WATERLOO

Cedric Jeannot has squeezed the past five years of his life – not to mention a good chunk of his future – into a wafer-thin device less than half the size of his thumb.

 

It’s called the QI (pronounced ‘key’), and while it looks small, Jeannot’s invention is poised to bring big changes to the way we approach digital security.

 

“It’s huge,” Jeannot says of the potential of the QI, the flagship product of I Think Security, the startup he founded at Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre last year.

 

The QI is just that – a key that can connect to any computer or mobile phone, enabling users to encrypt, decrypt and share files, regardless of their location, within a virtual security bubble. Nothing is stored on the QI itself, which is simply plugged into the computer or phone and activated with a password.

 

With obvious appeal to sectors that handle sensitive information – finance, legal, auditing and government, to name a few – the QI works on top of a company’s existing systems, requires no tech support and can be deployed across a company’s multiple locations. Jeannot also foresees a large consumer market, given the increasingly digital nature of modern life.

 

“The concept is ‘security in your hands’,” Jeannot says. “That’s your device that you’re going to use for all your security.”

 

Jeannot, who grew up in the Mediterranean city of Montpellier, France, says he is close to finalizing a deal to supply several major financial institutions with his technology, which he conceived during his master’s and PhD studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

 

The theoretical questions he set out to answer were whether a banking system could be made secure and whether that security could be proven.

 

“I took all the products on the market and I did a vulnerability assessment,” Jeannot says. He then incorporated the findings into mathematical formulas upon which the QI would be based.

[blockquote style=”blue quote” {float: right; } ]Company: I Think Security

Location: Waterloo

Founded: 2010

Employees: 5

Key investors:

Engage Grants Program (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Government of Canada)

Small Business Internship Program (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, Government of Canada)

Angel investor (Toronto)

Friends and family

[/blockquote]

 

The reactions he received from several Fortune 500 companies when he demonstrated his system confirmed he was onto something with widespread potential beyond banking.

 

Jeannot now claims with confidence that the QI system is more secure than any other on the market, and challenges anyone to prove otherwise.

 

“There’s nothing that’s 100-per-cent secure, period,” he says, adding that he instead tells potential clients, “this is how it works, this is why it’s secure, this is why it’s 10 times better than what you have, and this is what we will vouch for. We are the best in this category.”

 

When considering the best place to start his company, Jeannot had every intention of landing in Silicon Valley once he finished his studies, until he realized how expensive it would be. Waterloo, initially his second choice, soon became his preferred home base once he became familiar with its unique startup environment.

 

“I would say here is the same, but better,” Jeannot said. “In Silicon Valley, you do something great and the next day it’s copied.”

 

While California’s warmer weather and abundance of capital and expertise for startups are key attractions, Jeannot says Waterloo’s more collaborative environment, which puts the entrepreneur first, gives it an edge.

 

“They acknowledge the fact that the guy with the technology is the visionary,” he says. “It’s ‘let that guy drive the effort, and let’s provide him the support that he needs,’ as opposed to ‘we’ll take over’.”

 

Jeannot says Waterloo Region has what it needs to compete with the Valley, including large, talent-rich companies like Research In Motion and OpenText, but struggles with visibility.

 

He hopes to do his part to rectify that with his successful, made-in-Canada security device.

 

“If you want to work in tech in cool stuff, then come to Waterloo,” he says. “That’s where it’s happening.”

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.