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“We hope that within a few years, our processor will become the standard in the field”
Quantum technology startup QuantWare has raised 1,15 million euros to develop scalable quantum processors for boosting the emerging field of quantum computing. We spoke with co-founder and Director of Engineering Alessandro Bruno to learn more about his journey. He is the second founder to launch through the LightSpeed program of Quantum Delta NL, so we got his insights on this special project too.
The quantum processor
Quantum computing is seen as the holy grail for solving problems that ordinary computers cannot solve. It exceeds the ultimately limited computing power of classical computers. A worldwide quantum race is therefore underway to realize the first practically useful quantum computer. The ‘heart’ of the quantum computer is formed by the quantum processor. This processor calculates with quantum bits, or qubits, which, in contrast to bits in the traditional computer, can simultaneously have a value of 0 and 1. This means that a quantum computer can carry out calculations which lie beyond the possibilities of ordinary (‘classical’) computers. In short, quantum computers can efficiently solve complex problems that ordinary computers cannot solve in a realistic time frame. This makes quantum computers very suitable for research into new medicines or new materials that reduce CO2 emissions, for example.
However, there are still a number of hurdles to take before quantum computers can be used in practise. Research teams and startups all over the world are therefore trying to remove these hurdles in various ways. To be able to take their research further, access to certain hardware is required, in particular to quantum processors and the related hardware. At present, this hardware is not sufficiently available: it has to be supplied by ‘friendly’ research institutes, for example, or the researcher has to acquire the skills to manufacture the necessary hardware him or herself. “Delivery times and learning curves of 6 months or more are not uncommon, which cost valuable time in the rapidly developing quantum field”, Alessandro Bruno, co-founder and Director of Engineering at QuantWare explains. “In addition, no ultimate solution has yet been found to increase the calculating power of the quantum processor so that it is large enough for the first commercial quantum computer.”
QuantWare aims to solve these bottlenecks and unlock the path to broad quantum advantage by specializing in the development of quantum hardware that is both scalable and rapidly deliverable and meets the requirements of the customer – often a researcher. Alessandro: “Our primary focus is on the delivery of standardized quantum processors, enabling research to be reproduced by various parties, resulting in an acceleration of the development of the field. In addition, we aim to use our innovative technologies to greatly increase processor processing power compared to current processors, which will bring quantum computing one step closer to practical use for society.”
Within the impaQT consortium, QuantWare also works together with other Dutch quantum startups to build well-interfaced building blocks of a quantum computer. Traditionally quantum computer development (QC) has been about one entity manufacturing and sourcing all components. In order to accelerate quantum computer development, impaQT envisions a modular approach: independent companies focus on different parts of the stack.
Alessandro Bruno: “This will allow quantum computer manufacturers to easily integrate subsystems. At the moment it is not possible, for instance, to purchase quantum amplifiers or quantum processors. The facilities that can produce them now are very eager to keep the technology to themselves. We want to change that by democratizing quantum technology, so that startups, academia, or companies can plan their research by ordering hardware from us, instead of having to build and maintain the expensive infrastructure themselves.”
It was Alessandro’s passion to enable the development of quantum technology that inspired him to launch the business, together with his co-founder Matthijs Rijlaarsdam, though his journey wasn’t always necessarily leading to this point. “I have a background in telecommunications engineering. When I was younger I was very intrigued about wireless communications and the role of information in the world. But as an engineer, I quickly faced the limits of my field: it was all about optimizing details and never having a broader approach or challenging the status quo. I started to do a PhD in physics to ask more fundamental questions. That’s when I discovered the field of quantum mechanics and its weirdness. I knew immediately: this is what I want to devote my scientific career to.”
Fast forward 12 years and Alessandro is widely respected as a quantum engineer with over 10 years’ experience producing hundreds of Quantum Processing Units at the world-leading DiCarlo lab at QuTech and contributing to many significant scientific articles. But as impressive as his scientific record is, he is now also an entrepreneur and that brings its own specific challenges. “I’ve had companies in the past, but they weren’t companies that were scaling or bringing in funding. Being an entrepreneur at a scalable company is so different from what I’ve done before and very different from working in the scientific world. In science it’s all about facts and results, but in developing your company you are also encouraged to bring out the vision to create value over the next 10 years and think about operational excellence. That is really something I had to learn. Fortunately, I have a co-founder, Managing Director Matthijs Rijlaarsdam, who complements me and is very skilled at strategic decision-making and project management, with extensive experience also as a consultant. That helps.”
What is also key, says Alessandro, is the support from the LightSpeed program, which is the personal support program for promising quantum startups at every stage, initiated by Quantum Delta NL. LightSpeed supports startups with everything from fundraising, rapid scenario planning, cap table assessment and finding investors. Alessandro: “That really kick-started our entrepreneurial skills. LightSpeed creates the optimal conditions for quantum technology startups to sustainably grow. It tackles some of the hardest problems we are facing by providing market-driven acceleration, regardless of the stage the company is in, and by giving us access to their growing network of toptier investors.”
In addition to personal support, the Lightspeed Fund 1 which is part of the program, awards pre-seed tickets to early-stage startups active in the field of quantum technology for approximately €50,000 per ticket (the “Pre-Seed Tickets”). A SAFE note has been developed especially for these investments. This entitles the investor to future shares, but does not have to be repaid, as with a convertible money loan, if a share round fails to materialize. Alessandro: ‘This gives us maximum flexibility in the growth of our company.”
QuantWare joined the program through Quantum Delta NL’s Investor in Residence Ton van ’t Noordende who spearheads LightSpeed, and he’s been a great help, Alessandro says. “Ton has an extensive network and he has put us in contact with a really large number of potential investors. He has a clear view on what our needs are, and who matches our potential. He’s also making sure that we are not making mistakes that would, for instance, jeopardize the momentum we are creating.”
For that momentum is now. Thanks to the participation of LightSpeed, QuantWare has received an investment of 1,150,000 euro from, amongst others, VC FORWARD.One, proof-of-concept fund UNIIQ, Rabobank and LightSpeed Fund I (the 50K). And with that funding the future looks very bright for QuantWare. “This investment will allow us to further scale up the production of quantum processors and develop new innovative technologies that will greatly increase the computing power of the processors. We hope that within a few years our processor will become the standard in the field, which can be used in various laboratories around the world. We are ready to take up the challenge…”