Research in quantum physics has left the realm of purely academic interest. Fuelled by major investments from governments and companies, quantum technologies are maturing towards commercial products. Has the time come for quantum-technology start-ups to transform global business?
In the Nature/Entrepreneur First Innovation Forum in Quantum Technologies, we selected seven talented young quantum physicists to answer this question. Over two months, we trained them in conceiving and assessing business ideas in quantum technologies. On 6 May 2016, these ideas had to weather the scrutiny of a panel from industry and academia (see below for details of the panel).
Amir Feizpour and Kris Kaczmarek from the University of Oxford presented LinQ, a business idea based on technology to easily link quantum computers. Promoting a silicon-based qubit architecture with their start-up QuLeap, Guilherme Tosi and Vivien Schmitt from the University of New South Wales have the ambition to compete with tech giants like Google and IBM in building hardware for a universal quantum computer. Ying Lia Li from University College London presented a novel type of optomechanics-based accelerometer, which could find use in the defence industry for damage monitoring or in the space industry. As current digital signatures could become unsafe once we have quantum computers, Ryan Amiri from Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh promoted a business idea based on quantum-safe unconditionally secure signatures. Finally, Andrea Rocchetto from the University of Oxford presented a start-up idea that aims to develop quantum machine learning algorithms.
As the comments from the critical panel members and the discussion of these business ideas showed, commercialization of quantum technologies is by no means straightforward and it will take bold and brilliant young entrepreneurs to rise up to this challenge.
Professor Polina Bayvel (University College London, Head of Optical Networks Group)
Professor Khaled Karrai (Co-founder and Scientific Director of attocube)
Sir Peter Knight FRS (The Kavli Royal Society, Imperial College)
Dr Richard Murray (Emerging Technologies and Industries, Innovate UK)
Dr Hartmut Neven (Director of Engineering at Google, Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory)
Dr Gregoire Ribordy (Founder and CEO of ID Quantique)
Dr Frances Saunders CB FREng FRInstP (President of the Institute of Physics 2013–2015)
About Entrepreneur First
Entrepreneur First (EF) was founded in 2011 by Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck to help top technical talent build world-class tech start-ups in London. It is Europe’s leading early-stage investor in deep technology companies. It is the only programme in the world to consider candidates on the basis of their technical ability and helps them to build high-growth technology companies from scratch, often before they have a team or a developed idea. The full-time programme provides individuals with pre-seed funding, mentoring and advice from the EF team and some of the UK’s top entrepreneurs, as well as office space and legal and administrative support, so that each cohort has the best possible environment to meet potential co-founders and launch their start-ups. The programme has so far helped 300 people to build 75 companies who have been funded by some of the world’s leading venture investors, including Balderton Capital, Index Ventures; Episode 1, Octopus Investments and Y Combinator.
About Innovate UK
Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board. It funds, supports and connects innovative businesses to accelerate sustainable economic growth. We know that taking a new idea to market is a challenge. We fund, support and connect innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable economic growth.