Although the history of RIM and BlackBerry has been well documented over the years through several books, including most notably, Sean Silcoff, Jacquie McNish's Losing the Signal, author, and retired reporter, and Waterloo Record editor, Chuck Howitt has released his new book BlackBerry Town – How high tech success has played out for Canada's Kitchener-Waterloo.
Rather than merely sticking to the BlackBerry story, Howitt offers a new twist and a more extended look by highlighting how the Kitchener-Waterloo region tech community learned and grew from BlackBerry to now be recognized as a tech hub of Canada that supports not only homegrown but worldwide high-tech companies.
The smartphone was an incredibly successful Canadian invention created by a team of engineers and marketers led by Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. But there was a third key player involved — the community of Kitchener-Waterloo. In this book Chuck Howitt offers a new history of BlackBerry which documents how the resources and the people of Kitchener-Waterloo supported, facilitated, benefited from and celebrated the achievement that BlackBerry represents.
After its few short years of explosive growth and pre-eminence, BlackBerry lost its market to digital juggernauts Apple, Samsung and Huawei. No surprises there. Like Nokia and Motorola before it, BlackBerry was eclipsed. Shareholders lost billions. Thousands of employees lost jobs. Bankruptcy was avoided but the company's founding geniuses were gone, leaving an operation that today is only a fragment of what had been. For Kitchener-Waterloo — as Chuck Howitt tells the story — the BlackBerry experience is a mixed bag of disappointments and major ongoing benefits. The wealth it generated for its founders produced two very important university research institutes. Many recent digital startups have taken advantage of the city's pool of talented and experienced tech workers and ambitious, well-educated university grads. A strong digital and tech industry thrives today in Kitchener-Waterloo — in a way a legacy of the BlackBerry experience.
Across Canada, communities hope for homegrown business successes like BlackBerry. This book underlines how a mid-sized, strong community can help grow a world-beating company, and demonstrates the importance of the attitudes and decisions of local institutions in enabling and sustaining successful innovation. Canada has a lot to learn from BlackBerry Town.
I personally haven't had the chance to read BlackBerry Town as of yet but it's certainly on my list. No matter how many times the 'rise and fall' story is told, there are always new bits of information out there and Howitt, through his work at The Record is in a unique position to share some of them. If you're interested in learning more, Howitt has done interviews with Communitech, and The Record that are worth taking a look at. Additionally, BlackBerry Town – How high tech success has played out for Canada's Kitchener-Waterloo is available at Amazon and in bookstores right now. If you pick it up, drop a mini-review in the comments!
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