Kanata-based AI developer Interset acquired by billion-dollar U.K. firm

Stephan Jou
Interset CTO Stephan Jou. File photo.

A local artificial intelligence firm has been acquired by a global tech giant with hopes of establishing its AI “centre of excellence” in Ottawa.

Interset, which develops machine learning analytics tools to diagnose cyber threats, was acquired last month by the U.K.-based IT firm Micro Focus. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Interset currently has 60 employees in Kanata and 15 more worldwide, and has raised more than $10 million in venture capital in recent years. The company’s cybersecurity solution – an AI system that can detect anomalous behaviour from employees inside an organization – even attracted the interest of a VC fund that targets tech for use by U.S. intelligence agencies.

It was roughly a year ago when Interset began working on a deal to supply its product to Micro Focus as a third-party solution that talks of a merger began.

“We noticed that, not only was there a great technological fit, but there was a good cultural fit,” says Ross Sonnabend, senior vice-president and general manager of Interset.

Micro Focus, which reported US$4.75 billion in revenue this past fiscal year, owns and operates a large portfolio of IT services and products. Sonnabend says that while the company is interested in applying Interset’s solution to its existing cybersecurity offerings, the possibility of adding the firm’s analytics to the other business segments represents a major opportunity in the acquisition.

“What we built is the ability to take in multiple forms of data, analyze that data and produce a risk score from that,” Sonnabend explains. “The same capabilities apply to the other parts of the Micro Focus business.”

Ottawa’s deep AI talent pool

Sonnabend says Interset will continue to operate largely as a standalone business following the acquisition. The way chief technology officer Stephan Jou puts it, Micro Focus has no interest in changing a formula that’s worked well to date.

One of the key elements in the Interset formula has been Ottawa itself, Jou adds. The company outgrew its Bells Corners home before moving to Kanata back in 2016. For a growing AI-focused firm, Jou says the Ottawa talent pool has perfectly suited Interset’s needs.

“We were specifically chosen by Micro Focus because they recognize the talent that we had in Ottawa,” he says.

Zooming out from the capital, Jou believes Ottawa’s talent market is well-positioned between AI development hotspots such as Montreal and Toronto. As a result, startups in the city can draw on talent from the large metropolitan hubs as they grow.

Jou says Micro Focus was keen to put down roots in Ottawa where it can build out a “centre of excellence” for AI and analytics development.

“So that's a really great compliment to, essentially, a (solution) that started off in Bells Corners, and then moved to Kanata,” Jou says.

Interset will continue to hire and grow in Ottawa – “We’re not going anywhere,” the firm’s CTO says. Post-acquisition, the main change for the company will be a wider reach and access to the resources of a billion-dollar parent company.

“Now, all of a sudden, we have more flexibility to do more,” Jou says.