Ottawa-based Senstar continues to secure long-term future after 35 years

Last month, Senstar Corp. celebrated its 35th anniversary as a provider of perimeter intrusion detection systems. In those three and a half decades, the Ottawa-based security tech firm has sold and manufactured enough of its fence and sensor-based products to encircle the globe – and it’s not done yet.

In 1981, the company was incorporated when it spun off from ComDev, which at the time provided – among other things – security systems for defence and aerospace markets. The original seven employees, which included Senstar’s now-president Brian Rich, saw the opportunity for a commercial application of their division’s security systems.

Mr. Rich remembers fondly the early days of Senstar.

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“It was basically seven of us, in the beginning, in an office by ourselves, starting from scratch,” he laughs. “I was the young engineer, working around the clock, trying to make everything work.”

Senstar made an early name for itself in the corrections market, where customers included Correctional Services Canada, the British Home Office and Western Australia Corrections.

In the background, Senstar’s ownership was regularly changing hands. The company started with local angel investments before seeking further financing and being acquired by Altamera in the late ’80s and then by German-based Dornier in the early ’90s.

In 1998, Mr. Rich became the last of his original six colleagues to leave Senstar to work at locally based Intelligent Design Systems, which still operates on Palladium Drive today. Two years later though, Mr. Rich returned to what he started with Senstar.

“I was pleased to come back and finish walking the path that I had started on so many years before,” he says.

Over those three decades, Senstar has sold products to more than 80 countries and established a global presence with offices in the U.S., Europe, Mexico, South America, Asia and Australia. The product line has expanded just as rapidly, with Senstar doing its own R&D in areas such as microwave and radar detection, as well as acquiring companies with expertise in fibre optic cable and duress systems to bolster its offerings.

The company’s Ottawa location on Carp Road features an eight-acre testing ground for sensor equipment, which the company says is the largest private facility of its kind anywhere in the world. Back in the ’90s when it was considering its move, the long-term vision for this site was a key factor.

“It’s always really good to have customers visit us here and show them the full-scale operation of our products working in the outdoor environment that they’re designed to operate in. It serves us well,” Mr. Rich says.

The next steps for Senstar are in further research and development, including an expansion of its fibre optic technologies. The company is developing a pipeline securities system, which can identify perimeter intrusions and detect leaks.

Mr. Rich says the next paradigm in security systems is focused largely on figuring out not just that there’s been a breach, but exactly where threats occur. He says this is something Senstar’s technology is currently capable of doing to within a metre.

The company’s offices, where it has been since 1998, currently occupies about 33,000 square feet. Recent acquisitions, including two in the past two years, have bolstered the workforce, bringing the number of employees up to 80. Mr. Rich says that further acquisitions are in the cards for Senstar, and he hopes more local employment comes with that.

“That’s one of the most attractive parts of the business, to see it grow, to employ citizens in the Ottawa area in high-tech roles. It’s one of our dreams as a leadership team here at Senstar,” he says.

Though Senstar is a global company, Mr. Rich takes pride in its local focus. He says that many of the company’s employees have been with Senstar for dozens of years. The workforce also has an annual “Good Deeds Day” tradition, which this year saw the entire company heading to the Almonte fairgrounds to give it a tune-up and fresh coat of paint.

“It’s kind of a cliche, but our strength is our people here,” Mr. Rich says.

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