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Waterloo’s Technology Triangle

Love your Blackberry?  Then thank Waterloo, a wheat belt town west of Toronto and one of the largest North America technology regions with 450 tech companies, and growing more each year. 

University of Waterloo was formed by two insurance companies to generate actuaries, but soon steered the maths students towards computer sciences with support from IBM and Digital AND allowed researchers to own 100% of their research!  This has created over 250 science and tech businesses, which employ graduates and fund research, with major philanthropic benefits to the University and the community.  Opentext and RIM Blackberry were two of the first spun off.

"We're seeing a lot of the RIM talent doing startups," said Steve Currie, coach and mentor at Ontario's Communitech, a non-profit and tech incubator. "We've had a number of the displaced RIM folks come in and work as mentors and coaches on a volunteer basis as well for our startup community. We're seeing them engage in a bunch of different ways. Many of the former RIM folks want to stay in the region, there's a lot going on in the tech community here so there are opportunities."     

Opentext, now Canada’s largest software company with 4,400 staff got its break using its search engine to digitise the Oxford Dictionary, an engine later adapted and adopted  by Yahoo.  RIM Blackberry now has 7200 staff, US$6.8b in revenues and $2.7bn in cash reserves to reinvent itself as its cell phone sales decline. Prosper or perish new businesses form once leaders like Opentext and RIM Blackberry create a cluster.

In 1997 forty business leaders funded Communitech accelerator, creating a deep knowledge network to mentor and grow small businesses into global companies, including MKS, AGFA Health, Sandvine and Maplesoft.  They stemmed the brain drain south to San Jose, spawned a strong angel and venture sector and a vibrant creative community.  The Lesson:  Communities can Create Strong Regions.


“Waterloo has become one of North America’s leading concentrations of technology players, academic and industrial research and development, innovation, commercialization expertise, venture and early stage capital. We have an extraordinary entrepreneurial track record that is the envy of communities many times our size and leaders here give freely of their time and their talent. They share success points, cautionary tales, and outright failures. This is a community that “self-consults,” with one generation mentoring the next.” Iain Klugman, 2007, CEO, Communitech


Silicon Valley

Do you Know the Way to San Jose?  From San Francisco south to San Jose, small businesses have become Cisco, Intel, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, Google, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter.  Silicon Valley is the ultimate nebula, birthing nova sized companies, turning fads to fortunes and geeks to gigastars.  The lesson:  small businesses grow to large businesses faster in the proximity of other global businesses.

How did Silicon Valley form?  Once a sleepy farming region, Stanford University led a strong regional crusade to grow local business against East Coast corporate exploitation. The University was close to a strong naval and air defence region and the recipient of large federal research defence grants in the 1940s and 50s.


The “father of Silicon Valley”, Frederick Ternon, was Dean of Engineering and provost at Stanford University when solid-state technology research led to the microprocessor. Students were encouraged to form businesses at the Stanford Research Park, including Hewlett Packard and Varian Associates joined later by Eastman Kodak and Xerox Palo Alto Research Park. The innovation from these companies led to the creation of 3ComAdobe SystemsCiscoApple Computer and Microsoft.


Silicon Valley now contains 40% of information and communication technology (ICT) companies, 70% of venture capital in the USA, receives 40% of all U.S. venture investment, has the highest average high-tech salary at $144,800 and the most millionaires and billionaires per capita.

The Lesson:  Communities can Create Strong Regions – through universities, government and innovators cooperating to Grow small businesses into large businesses.




Australia is the 13th wealthiest nation in the world, with large corporates and world ranked research universities.  We have a strong innovation history.

Inventions include: the Incat wave piercing catamaran, the black box recorder, inflatable escape chutes, the stump jump plough, mechanical sheep shears, AusToft cane harvester, curved air wing, scuba tanks, Fauldings zinc cream, Hills hoist, Triton Workbench, Cochlear implants, Resmed and recently in Queensland Scramjet, Redflow, Peplin, Gardicil, Panbio, Althomics and Impedimed.

Fauldings and Hills grew successfully locally whilst Res Med, Cochlear and other innovations were licensed, sold or moved overseas. Few, if any, have gone on to become global companies, head quartered locally.

Innovators need large local customers to grow rapidly but our economy is dominated by large oligopolies, where a few national companies and foreign companies dominate. None of them, including our own governments, buy local innovation. 

This lack of local global technology companies, and a lack of purchasing by our private oligopolies and public monopolies, has thwarted early sales for our innovations and prevented deep knowledge clusters forming.  Our best innovators, executives and advisors stream overseas, chasing customers and cash.

Australian companies Zoom Systems and Looksmart were attracted early to The Valley and lately Omnisio, Bluepulse and Whereoscope have followed, as have thousands of our best entrepreneurial graduates with 17,000 Australians estimated to be living in San Francisco Bay area including 65 start-ups owned by Aussies.

Queensland has a strong innovation sector with world ranked research universities, strong public and private innovation, incubators, innovation centres and angel investor networks forming small businesses.

To provide customers for our innovators and jobs for our graduates we must focus as a state on growing local family businesses into national and international businesses.  


Stewart Gow LLB, MBA, GAICD is a company director, business owner, angel investor and University of Queensland Industry Fellow. He has access to global business networks with 20 years experience advising and mentoring hundreds of business owners from all industry sectors in his role as Australian Vice Consul (Silicon Valley), Senior Executive in State Development (Qld) and as founder of the award winning Mentoring for Growth programs, Brisbane Angels, the Australian Association of Angel Investors Ltd and now Facilitator in the Business Excellence Roundtable.

Stewart can be contacted at: or 0403 310520