We all strive to have that perfect work-life balance. With competitive environments only becoming more competitive, our workdays are getting longer and longer and our commutes only add to that long day. On top of that, trying to run a business and find time to get away to relax and re-energize is nearly impossible for the C-Suite and top management. Who can afford to take that time?
Choosing the right location for your business expansion could make a world of difference. Learn why “location, location, location” matters in business as Opportunities NB (ONB) catches up with Denis Desrosiers, CEO and Founder of Bathurst-based Sentinel Systems.
ONB: Tell us a bit about Sentinel Systems.
Desrosiers: Sentinel Systems has been in business since 2007. We have developed a SaaS Incident Command service that we sell to the Public Safety and Business Continuity and Security markets. We are perhaps best known for our Public Alerting service which is used by Municipalities in Canada to issue mass emergency notifications by phone IVR, text, email, and social networks.
ONB: Who are some of your customers, and where are they?
Desrosiers: Our customers are fire and police departments, EMO’s, hospitals and private security firms. Our main market penetration has been Atlantic and Eastern Canada, but we have customers in every province now.
ONB: Why New Brunswick? Why establish this business here?
Desrosiers: New Brunswick is where I’m from and I love it here. The engineers here are inventive and true “out-of-the-box” thinkers. I suppose that we really don’t have a box to start with.
As a market, New Brunswick is the right size for starting a business. You get to test the waters in a lot of ways and to prepare you, your employees, and your business at a faster pace for the next step of exporting. Also, since the venture capital (VC) opportunities are still somewhat limited (when compared to places like Boston or Toronto at least) we have developed a strong and resilient bootstrapping tech community. The business community in New Brunswick is closer than I have seen it anywhere else, which is a tremendous advantage for a rookie entrepreneur like me. I have been provided great access to C-level people here and I’m always thankful for their help and advice.
ONB: Technology plays a big role in what you do and the products you provide, tell us about the team you have that makes it all come together?
Desrosiers: I started the company with two former colleagues, Denis Demers and Ray Haché. We sat down over many coffees and sketched out what later became version 1.0 of Sentinel Systems. Denis and Ray are dogged; they’re the kind of guys that never give up, and always crack the technical nut.
We have gone deep into web applications further than any of us would have imagined when we started off. I guess you could say that we make sure that we always have an appropriate amount of naivety in what we do, otherwise we would be too afraid of failing all the time.
Our new hires come from Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB). We started working with the tech program in Bathurst over four years ago, and now we have successfully started feeder programs straight from high school. We start engaging with young people in grade 10 and on, and hire the top of class each year. We have built a program called “Focus Innovation” in partnership with both high schools (English and French) and CCNB. The program has generated a lot of support from local businesses. In fact, it has been doubling each year.
ONB: You have a developed a social media monitoring tool for emergency service providers, tell us about that?
Desrosiers: We use social networks to gather intelligence for Emergency Response officials, typically Fire and Police. Because we serve them with other technology, this puts us in a very good position to understand the particular requirements of security and public safety officials. For instance, during the tragedy in Moncton in the summer of 2014 when three RCMP officers were killed, monitoring social networks became an important component to understand and validate what the public was sharing during the incident. Also, social networks have become a vehicle for the public to gather information during an incident; and for those responsible for managing an incident this becomes an important tool in helping inform the public and shape behaviour to protect and keep people safe.
ONB: Do you have employees in other locations other than Bathurst?
Desrosiers: No, they are all here in Bathurst. We have resellers and partners located outside the province, but our core team is here.
ONB: New Brunswick is fertile ground for entrepreneurs who develop innovative products and solutions, like you have done. Why do you believe that is?
Desrosiers: New Brunswickers are generally self-reliant and hard-working. Sometimes we forget that a lot of us are two generations removed from subsistence farming. My grandfather grew what he ate on 20 acres of land and had enough to raise nine children. When you have a problem on a farm you fix it, you don’t try to find a specialist. If you’re complacent on a farm, that could mean trouble come winter. I believe that we all have those pioneering genes in us somehow.
The people I know are just overflowing with ideas about how things should work. We have a unique spirit and my feeling is that we definitely have a survivors’ compulsion for making things. I think that we make a good business case study.
ONB: You chose to return to Bathurst to establish this business, what was the draw back to the North Shore of New Brunswick?
Desrosiers: My family is here or at least the biggest part of it. I wanted my daughter to know her family. FaceTime is great, but nothing beats real face-to-face time. I wish I could say that I was taking advantage of some under-exploited business advantage but that’s not the case. There were challenges, but that only made us work harder and smarter to find solutions. Developing the program I mentioned above and working with the high schools and the Community College has resulted in us getting smart and dedicated young people who want to stay here for the same reasons I do.
ONB: Some people say that New Brunswickers are loyal and dedicated employees, what is your take on this?
Desrosiers: A lot of us are here because we want to be here not because it was the latest great paying opportunity on our career path. I think naturally, this informs our attitudes and values. Loyal and dedicated? Perhaps. However, I believe that we are surely better at customer service along the way.
ONB: You used to work for one of the world leaders in marine GIS software, which was also developed right here in New Brunswick. What tools, tips, and tricks did you learn there that you were able to transfer to your business?
Desrosiers: I loved working for CARIS. They would throw me in feet first on everything. I consider (CARIS founder) Sam Masry a mentor and I am very thankful for the time he invested in me. CARIS was my first job and I am still amazed at the amount of confidence the company showed in me in those rocky first years of my career. The people there were all so smart and it made me want to be better. What really stuck with me is that we were all sitting there in Fredericton making world-class technology; it made me believe in myself and in the people around me. After CARIS I never thought a technology challenge was too big.
ONB: As a New Brunswicker who has traveled extensively, what are some key attributes that make doing business in New Brunswick an advantage?
Desrosiers: I don’t necessarily think doing business “in” NB is any better than doing business anywhere else: However, doing business “from” New Brunswick is great. I consider myself blessed that I can have the lifestyle I enjoy, to have the family and friends I have, and to able to be in New York in a just few hours. I have been in many places around the globe, many of which were life-changing experiences, and I always come back with a profound sense of home and connection to this place. Not everyone can say that about where they live and work.
Written by Heather MacLean
Cover image via Sentinel Systems