Is Mike Lazaridis Building the Next Silicon Valley in Canada?

Computer entrepreneur Michael Lazaridis. Photo: Wikipedia

Greek-Canadian entrepreneur and computer scientist Mike Lazaridis is a restless spirit. In 2013, the Canadian magazine Maclean’s ranked him tenth on the list of the most powerful people in Canada.

Ironically, that was the year Lazaridis left his seat on the board as vice-chairman and director of BlackBerry Limited, a high tech company he co-founded in 1984 as “Research in Motion.”

The name of his first company was appropriate, because the man never stops pushing the limits, always searching for where computer technology can go next. An avid believer in quantum information science, Lazaridis founded a new research center for that area of study in Ontario.

Lazaridis has now turned his full attention to Quantum Valley Investments, a fund which targets commercial applications in quantum information science. Along with Doug Fregin, the co-founder of Research in Motion, he announced their new $100-million business fund in March 2013.

“Quantum Valley”

At the same time as he founded Research in Motion, in October 2000, Lazaridis also started up the “Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics” in Waterloo, Ontario, with $100 million of personal funds. He also received $10 million in contributions from fellow RIM executives Jim Balsillie and Doug Fregin.

In 2008 Lazaridis contributed another $50 million to the PITP.

After his further establishment of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002, what insiders now call the “Quantum Valley” was born.

The next step for the computing research visionary was the creation of the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo in 2012. The building is home to the leading-edge Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.

The center is built to the most stringent possible standards for quantum and nanotechnology experiments; controls for vibration, humidity, temperature, and electromagnetic radiation were included in the building plans. The center was described by Professor Stephen Hawking as a “work of architectural genius.”

The two institutes now house more than three hundred researchers and students who are focused on creating technologies which can harness the power of quantum mechanics to transform computing.

Photo: Quantum Valley Investments

Quantum Valley Investments

One can see striking similarities between Quantum Valley in Waterloo, Ontario, and Silicon Valley. Quantum Valley Investments has assured that plenty of funding, expertise and support is provided to researchers so they can produce the best possible commercial applications using quantum information science.

At the same time, the Lazaridis Institute trains executives in how to create and manage high-tech companies. The QV campus comprises workers who are tasked with research in all aspects of technology, from basic research to the final commercial product. Everyone is very close to each other, so all the researchers and employees can collaborate easily.

According to Forbes, researchers at the University of Waterloo and Quantum Valley own their own patents. The intellectual property of an inventor is protected, and he or she has no obligation to share it with the university or Quantum Valley.

As a result, Waterloo students and researchers have created more than 162 spinoffs and links with associated companies to date, enabling Canada to rank fifth in the world in quantum technology patent applications.

The Greek-Canadian entrepreneur believes that the creation of general-purpose quantum computers which can break into today’s public encryption systems is probably 10 to 15 years in the future. Quantum simulators which can mimic a quantum computer’s operations will be commercially available in five to ten years.

Lazaridis’ Brilliant Career

Mihalis (Michael) Lazaridis was born on March 14, 1961 in Istanbul, Turkey to Greek parents having roots on Chios Island. He was five years of age when his family moved to Canada in 1966 and settled in Windsor, Ontario.

Lazaridis was fascinated by science at a young age. At twelve, he won a prize at the Windsor Public Library for reading every science book in the library.

In 1979, he enrolled at the University of Waterloo, majoreing in electrical engineering with an option in computer science. He dropped out in 1984, just two months before he was scheduled to graduate.

With a $15,000 loan from his parents, a small government grant and a contract from General Motors, Lazaridis, Mike Barnstijn and Douglas Fregin launched their first business, Research in Motion. Lazaridis was awarded an honorary degree in the year 2000.

In 2015, the research entrepreneur donated $200 million to Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University for a new technology-focused management institute at their business school. The school was renamed in his honor as the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics.

With information from Quantum Valley Investments and Wikipedia