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Wilfrid Laurier University names business school for Mike Lazaridis

In co-operation with academic and government partners, Mike Lazaridis has donated more than $300-million over the past 15 years to establish two internationally recognized research centres in Waterloo, Ont.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A Waterloo, Ont., business school will be named for entrepreneur and philanthropist Mike Lazaridis, already a major investor in the region's ambitions to become a global player in technology innovation.

At an event on Tuesday in Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University will name its school of business and economics – and a new $103-million campus building opening next year to house the school and the university's math department – for Mr. Lazaridis, co-founder of Research In Motion. The recognition follows an announcement last spring of his pledge of $20-million for a new technology-focused management institute at the Laurier business school that also will bear his name. The Ontario government has pledged $15-million.

Long associated with the University of Waterloo, Mr. Lazaridis says he was impressed by Laurier's "strong" business school. He also lauded what he called its co-operative education program (half of the school's 4,200 undergraduates work for industry as part of their degree) and the focus of its dean, Micheál Kelly, on turning out graduates with high-tech management skills.

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"We realized it didn't matter how complex the technology was or the innovation was," Mr. Lazaridis said of his experience with startups. "You still needed a high level of business skills to take advantage of it [the technology] and be able to scale it globally."

His assessment grew out of conversations dating back to 2012 after Dr. Kelly's appointment as dean.

"What led to this was the view that if we don't have the management talent, these [technology startup] companies are not going to be able to grow and succeed," Dr. Kelly recalled of his discussions with the donor. "We really need to start producing a deeper pool of well-trained managers who have an interest in the technology sector."

The urgency to develop tech-savvy managers fits with Mr. Lazaridis's lofty aspirations for the Waterloo region, as Canada's "Quantum Valley," to become a global player in what he and others see as a new industrial revolution fuelled by quantum computing (with computers of the future able to process complex information in ways seen as impossible with current digital technology).

In co-operation with academic and government partners, Mr. Lazaridis has donated more than $300-million over the past 15 years to establish two internationally recognized research centres in Waterloo: the independent Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and, at the University of Waterloo, the Institute for Quantum Computing.

"By all measures, Canada sat out what was the last quantum revolution, which was called the Silicon Age," Mr. Lazaridis said.

In 2013, with Doug Fregin, his fellow co-founder of Research In Motion that developed the BlackBerry smartphone, Mr. Lazaridis established the Waterloo-based Quantum Valley Investment Fund to invest in companies that develop and commercialize breakthroughs from quantum physics and quantum computing.

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"The technology has developed to the point where we are able to conduct experiments that are giving us a whole new insight into the quantum world and our industrial capability, and our computing capability has given us the opportunity to interact and to control that environment for computing, sensors or new materials," Mr. Lazaridis said.

The recruitment and retention of tech-savvy business graduates who understand startups – and how to make them sustainable – is seen as an essential building block in positioning the region as a global competitor in technology innovation.

For Laurier officials, naming the business school for a local but internationally recognized entrepreneur offers the potential to step out of the shadows of its higher-profile neighbour, the University of Waterloo.

"This is an outstanding business school that has been underbranded and undermarketed and that people really don't know," Dr. Kelly said. "This naming will really open up the opportunity for us to tell that story."

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