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Google reaches out as Waterloo area laments BlackBerry

A neon Google logo is seen as employees work at the Google office in Toronto.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Google Inc. is giving Kitchener-Waterloo a morale boost as the region's largest technology company struggles to survive.

The search giant will invest an undisclosed amount of money in Communitech, a regional economic development initiative that works closely with 650 technology startups to help them build their ideas into viable companies by providing them with space, funding and support.

While the cash will help the incubator purchase software and update some equipment, its chief executive officer said the most important part of the deal is the direct line the centre now has to Google's engineers and executives.

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"We will have access to their experts in various fields," Communitech chief executive officer Iain Klugman said. "They are opening the kimono and letting us in – it's a huge honour because Google is a fairly private organization and they have invited us inside. And Google is getting an opportunity to get up close and personal to influence a bunch of start-ups."

The Kitchener-Waterloo region is reeling after last week's announcement that BlackBerry would cut 4,500 of its 12,500 employees by next spring as it seeks to cut $50-million from its operating budget and prepare itself for an eventual sale.

But the region's politicians and economic development officials have worked to position the region as more than a one-company town, and being included in Google's seven-city "Google For Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network" is a welcome opportunity to talk about something other than layoffs.

Google is no stranger to the area – it arrived in 2005 with an office that expanded to include about 150 engineers, has purchased several start-ups and gave the University of Waterloo a grant worth almost $1-million to help academics in the school's mathematics and computer science departments study how to separate information from noise on social networks.

The kind of mobile technology Google's Kitchener-Waterloo office specializes in has become an important priority for Google's strategy, as the search engine looks to cash in on the smart phone revolution with software such as the Android and Chrome operating systems for mobile devices. Chrome, the project that started out as a Google-built browser but has since expanded to a browser-based operating system, has become almost entirely driven by the engineers in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Waterloo is clearly a place where real innovation is happening, and the numbers speak for themselves," said John Lyman, head of partnerships for Google for Entrepreneurs. Almost 1,000 tech companies in the region, $200-million in invested venture capital in the last year, and $500-million in technology company acquisitions during that same time-frame. Google even recently acquired a company that was incubated in Communitech [BufferBox]."

The other six hubs in the network are in Minneapolis, Chicago, Nashville, Durham, Denver and Detroit.

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Google says "hubs in the network will have access to each other, with quarterly calls and bringing hub partners together in-person to share lessons learned and best practices for entrepreneurs."

"Google heard consistently from tech hubs that they wanted to be part of a larger network, to learn from each other and collaborate together on ideas," Mr. Lyman said.

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