Dragons' Den banker Michael Wekerle buys BlackBerry real estate

Michael Wekerle, an investment banker and the newest dragon on CBC's Dragons' Den, is working on a deal to buy six former BlackBerry buildings and turn the area around Columbia and Phillip Streets into a tech incubator.
Michael Wekerle, one of the new dragons on CBC's Dragon's Den, is buying up property in Waterloo, Ont. to build a tech incubator. (CBC)

Waterloo residents should get used to seeing a lot of Michael Wekerle around town.

The flashy investment banker and new dragon on CBC's Dragons' Den, is working on a deal to buy up six former BlackBerry buildings and turn the area around Columbia and Phillip Streets into a tech incubator. 

Wekerle is the CEO of merchant-banking firm Difference Capital Financial but he's no stranger to the region. In 1997, as a trader with GMP Securities, he was involved in taking then-named Research In Motion public.

Wekerle is a larger-than-life character who brought in Snoop Dogg to perform at his annual summer concert, Wekfest, in Toronto in 2013. He recently made headlines when his $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder, one of just two in Canada, burned up at a gas station in Caledon, Ont 

He's an investor in actor Mark Walhberg's burger chain, Wahlburgers, and is bringing the chain's first Canadian location to Toronto. 

Now, Wekerle wants to build a tech incubator that he says will help young entrepreneurs hone their ideas while also offering something for the region.

"I purchased BlackBerry 5, which is 156 [Columbia St.], and I'm working under contract right now on Blackberry 6, 7, the parking lots and BlackBerry 10," said Wekerle in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Wednesday. He's also looking to buy two other BlackBerry buildings, 440 and 460 Philip St.

"I'd like to do something that has a social benefit, a housing benefit. I'm not as interested in building student housing, I think there's enough sufficient housing that's been built by some great people," said Wekerle.

"What I'm trying to do is to create that kind of middle-class environment, with a place to shop, a place to have some commerce, a place to have some social time, restaurants, etc.," he said.

Wekerle says that he sees a lot of support from federal and local politicians for the region, and that attracted to him, along with the desire to keep tech developments made here in Canada. 

"I want to rent our IP, not sell our IP to the U.S." he said, referring to intellectual property created in Waterloo Region. 

The region will get a taste of what Wekerle has in store on Sunday, when he opens BlackBerry 5 for Wektoberfest, an afternoon celebration featuring Canadian rockers 54-40 and free food. All proceeds will go to the YWCA of Kitchener-Waterloo. 

Dragons' Den premieres its new season tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET on CBC TV.