses. In this series of articles, we’ll be talking to the entrepreneurs behind each business about the Accelerator experience.
Data Sentinel is a data trust and compliance platform that helps businesses persistently manage their data privacy compliance, governance and quality in real time. The company’s technology illuminates the true nature of an organization’s data across all sources and systems — monitoring, measuring, and remediating the data to ensure compliance with company policies and evolving data management / privacy regulations.
We spoke to Mark Rowan, CEO of Data Sentinel, about the company’s ground-breaking potential and its rapid evolution.
What is Data Sentinel, and what problem does it solve in the marketplace?
If you think about corporations today and the massive accumulation of data that has occurred over the last several decades, companies have ended up with massive data holdings of all kinds across their businesses. Those data holdings are things like documents, emails, or what we consider to be unstructured data, all the way down to massive amounts of data stored in warehouses, both on the cloud and on-prem. The challenge really is in how organizations use these data assets to improve the state of their businesses. If you think about how data privacy laws have evolved at the same time, you now have this perfect storm of significant data growth, combined with data distribution, and an organization’s ability to be able to comply with those data privacy laws that are evolving…all while trying to leverage the data to grow their businesses. And in many cases, they don’t actually know what’s in the data — especially when you get into things like unstructured data sources where it’s been an accumulation of documents, emails over a very protracted period of time.
What Data Sentinel does is help organizations understand what’s in that data in real time, measured against policies and rules so that an organization can ensure that they’re lowering their overall risk associated with managing those data assets, while at the same time ensuring they have good, pristine quality, and have the ability to leverage those data assets with confidence as they move their businesses forward.
How does the platform work?
There are several ways people would leverage Data Sentinel. One is as a managed service. In that particular situation, we’re integrating Data Sentinel into the reporting that exists within the organization. It could be a GRC technology within the company where they’re monitoring ongoing risk within the organization, or it could be an analytics platform within the company where the executives have a near real-time view of the state of their data including policy adherence and overall risk. And then of course, Data Sentinel itself has its own interface where the subject matter expert or an executive would have the ability to go in and manage the technology, looking at a series of elements that show the ongoing risk factor or ongoing policy adherence of an organization, and calling out exceptions to those rules or policies in real time. So, they’ll see those things coming up on the screen as they occur, and automatically driving remediation processes.
The third way that Data Sentinel is available for an organization is through an API. Integrating some of the core capabilities of the technology into other applications that exist within the organization — automating things like data classification as data as it moves around the organization from system to system or device to device.
What has been the evolution of the business?
The folks who founded Data Sentinel have been in the data management and data governance business for upwards of 20 years. For the most part, the work that we’ve been doing has been within the large U.S.-based organizations where we helped companies implement technologies to meet the expectations of a data governance program. That gave us insight into what technologies were available in the marketplace, what worked well, what didn’t work well, and what gaps existed. When you begin to then look at those existing technologies and the changes that were happening in the marketplace, such as this massive accumulation of information along with the advent of new data privacy laws around the world — that gave us the insight to be come up with Data Sentinel with the goal of addressing the gaps that existed in the market.
It’s one thing to come up with the idea — it’s another to actually execute the idea and start up a business. Our management team have gone through the start-up process a number of times in their careers. In my case, this is my third start-up, along with the other founders within Data Sentinel, we have all gone through several other start-ups, so we know the challenges and the ups and downs of the process. However, we were not prepared for a start-up within the context of a global pandemic. But, you have got to love a challenge.
The first step was getting the initial funding that was necessary to incubate the technology and prove the model that we were looking to bring to market. As we progressed with the business, we started to land our initial customers and we were able to prove out the technology and the market need for our solution. Once that was done, we initiated the raise of our seed round. Today are at the tail end of our first year of executing the business plan and we’re deep into scaling the business as rapidly as we can.
What brought you to the Catalyst?
It was a desire to engage with the mentors that are involved in the Catalyst and the businesses they represent. We wanted to learn from their experiences and the common challenges that we see — specifically, in the data related cybersecurity space. Also, when you think of the very competitive nature of the industry, we were looking for every advantage we could find to differentiate ourselves and structure our business to address the market as rapidly as possible. We saw the Catalyst as a mechanism to help us accomplish this.
What has the experience been like? Can you point to ways the Catalyst has helped you?
It’s been busy, that’s for sure! And there’s been a ton of learning along the way. Not just for myself, but also for other members of our executive team that are participating in the process. In particular, we were going through a rebranding exercise just at the beginning of the Catalyst process. We’ve been working with some of the experts in the Catalyst to refine our messaging, review it, get coaching and feedback, and then tuning it as we go forward in the program.
In addition, we’ve been building our sales organization at the same time. We worked with coaches within the Catalyst to help us refine our approach and direction to most effectively develop the core of our sales team as a technology start-up within a very competitive labour market. As we know, it’s very difficult to find and retain great people and help them be successful within a start-up compnay, so it’s been tremendous to get coaching and feedback from the mentor group.
Can you point to anyone who has been especially helpful?
There are three in particular that have hit the sweet spot of where we are in our evolution and some of the core projects that I’ve just mentioned. Kevin Magee from Microsoft has been of tremendous assistance. His approach to selling and his approach has been inspirational and has helped guide some of our decisions.
Erin McLean from a marketing and messaging perspective, has been tremendous as well. She’s helped us tune some of that messaging I’ve been talking about, especially with the rollout of a new website, and the way that we’ve articulated who we are and what we do.
And Mandy Bachus for her assistance in helping us understand the world of PR and mechanisms that we have at our disposal to improve messaging and get the word out about our company. Based on Mandy’s contributions, we seen a significant uptick in our SEO since we started the Catalyst program.
What do you see in the next five years?
Well, rapid growth — that would be key. We are working diligently on fleshing out our overall technology roadmap — it will take us a couple of years to see it come to fruition. And as we know, it will continue to evolve in line with the marketplace. We do anticipate the business growing very rapidly. I won’t speculate on what a potential target number will be, but we plan on growing the business to a global level as rapidly as we possibly can.
Data Sentinel’s goal is to empower both businesses and consumers with the technology and solutions needed to enable a trusted and transparent data sharing relationship. At an increasing rate, businesses are learning that investing in customer data protection and compliance offers benefits that far outweigh the costs. Competitive organizations know that their customer loyalty and business reputation are priceless. Companies that can offer their customers the most authentic, transparent, and mutually beneficial data sharing relationships are the industry leaders that will stand the test of time.
The future of privacy needs personalized and automated data transparency between companies and their customers. Those customers should be able to see how their information is being used, stored, and protected by companies. And ultimately, they should have the ability to change or delete their data from any given system simply and reliably, at the push of a button. With our technology and framework behind the scenes, it will be. We are on a mission to help both businesses and consumers gain trust in their data and their data sharing relationship.