I currently live in the town of Waterloo, Canada, which has a modest high technology sector including RIM, makers of the BlackBerry. Local politicians like to refer to the area as Canada’s knowledge capital.
But that isn’t intended to be a negative comment. We’re up against a city of five or so million people like Toronto, or Ottawa, home of Nortel Networks, which has spawned numerous startups. An area of 500,000 people just can’t compete with that. I understand that you want to set the bar high, but unreasonable expectations are hard to meet.
Waterloo Region does not meet the criteria for a technology center. It is not a big city. It isn’t near a large body of water. The weather isn’t always beautiful. It is not a huge cultural capital. It does not have a vast selection of restaurants. And don’t even get me started on the lack of a decent Mexican restaurant.
And still it succeeds despite those issues.
What is rarely mentioned is that research from a single place, the University of Waterloo, has created a technology powerhouse that makes people around the world aware of this relatively tiny place. And as a result of that success we have groups like the Perimiter Institute, CIGI, and the Institute for Quantum Computing.
A recent article in the local paper The Record (which will probably be behind the firewall by the time you read this) suggests that research spending in the region is average. So what. An arbitrary measure such as the amount spent on local companies for R&D is a poor measure of what the region has been able to accomplish, especially when the area is still dominated by public sector groups and insurance and manufacturing companies.
What the area needs to focus on is how far they’ve come and how fast. It is the accelerated pace of change that makes Waterloo a success. It isn’t about how much you have. It’s all about how fast you get there, and how much faster you’ll get there in the future. It’s about your ability to change, and to deal with that change.
I went to university in Waterloo. Later we moved away, eventually to Boston. We moved back a couple of years go to a very, very different Waterloo. A more "grown up" Waterloo, with a few growing pains, but still getting better.
Let Toronto or Ottawa be the knowledge capital of Canada. That implies a perch from which they can fall.I’d rather be the folks they’re always looking over their shoulder at and worrying about. I’d rather be the center of constant change and growth, always being more than people expect of you. Being more than they think you can be.