Mike Lazaridis, whose invention of the BlackBerry smartphone more than a decade ago redefined the way people send e-mail, is now devoting most of his time and $100-million to a new research centre in Waterloo devoted to breakthroughs in nanotechnology.
We can’t offer them ocean, beaches or mountains, but we can try and offer them the best environment, the best collaborators, the best equipment that would be conducive to them making the breakthroughs of their lifetime
Mike Lazaridis (Μιχαήλ Λαζαρίδης), whose invention of the BlackBerry smartphone more than a decade ago redefined the way people send e-mail, is drawing inspiration from the early days of computing for his next act.
Backed by his $100 million donation, the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre opens Friday in Waterloo, Ontario, aiming to recreate the conditions that made AT&T Inc.’s Bell Labs a hive of technological innovation in the early 1960s and laid the groundwork for the success of Silicon Valley.
The new research center is designed to produce breakthroughs in the science and technology of things approaching the size of an atom. It’s “absolutely” going to be the Bell Labs of the 21st century, Lazaridis said Thursday in a telephone interview. “That reality got clearer and clearer to me as we got closer to the ribbon-cutting.”
Lazaridis, who resigned as chairman of struggling BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. in January, says he’s now devoting most of his time to help get the Quantum-Nano Centre off the ground and to form a cluster of cutting-edge research with the decade-old Institute for Quantum Computing and Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, both founded with a total of more than $250 million of his own money and additional funds he helped raise.
The facilities will be enough to lure the brightest minds in the field to Canada, Lazaridis said.
“We can’t offer them ocean, beaches or mountains, but we can try and offer them the best environment, the best collaborators, the best equipment that would be conducive to them making the breakthroughs of their lifetime,” Lazaridis said. “One of the best ways to describe this is we’re trying to break the known laws of physics.”
The technology Lazaridis is talking about is designed to redefine the boundaries of Moore’s Law, the principle — associated with Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore — that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Quantum computing and nanotechnology would allow medicine to be delivered to individual cells, could create minute energy sources and could even produce self-healing materials that could be used in a nuclear power plant, he says.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to make smaller devices as we approach the size of an atom, but it’s also getting more expensive to build those devices,” he said. “You know you’re at the limit when those two things happen. The only way we can break through those barriers is quantum computing.”
While Lazaridis said he’s considering investments in nano and quantum technology, he wouldn’t say when or how much he’ll invest. The 51-year-old still owns 29.7 million shares in RIM, which are worth about US$214 million, according to an April filing.
“I do have the funds to invest in both angel and venture capital, but I’m being very, very strategic,” he said.
While Waterloo does have some local venture capital that startups can tap, it lacks the billion of dollars in venture capital that investors are willing to risk in Silicon Valley on local startups. That doesn’t faze Lazaridis, the son of Greek immigrants who immigrated to Canada as a boy and started RIM while still at the University of Waterloo in the 1970s.
“The venture capital will find its way to those individual entrepreneurs or companies that are interested in commercializing these discoveries,” he said.
Bell Labs, founded in 1925 and now part of Alcatel-Lucent, had its operations in New York City and the New Jersey suburbs, an area that hasn’t been able to seize the mantle of technological innovator held by California’s Silicon Valley, home to Intel, Apple Inc. and Google Inc. Bell Labs alumni such as William Shockley helped bring the research center’s innovations to the West Coast.
In Waterloo, other companies are championing the growth of the technology industry as RIM continues to shrink, with users switching to devices from Apple and Samsung Electronics Co.
Desire2Learn Inc., a local online-education software startup, raised US$80 million in venture funding this month from investors including Menlo Park, California-based New Enterprise Associates Inc. Waterloo-based OpenText Corp., a 20-year-old maker of business software, saw revenue grow 17 % to $1.21 billion in its most recent fiscal year and employs more than 4,500 workers worldwide.
The two provide a morale boost to the local economy as RIM cuts 5,000 jobs to try to return to profitability. Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins, who took over in January, is counting on a new lineup of phones, due next year, to reverse the company’s fortunes.
Lazaridis, who remains on the board of RIM and runs its innovation committee, says he still regularly consults with Heins, who he picked as his successor.
While he declined to say if he’s happier being able to devote himself full-time to pure science and philanthropy rather than running RIM, he said he’s enjoying his new project.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be part of this adventure,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
From wikipedia: Mihalis “Mike” Lazaridis (Greek: Μιχαήλ Λαζαρίδης; born March 14, 1961,) is a Greek Canadian businessman, founder and Vice Chairman of Research In Motion (RIM), which created and manufactures the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. As a passionate advocate for the power of basic science to improve and transform the world, in 1999 he founded Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he also serves as Board Chair. He is also a former chancellor of the University of Waterloo, and an Officer of the Order of Canada. With an estimated net worth of $US 800 Million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.
On October 23, 2000, Lazaridis founded the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics with $100 million of personal funds, along with $10 million contributions from fellow RIM executives Jim Balsillie and Douglas Fregin.
On April 30, 2004, Lazaridis and his wife together donated $33.3 million to the University of Waterloo for its Institute for Quantum Computing.
On May 3, 2005, Lazaridis gave an additional $17.2 million to the University of Waterloo, primarily to aid the construction of a new building jointly shared by the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.
On June 4, 2008, a further donation of $50 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics was announced.
Awards and accolades
On October 21, 1999, Lazaridis received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from the University of Waterloo, and in June 2003, he became its eighth chancellor. He was named Canada’s Nation Builder of the Year for 2002 by readers of The Globe and Mail newspaper. In 2006, he was made an Officer of theOrder of Canada and a member of the Order of Ontario.
He received a Science and Technical award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1998