The co-founder of BlackBerry is no longer developing technology himself, but he is financing the work of others in the field. Quantum Valley Investments (QVI), which he started with childhood friend (and BlackBerry co-founder) Doug Fregin in 2013, has been relatively quiet the past few years. But it’s open about the companies it’s backing. Cognitive Systems, for example, is a Waterloo, Ont., startup using wireless signals in new ways, such as for physical and digital security. Isara Corp., also in Waterloo, is developing encryption technology that can withstand attacks from quantum computers—which, by the way, haven’t been commercialized yet.
It’s fittingly geeky stuff for Lazaridis, who’s always had a deep fascination with science and technology. His family moved to Canada from Turkey when he was a child and, with the funds from the sale of a redesigned buzzer system for quiz show Reach for the Top, Lazaridis studied engineering at the University of Waterloo. His passion for technology led him to co-found Research in Motion in 1984. (The first office was located on top of a bagel shop.) Lazaridis and Fregin established themselves as inventors with the development of a computer-controlled display network for a General Motors plant, but it wasn’t until 1999 that Research in Motion unveiled the first BlackBerry model. Lazaridis stepped down as co-CEO (along with Jim Balsillie) in 2012, after the iPhone established a new standard in the industry. He’s been generous with his wealth, too, establishing the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.
Lazaridis has placed a huge bet on quantum technology, in fact, which he believes will fuel an entirely new industry. By backing startups through QVI, Lazaridis hopes to turn the Waterloo region into “Quantum Valley,” supplanting Silicon Valley as the centre for the next era in technology.