TrustPoint finds a culture fit with ETAS Embedded Systems

Originally Published in Communitech News

Written by Craig Daniels

It was the autumn of 2015 and TrustPoint co-founder and CEO Sherry Shannon-Vanstone knew she had a decision to make.

TrustPoint, which develops secure products for the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine communication, needed to grow. And it needed to grow fast. The IoT was booming. Security, smart cities, connected critical infrastructure, all the areas in which TrustPoint was working, were generating unmet demands.

“It takes a lot of resources,” Shannon-Vanstone explained recently.  “We had bootstrapped the company, and we weren’t going to be able to move fast enough. It was time to go out and get a huge investment, and work with a VC, bring in lots of cash, hire people. But even then we would have had to disrupt some of our current projects, just to try to grow. We had to move faster.”

And then opportunity presented itself.

Shannon-Vanstone learned that ETAS Embedded Systems, which provides secure diagnostic and calibration solutions for the automotive industry, was going to open an office in Waterloo Region. A subsidiary of the Bosch Group, ETAS was well known to Shannon-Vanstone and her late husband and co-founder, Scott Vanstone.

Discussion began.

“At first it was just a conversation,” said Shannon-Vanstone, “just a general information gathering of what they were looking for and what we were looking for. At that time, we were interested in a strategic partnership or an investment.

“The conversation was on a casual basis until June (2016) when ETAS Canada opened their office in Kitchener. And at that time, they indicated an interest in TrustPoint.”

Fast forward through many more conversations, and a process of technological and legal due diligence, and you reach the events of last week, when TrustPoint agreed to be acquired by ETAS — when Shannon-Vanstone agreed to sell her “baby.”

“Emotionally, yes, it was tough,” she said. “It’s my baby, and it’s hard to let go of it.”

But the time was right. The fit was right. “There’s a huge opportunity in the Internet of Things right now,” she said.

TrustPoint grew out of a company called Certicom, which was founded by Scott Vanstone in 1985 along with two professors from the University of Waterloo. Certicom worked closely with Research In Motion in the late 1990s, providing security for the company’s smartphones. In 2009, RIM acquired Certicom, and Vanstone and his wife, recognizing the market for secure devices that was building around the rise of IoT, left in 2012 and started TrustPoint.

For Shannon-Vanstone, the decision to throw in with ETAS — other suitors were also interested, she said — was in large part motivated by culture.

“We found the cultural alignment was high on the list. Bosch is a private corporation. They are owned by a foundation. That foundation uses all the profits to build hospitals around the world.

“When Scott and I started TrustPoint, one of our objectives was to be philanthropic. To be a positive influence, globally and locally. So this aligned perfectly with our founding principles.”

The deal with ETAS is still subject to antitrust approval. When it’s finalized, TrustPoint’s 30 people will join ETAS in a yet-to-be-determined location in Waterloo Region.

“I’ll be staying involved for the time being,” said Shannon-Vanstone. “The work, the focus will be the same. Most of the people will have the same job description. We may fine tune over time.”

She doesn’t need to fine-tune her commitment to local tech ecosystem, which she has watched grow since the mid-80s — before there even was a local ecosystem.

“It’s tremendous. We decided to set up in K-W because of the access to talent. The access to the university. The access to the resources for a startup.

“This is my fourth startup but my first as a founder.

“It’s supportive even for people who are little more grey-haired than others.”

Posted in: Graduate News

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