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ENTREVESTOR: The force behind Fredericton's cybersecurity hub

Ali Ghorbani has become a key player in Fredericton’s growth as a cybersecurity research and development hub.
Ali Ghorbani has become a key player in Fredericton’s growth as a cybersecurity research and development hub. - Contributed

The man driving the creation of the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity and the private company Eyesover, Ali Ghorbani’s résumé is an impressive document — and he’s not finished adding to it.

Before serving as the founding director of the Fredericton-based CIC, Ghorbani was the dean of computer science at University of New Brunswick. A believer in applied research, he also develops technology to build companies on. He is the co-founder and chair of Eyesover, a startup that identifies controversial topics before they’re in the news. Before that, Ghorbani was a co-founder of cybersecurity company Sentrant Solutions, which was purchased by the media-rating giant Nielsen Holdings in a modest exit in 2017.

In all, he has become a key player in Fredericton’s growth as a cybersecurity research and development hub. The New Brunswick capital is the home to IBM’s global cybersecurity R&D network, the CIC and made headlines in January when Fredericton-based Sonrai Security raised US$18.5 million in its first round of venture capital financing.

Having spent 37 years in academia, Ghorbani has come to realize that academics too often focus on “fantasy problems” rather than finding solutions to real-world problems.

“I now only work with people who are working on practical problems, something that someone says is a problem and (they are) willing to take the solution that we provide,” said Ghorbani in a recent interview. “I have to have their stamp on it, saying that, ‘We think this is a problem.’’’

Over the years, Ghorbani often worked with private companies to solve such problems. When the cybersecurity company Q1 Labs won an Atlantic Innovation Fund grant to work with Ghorbani and other UNB researchers, it sparked his interest in launching his own companies.

He worked on several ideas, but the first company he launched was another cybersecurity company Ara Labs, which soon changed its name to Sentrant.

“Ara Labs was a big education for me,” he said. “I learned as an academician to go in front of a different group, to get on the road with investors, and to massage my message so that they could understand it. At the same time, it was a big learning curve to see how the market works. “

As he moved on from Sentrant, Ghornabi returned to a project that he’d begun in 2004 after a provincial election was determined by controversy over highway tolls. Ghorbani noticed that this issue took all parties by surprise and he began to work on a platform that could alert politicians or business people to public opinion shifts that could erupt into problems.

He shelved that project, but over the years social media developed, which meant his software could help warn of viral controversies. So, in 2016 he teamed up with former provincial politician Craig Leonard to launch Eyesover. Its technology analyzes social media and other online content to alert users about topics that could soon become problems for them.

Now Ghorbani is thinking about a new company. He’s mum on the details, saying only that it would involve a cybersecurity solution — a critical field in which he has become an expert.

These days, Ghorbani focuses mainly on overseeing the Institute for Cybersecurity, which has helped to develop Fredericton into a key cybersecurity hub.

Just three years old, the CIC has grown to the point that 58 people now work there, including nine researchers and research associates, and 28 post-graduate students. In its first two years, 89 students passed through the CIC, developing skills to help large organizations protect themselves from cyber-threats. The CIC has now moved into the National Research Council building in Fredericton, meaning the two organizations can work more closely together, further establishing Fredericton’s position as a cybersecurity hub.

“It means to some extent that we will have more graduates and researchers in the area,” said Ghorbani. “We hope that this consortium (between the CIC and NRC) will do more research and development with industry. And then we’ll have more resources to hire graduates and conduct more research.”

Peter Moreira is a principal of, a news and data site for Atlantic Canadian startups.

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