Local tech sector unfazed by RIM losses

Photo courtesy of Mike Lakusiak

Despite recent layoffs and other issues at Research in Motion (RIM),  numerous tech-startups in Waterloo Region, with the support of local students, are continuing to thrive.

Waterloo Region is home to more than 800 technology-based businesses, hosting locally-grown global companies such as Open Text and RIM. In addition, there are plenty of startup businesses, many of which are run by graduates from the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College.

Joseph Fung, CEO of TribeHR, a human resources management software company located in Kitchener, praised student involvement for the continual success of his corporation.

“We hire not only college students, but also summer students” Fung said.

“Having a rich ground with many startup businesses is a very easy way to find exciting and engaging work that is rewarding, but at the same time, it provides a great foundation.”

Fung added that other startup businesses in the area, such as Communitech, thrive off of their engagements with students, who are their primary source of employment.

In recent months, RIM has been experiencing a decline in profit and share values, resulting in the stock dropping 77 per cent in 2011 alone. RIM plans to streamline their operations and save $1 billion in the fiscal year by cutting at least 2,000 jobs, with the possibility of severing as many as 6,000 jobs at a later time. Recently, hundreds of employees from the Waterloo-based company were released.

When asked if there was a possibility that Waterloo’s other small businesses could benefit from RIM’s current predicament, Fung said that it is allowing these businesses the potential to thrive with caution.

“RIM has been going so fast and so over the last few years that you haven’t actually seen that much cross-pollination in terms of transition. This offers small businesses in the (Kitchener-Waterloo) area to benefit and learn from the experience of RIM,” Fung explained.

According to many in the community, RIM’s drastic cuts are not characterized as a concern by the small technology businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Desire2Learn Incorporated, another local tech business, helps provide solutions to health care and education sectors worldwide.

John McLeod, vice president of marketing, noted that RIM is much different from many of the businesses in Waterloo, meaning its problems are unlikely to be mirrored at Desire2Learn or other local companies.

“Everyone wants to see RIM do well and we’re hoping for the best for them obviously,” McLeod said.

“However, on the business perspective, they are a completely separate businesses. We’re focused on the notion of how the world learns and while we have mobile elements in our platform, we’re in a very different business.”

Desire2Learn has doubled in employee count over the year and there are more jobs opening up, further distancing the company from the aftermath of RIM’s downfall.

Waterloo mayor Brenda Halloran believes that the prospect of Waterloo dwindling because of the RIM layoffs is not a feasible concern. Halloran emphasized that the businesses in Waterloo, specifically the technology businesses, are presently looking to hire more people to work. Currently, there are 1,200 jobs available at ventures such as the Communitech Hub.

“Any community would be extremely envious to have this issue where we can’t find enough people available for our companies,” Halloran shared.

“The people who are leaving RIM or looking for other opportunities, there is lots for them. I don’t see it as a concern.”

Although Halloran is concerned about those who face being laid off, she emphasized that there are additional employment opportunities in the Kitchener-Waterloo area that will not only benefit those laid off from RIM, but will also benefit the employers as well.

“There will be opportunities within the community for people to find new job opportunities. Anyone who is leaving RIM has great skills and they are highly employable and highly sought after,” Halloran concluded.

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