One of Waterloo Region’s most recognizable icons of innovation in Waterloo Region stems from BlackBerry Ltd., formerly Research In Motion (RIM). The company was founded in 1984, in Waterloo by tech icon, Mike Lazaridis, and his childhood friend, Douglas Fregin, both engineering students at the time.
Lazaridis and Fregin decided to focus their innovative efforts into producing a wireless data transmission system for pagers and wireless payment; they developed products for Mobitex wireless packet-switched data communications networks, which was primarily used by military and police forces. They were the first company to do such in North America. In 1992, the technology Lazaridis and Fregin developed impressed Harvard Business School grad, Jim Balsillie, so much that he invested $125,000 into their company and became the co-CEO and co-Founder.
In 1996, Lazaridis and Fregin eventually introduced their first device, the Inter@ctive Pager 900, which was its first keyboard-based, two-way pager, with a clam-shell style. Following multiple iterations of the Inter@ctive Pager model, the first device they released to the general public to carry the BlackBerry name was the BlackBerry 850. This device was similar to its predecessors, but its biggest difference was the capability to send mobile emails. This was the first in a series of precursor devices to their original smartphone, the BlackBerry 5810, which was released in 2002 and could function as a cell phone with voice calling, in addition to its email and pager capabilities. Later versions of the BlackBerry device included popular models such as the Pearl, the Curve, and the Bold. Even with the advent of the iPhone and its full touchscreen capabilities in 2007, BlackBerry has remained steadfast with the continued inclusion of its iconic, physical QWERTY keyboard on a number of its devices, including more recent models like the BlackBerry Passport and the Key series.
Throughout the 2000s, BlackBerry’s success established its products as the most popular smartphones for businesses and the general public. While BlackBerry sales eventually saw a decline with the rise in popularity of Apple and Android devices, they still created thousands of jobs in the Waterloo Region, and paved the way for the exploding startup culture that grew in its decline. In September 2016, Blackberry announced it would leave the smartphone manufacturing business, and outsource to overseas partners. It now focuses on developing device management software, which helps businesses track employee phones to keep sensitive company information secure. To this day BlackBerry devices remain a popular choice for business professionals and government organizations because of the quality assurance that comes with their security software.
It is with the quality and scale of their innovation that BlackBerry is credited with putting Waterloo Region on the map as a major global tech hub.