Wekerle invests in Waterloo

Dragons’ Den judge buys Blackberry property on Columbia Street

File Photo from Ryan Hueglin
File Photo from Ryan Hueglin

Michael Wekerle, a well-known Toronto investment banker, founder of Difference Capital and new Dragons’ Den judge, is making a big investment in Waterloo.

Wekerle is no stranger to the city of Waterloo and its greatest success stories. In fact, as the senior trader at GMP Securities, he was responsible for taking Research In Motion, now known as Blackberry, public in 1997. Wekerle has now bought one of the old Blackberry properties at 156 Columbia and is under contract for the Blackberry six, seven, and 10 buildings, as well as two of the former tech giant’s parking lots.

“I’m trying to create an area of excellence,” said Wekerle. “With the LRT and the infrastructure going in there, with the strength of all the universities, I think I’m creating something like Liberty Village.”

Wekerle’s premier business project in the area will be the launch of a new tech incubator, the working title of which has been dubbed the Waterloo Innovation Network. He, in conjunction with his firm Difference Capital, which is heavily involved in tech, media and healthcare, wants to attract entrepreneurs to the area to live and thrive.

“What I’m going to do is in exchange for a small piece of equity, what I call milkman equity, will be a three month basis of free rent which can be extended for another three months, and after six months you’ll have access to funding,” said Wekerle, explaining how he intends to host startups in his new incubator.

Wekerle appears to see an investment opportunity in Waterloo that he hasn’t seen in other regions.

However, it’s not only the business opportunities that have Wekerle excited about Waterloo, it’s also the city itself and the culture built around it, as he mentioned that Waterloo had “small time charm with big time capability.”

In addition to the tech incubator, Wekerle is also seeking to bring a variety of other business and housing opportunities to the Columbia St. area.

“As far as the companies go in the social environment, look for Wahlburgers to open there soon, with appearances from the family,” said Wekerle. “Look for Boston Pizza, given that the franchisees in the area want to do that, which I think they will, and look for the institutions like the LCBO and The Beer Store to be there.”

Wekerle also plans on bringing new entertainment opportunities, like the recent Wektoberfest event he put on at 156 Columbia. A well-known music fan and enthusiast, he is also looking to bring some exciting acts to Waterloo.

“We’re going to have live bands, 54-40, USS, I got Motley Crue coming there. Over the next year you’re going to see a bunch of rollouts,” he said.

Wekerle has also expressed his interest in Waterloo as being more than just a business investment. For him, Waterloo seems to be a personal and family investment, as well.

“My son is going to Conestoga next year, my daughter will be going into grade 12 and hopefully going to Waterloo or Laurier. I got four children that are going to be in university in the next four years,” said Wekerle. “I’m buying a house in Waterloo as well.”

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