Blackberry co-founders start $100M quantum tech fund

Blackberry co-founders Mike Laziridis and Doug Fregin have launched a $100 million private fund to boost the development of Canada's fledgling quantum computing industry.

Quantum Valley Investments hopes to commercialize Waterloo-area breakthroughs

Blackberry co-founders Mike Laziridis and Doug Fregin have launched a $100 million dollar private fund to boost the development of Canada's fledgling quantum computing industry.

Quantum Valley Investments, based in Waterloo, Ont., "will provide financial and intellectual capital" for the development and "commercialization of breakthroughs" in quantum information science, said a news release announcing the new fund.

A statement from Laziridis and Fregin said they believe the fund will lead to the creation of new jobs and industries and help establish Waterloo as "Canada's Quantum Valley."

Quantum computing technology makes use of the strange laws of quantum physics that cause very small particles — those around the size of an atom or smaller —  to behave very differently than those on the human scale. For example, while conventional computing relies on bits of data represented by either a "1" or a "0", quantum computing makes use of "qubits" that can encode information as both a "1" and a "0" at the same time due to a quantum property known as superposition. That means quantum computers with a given number of qubits can store exponentially more information than conventional computers with the same number of bits. They are also better at solving certain types of problems.

The technology is still in its infancy and very few quantum computing products are available commercially so far.

The new fund hopes to harness the existing developments and breakthroughs that have already been discovered over the past 12 years in Waterloo, when Laziridis started investing locally in quantum physics and technology research.

3 quantum institutes

In 1999, he gave $100 million to help establish the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, which also got matching funds from the private and public sector. The institute's nine research areas include particle physics, quantum fields and strings, quantum foundations and quantum information. 

Laziridis has also donated over $100 million to the University of Waterloo for its Institute for Quantum Computing, established in 2002, and its Quantum Nano-Centre, which also houses the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, started in 2008.

Laziridis and Fregin said they believe that breakthroughs at the three institutes will "lead to transformative commercialization opportunities" in the Waterloo region the way discoveries at Bell Labs led to the rise of California's Silicon Valley.

The pair founded the smartphone technology company formerly known as Research in Motion in 1984. The company abandoned its original name in favour of BlackBerry, its well-known smartphone brand name, earlier this year.

Laziridis was the company's co-CEO up until last January, when both he and its other CEO, Jim Balsillie, resigned and were replaced by current CEO Thorsten Heins. The company had been losing its share of the smartphone market to competitors such as Apple and its share price has plunged.

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Fregin retired from the company in 2007 after serving as vice-president of operations.

With files from the Canadian Press