The National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) building sits quiet and still, and Ken Gordon is proud to be heading up one of the companies doing research there. What Quantum Silicon Inc. (QSI) is working on exactly he can’t say yet, but he promises something industry-changing.
Exactly the kind of issue QSI is dealing with is the semiconductor industry’s issue of how to overcome a limit that’s been reached due to size constraints on the device’s transistors. They’re packed in as tight as current technology will allow, but the power consumed per unit area has only increased as a result.
QSI’s breakthrough involves replacing transistor’s completely, using materials the industry knows well and can manage with ease, based on fundamental work done at NINT and the University of Alberta. “We are in the early stages of building that technology and building a company to commercialize it,” Gordon states. QSI’s product is by his own admission one of the most exciting things he’s seen for a long time, and a worthy investment.
Gordon has a long history in Edmonton’s tech industry. He was a founder of Myrias Research Corporation, which developed a new kind of supercomputer in the 1980s. “We raised a bunch of money and got the attention of some US government funding, and developed these large machines. Which worked,” Gordon says before his voice falls. “But the premise on which [it] was built at the time turned out to be flawed.” That project had occupied 10 years and a great deal of venture money and funding.
Not to be outdone, Gordon helped a group of people start a company called Invidi Technologies, which found great success producing systems for targeted advertising on digital cable networks. But while the foundations of the company started in Edmonton, the management side of the business relocated to New York. “They’re a great success story that started here. So that left me looking for something to do,” Gordon recalls. Following that, his work with a venture fund led him to the technology from which QSI incubated.
Gordon’s vision is the establishment of an organization that is both self-sustaining and that generates entrepreneurial abilities amongst the people that work in it—a feature he saw in action at Myrias. “So the vision in some sense is to develop a community of like-minded people that can work together to create new industry,” Gordon clarifies. “And to help diversify the economy of the region.”
That cohesiveness translates well to the local entrepreneurial community. “Without a core of experienced tech entrepreneurs, the ability to grow a tech sector is going to be limited,” Gordon says. Some succeed, some fail. But the constant churn of people doing so is the only thing that can create a self-sufficient tech industry. It’s something he’s only started to notice picking up in the last few years, citing the influence of groups like Startup Edmonton helping young entrepreneurs to overcome the prospect of failure.
“For a long time what other entrepreneurs would tell you was what was wrong with your idea, which is useful. You’ve got to know that. But they wouldn’t sit and help figure out how do we take a fundamental good idea and organize to meet those challenges. So there was an expectation of failure, a very negative view of the start-up world.”
If asked about his motivation, Gordon might joke that he just wants to make a lot of money, but that’s not really true. “The motivation is to work on exciting new technologies. And to work with the kind of people who develop exciting new technologies. And if on the way through, you happen to make a bunch of money, then that’s good too,” he explains. “But the real motivation is the excitement of starting up and the possibility of making a difference.”