ID verification powerhouse Entrust acquires Ottawa-based WorldReach

Gordon Wilson
Gordon Wilson is president and CEO of Ottawa-based software firm WorldReach. Photo by Mark Holleron

A rising Ottawa firm that says its touchless passport-verification technology is clearing the runway for a safe return to air travel has been acquired by ID authentication powerhouse Entrust.

Minneapolis-based Entrust, which has a major R&D facility in Kanata, announced Monday it has finalized the purchase of WorldReach, a locally headquartered enterprise that specializes in software designed to speed up the customs-clearing process for air travellers. 

Financial terms of the deal, which closed earlier this month, were not disclosed.

WorldReach’s bid to make annoying airport queues a thing of the past has gained further urgency during the pandemic as terminals look to eliminate as many high-touch points of contact as possible for travellers. Its revenues have skyrocketed nearly 300 per cent in the past three years, landing WorldReach in the No. 8 spot on OBJ’s 2021 list of fastest-growing companies.

President and CEO Gordon Wilson said that although the 50-person firm has made a name for itself in North American and Europe for its cutting-edge technology, it was at a distinct disadvantage when butting heads against bigger, better-known competitors. 

Joining forces with Entrust, which has customers in more than 150 countries, will give the Ottawa firm the platform it needs to take its technology global, he explained.

"As a small company in Ottawa, we were going up against billion-dollar companies."

“We knew what we were doing was pretty advanced … but we needed to have that (global market) reach,” Wilson told OBJ. 

“As a small company in Ottawa, we were going up against billion-dollar companies. Scale starts to become important to government risk (assessment). We didn’t want to lose those (relationships) simply because we didn’t have the scale.” 

WorldReach’s software is designed to let air travellers check in, clear customs and board a flight without ever having to reach for a passport or manually fill out a declaration form.

The company is now testing its system at Canadian airports in a pilot project with the Canada Border Service Agency funded partly by the federal government. The company is also working on a pilot project in the U.K., where it previously won a contract to verify the identities of EU citizens wishing to remain in Britain after Brexit

Using WorldReach software, travellers input their customs declaration information on a smartphone app before check-in. 

Users’ selfie photos are compared against passport headshots stored in a secure database to confirm their ID, and their customs information is automatically verified by customs authorities without the need for physical documents. 

'Safe as well as seamless travel'

Electronic declaration forms that arouse suspicion are flagged. Travellers receive colour-coded smartphone alerts, with green signifying they’re good to go and red and yellow indicating they may need to speak to a border agent.  

“(Customs and airline employees) don’t really want to handle a thousand people’s documents in a day anymore if there’s a way to do it differently,” Wilson said. “It totally supports safe as well as seamless travel.”

One of WorldReach’s partners in the CBSA pilot project was Entrust, which has long been known for its ID authentication software. The firms originally started discussing a potential deal nearly two years ago before the COVID-19 crisis briefly derailed the process.

The two companies seem to be a logical combination. 

While headquartered south of the border, the firm now known as Entrust has a significant local presence, beginning life as a spinoff of Nortel in the mid-1990s. Today, Entrust employs hundreds of people at its Kanata-based software development hub. 

Entrust and WorldReach travel in the same industry circles and many of their employees already knew each other, noted Wilson, making the merger an easy fit.

“It’s not a big leap,” he said. “Our people are going to feel very comfortable and well-respected and part of a bigger team that gives other opportunities to our staff. That’s always good from a staff perspective.”

Entrust senior vice-president Tony Ball said WorldReach’s touchless system is a “natural extension” of his company’s current offerings.

“We see this as something that we can capitalize on,” he said. “The timing couldn’t be better.”

Wilson agreed, saying his firm now has the market muscle to seize potentially billions of dollars worth of sales opportunities.

“There's a huge wave of demand of people who can’t wait to travel,” he said. “It's like the tsunami wave sucking all the water out … and now that big wave is coming back to shore. We want to be there and help the travel sector come back in a safe and seamless way.”