Canadian technology media, Techvibes included, have spent a lot of time in the past four years determing which Canadian city is most worthy of the title “Silicon Valley North.” In the end, we can only conclude that the term – and the idea behind it – simply doesn’t apply to any region of our nation. And it may never.
But at least one Canadian city is looking beyond just adding the word “north” to famous American areas such as Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Waterloo, a small but feisty Ontario city that continues to push Canada’s boundaries for innovation, is on the verge of coining its own title: Quantum Valley.
Quantum Valley, which thus far combines the bleeding-edge Institute of Quantum Computing, the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, and the University of Waterloo, is a hive of nano- and quantum-related technological innovation. University president Feridun Hamdullahpur claims this hub of tech and science is the first of its kind – “it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” he says.
Meanwhile, Mike Lazaridis – who founded Research In Motion in the same area and grew it to a $90-billion business – likens the blossoming research epicentre to vintage Bell Labs, a historically salient research laboratory renowned for inventing incredibly innovative technology, such as the laser, throughout the 1900s. Mike, who first referred to the development as Quantum Valley, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into this and other similar projects – all of them within a stone’s throw from the Waterloo campus and RIM’s headquarters.
What will Quantum Valley produce? The potential, supporters affirm, is unlimited. Feridun suggests that the hub will create computers capable of things “we can’t even imagine.” Mike offers up the term “mind-boggling” when describing the possibilities.
The building will foster cross-disciplinary collaboration in its common areas, lounges and meeting rooms.
There is a pang of irony in the fact that Mr. Lazaridis is bankrolling this ambitious mission. After all, while he was a pioneer in the now-gargantuan smartphone space, it was RIM’s lack of innovation that brought the former titan to its knees.
RIM remains alive, but only as a shadow of its former self – the company is worth just 4.5% what it was in 2008. Waterloo has managed to survive RIM’s misfortunes, but if the Quantum Valley were to suffer a similar fate, the city’s reputation could be stained beyond repair.
Still, it’s difficult not to feel a stirring excitement as this so-called “valley” takes flight. “It’s clear to me that this place is special,” the legendary Stephen Hawking gushed during the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre’s opening ceremony last week. “This institution will advance our understanding of matter and movement, illuminating deep mysteries with the light of scientific discovery.”
So forget which Canadian city is Silicon Valley North. Our real answer to the American startup hotspot is not some maple syrup-soaked carbon copy, but a distinct creation, something distinguished – something sans “north.”
Quantum Valley, at least today, is that answer.