BlackBerry Town

How high tech success has played out for Canada's Kitchener-Waterloo

by Chuck Howitt

A new history of the Blackberry innovation that documents how the resources and people of Kitchener-Waterloo supported, facilitated and benefited from the achievement that Blackberry represents

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.

About the Author

Chuck Howitt

BlackBerry was an astonishing tech success story — two Canadian entrepreneurs created the smartphone, and rode their invention to worldwide success and a company worth billions. As this pioneering book relates, they didn't do so alone. Their innovative ideas came about in an environment of expert academics, a university attuned to tech innovation, an available workforce of skilled enthusiasts, early financial backers and federal government officials lending support. As Howitt learned, BlackBerry's history is a fascinating example of how the right people in the right environment at the right time can go far — and fast.

Yet the BlackBerry story resembles another Canadian high-tech achievement — the Avro Arrow fighter jet. The tumble from the heights of success came quickly. The downfall left room for world tech giants to capture the lead in the marketplace BlackBerry had created. Apple, Samsung and others reaped the riches that flowed from the smartphone's invention.

But whereas the Avro Arrow was utterly destroyed, Howitt found that the BlackBerry story went in a more positive direction. As a corporation, BlackBerry remains a significant player in the software field. BlackBerry's co-CEOs, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, have used their personal fortunes to fund major research institutes in Waterloo. Other BlackBerry employees are involved in a host of tech companies. The Kitchener-Waterloo area remains a dynamic, growing town that fosters innovators and tech-based industry.

The BlackBerry story offers many insights into how a resilient region can deal with both success and failure — and stay healthy as a place to live and work.

Canada has a lot to learn from BlackBerry Town.


Kitchener-Waterloo made RIM/BlackBerry, and RIM/BlackBerry made Kitchener-Waterloo the leading technology powerhouse north of the border. Howitt's book is an honest, eye-opening, insightful examination of what made RIM/BlackBerry tick, and the factors behind one of the most compelling business stories — and dramatic implosions — in Canadian history.
Carmi Levy, CTV Technology Analyst and Journalist
BlackBerry Town offers an incredibly detailed look at the early days of BlackBerry and the influential Canadian company's founders. If you're interested in the rise and fall of the once powerhouse of a company, Chuck Howitt's exhaustive reporting is unparalleled on the subject matter. As someone who has covered the technology industry for years, I was shocked at how much I learned from Howitt's BlackBerry Town.
Patrick O'Rourke, Managing Editor, MobileSyrup
Chuck Howitt has crafted a compelling, page-turning tale of technological transformation and turmoil. With eagle-eyed detail and occasional laugh-out-loud humour, Blackberry Town portrays the entrepreneurial pioneers who have turned Waterloo Region from a rust-belt relic into one of Canada's foremost high-tech havens. The book could be an inspirational road map for any community that hopes to harness innovation and supercharge its economy. But the main focus of Blackberry Town , the remarkable rise and phenomenal fall of the cutting-edge company once known as Research in Motion (RIM), is a rare and riveting chapter in Canadian business history that Howitt recounts in fascinating fashion.
John Schofield, former editor for Maclean's magazine


Legislative Assembly of Ontario's Speaker's Book Award

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