Article via The Record – Saying the best is yet to come, Gov. Gen. David Johnston returned to the research and technology park that bears his name to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of a centre that fosters tech startups.
“It is a wonderful privilege to be here with you because I have come home, I have come home,” Johnston said Tuesday to a standing-room-only crowd in the common area of the Accelerator Centre in the David Johnston Research and Technology Park.
Many employees of the 51 companies that have graduated from the centre joined members of the region’s political, academic and technology sectors for the celebration.
The research and technology park and the Accelerator Centre are the among the highest profile achievements of Johnston’s tenure as president of the University of Waterloo. He led UW from 1999 until 2010, when he was appointed the 28th governor general of Canada.
He started working on the research park within two years of coming to Waterloo, and departed for the viceregal office before the centre gained an international reputation.
The university had been trying, on and off, for 30 years to build a research park. Under Johnson’s leadership, it all came together in a collaborative plan that raised $42 million from the City of Waterloo, the Region of Waterloo, the province and the federal government. The university provided the land, and the Accelerator Centre, an incubator for startups, was to be a central part of it all.
“It took really great, inventive, tenacious people,” Johnston said. “Of course, the rest is history.”
All of the elements for a culture of innovation — creativity and curiosity, learning and talent, diversity and collaboration, daring and celebration — are in this region, he said.
“So that’s here in this Accelerator Centre, that’s here in our learning institutions, and it’s here in our community,” Johnston said.
Johnston noted that Inc. magazine called this region’s startup ecosystem the best in the world. “And that’s not by accident. That’s what’s happening, and I can say: ‘The best is yet to come,'” he said.
UW’s current president, Feridun Hamdullahpur, called the Accelerator Centre a fantastic asset not only for the region, but for the province and the entire country. Johnston personally recruited Hamdullahpur to succeed him as president of the university.
The centre is one of the main reasons why Waterloo Region’s startup ecosystem is ranked among the best in the world, Hamdullahpur said.
“This is not a small accomplishment,” he said.
Hamdullahpur said Johnston played an unbelievably strong role in the creation of the Accelerator Centre and technology park.
“We are so proud. We are so glad that you are here with us on our 10th anniversary. We owe you tremendous gratitude for initiating this, for leaving behind this fantastic centre for us to build on,” Hamdullahpur said.
In an interview after the speeches, Johnston said the region’s technology sector has evolved far beyond his dreams.
“But as I look back I am not really surprised. This is an extraordinary community,” Johnston said.
There are now more than 30,000 people working in the region’s tech sector producing goods and services valued at more than $30 billion a year. More than 1,100 startups are active in the region.
The startup community has expanded greatly in the region in the past five years, and Johnston predicts the future will bring even bigger technology-related surprises.
“One that I think we should watch very closely and I have been saying it to our friends in Ottawa, is quantum computing,” Johnston said.
He paid tribute to BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis for investing more than $300 million in the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
As the computer chip reaches limits for expanding computational power, quantum computing holds the promise of infinite power.
“So if I had a prediction to make, I would say: ‘Watch quantum computing very carefully, and watch what comes out of here,'” Johnston said. “But I could name a dozen other areas that one should watch with care.”
On Thursday, the first six recipients of a new award, the Governor General’s Innovation Award, will be honoured in Ottawa. Johnston said he started the award “to celebrate excellence and promote the culture of innovation.”
As the Queen’s representative in Canada, Johnston has hosted stated dinners, and travels abroad representing the country. But he exudes a down-home charm that belies his viceregal status.
“I feel I have never held a job. I am on a one-year leave of absence from my law firm first as a law professor, then a law dean, then as university president for 27 years,” Johnston said.
His term as governor general is scheduled to expire in September 2017.
“I hope we will celebrate 2017 as a great tribute to the experiment that is Canada, and how it works,” Johnston said, referring to the country’s 150th anniversary.
“When you celebrate a birthday you think of the gift, and it is my hope that each Canadian will think: ‘What gift can I make to the country so that the next 10 or 20 years are going to be pretty attractive for all citizens of our country,” Johnston said.
The comment is not surprising from a man whose installation speech more than five years ago was titled “A smart and caring nation; a call to service.”
“I would like to think that we as a nation have become smarter and more caring, keener minds and kinder hearts, community by community by community,” Johnston said.
“If I can encourage Canadians to think in those terms to become a healthier society with healthy communities, who see being smart and being caring as essential features of being a Canadian, I would be very happy,” he said.