Originally published on the Silicon Roundabout community blog
Quantum computing is arguably the most exciting field of computing that technologists are experimenting with today.
At the end of 2020, Silicon Roundabout hosted an event where we explore what’s in store for and what to expect from this technology at the far end of Deep Tech.
Our guest speakers for the event were Andrew Lord of British Telecoms (BT) and Olivia Nicoletti of Angel Co Fund. We also invited three startup companies to share what they are currently working on: AegiQ, AVE, and Universal Quantum.
Here is what we discussed:
The State of the Technology
BT’s Andrew Lord started us off with a quick overview of quantum computing and the dimensions into which the technology is growing. Andrew cited developments taking place in these key areas.
- Timing – improvements in the precision of timekeeping.
- Imaging and sensing – increasingly accurate ways of detecting and visualising phenomena.
- Computing and simulation – powerful new ways to deal with complex computing problems and optimisation.
- Communication – requires an entirely new approach to securing transmissions.
Of these, BT discerns immense potentials in computing and communication. Andrew expects that quantum computing will push computing to unprecedented levels, allowing us to finally deal with cumbersome computing problems that can impact humanity. But he warned that the technology also can break current cryptography, rendering sensitive data vulnerable.
Fortunately, this allows us to fight fire with fire. In this case, we fight quantum computing with quantum computing. Andrew pointed out that the same technology that threatens data security also allows us to creatively deal with the threat. BT are currently working on distributing cryptographic key data on single photons of light and creating ultra-secure networks.
The Business of Quantum Computing
In a brief but insightful interview, Dr. Olivia Nicoletti, a physicist and investor at Angel Co Fund, revealed a couple of essential details from an investor’s perspective. When asked what she thinks makes an excellent quantum computing startup, Olivia mentioned that since revenues are off the table, investors look at the technology as the main selling point. Equally important, according to her, is the team behind the technology. She also said that it’s important that startups see the “big picture’ and how the technology aims to deliver value. Are the founders talking to the right people in the right target industries?
Olivia thinks that startups are exciting because they tend to boldly experiment with different technologies. Comparatively, established players tend to be locked into in-house technology that has already been proven to work. She also projected that the areas of sensing an**d imaging will realise acceptable returns in around 2 years, although these will be far from unicorn levels. She expects more substantial returns in 5 years from developments in quantum computing.
Her advice to founders? There is a lot of interest in deep tech, and quantum computing certainly qualifies in this category. And so, this is a good time to look for money and secure funding. However, she said that founders need to clarify their unique selling proposition. They cannot rely on providing glowing revenue forecasts. No one can. So they must communicate the value and potential of the technology in other ways. Highlighting how the startup’s management team will deliver is one good way to do this.
She also stressed the importance of having a clear and realistic exit strategy. This is often an afterthought for founders but is one that investors consider very crucial. Finally, it is important also for the startup to educate the investors. While emerging funds are increasingly involving people with tech backgrounds (Olivia herself is a physicist), the field is still dominated by non-tech people and bankers. They need to understand what value the technology brings and how it can impact the market.
A Peek into the Future
Rounding up the event were quick and brief presentations from three exciting quantum tech startups.
- Maksym Sich of AegiQ talked about their work in securing communication with quantum light.
- Edward Ryall of AVE gave us a crash course in molecular engineering and how his company uses quantum computing to create chimera polymer.
- Winfried K. Hensinger of Universal Quantum builds real-world quantum computer hardware capable of processing millions of Qubits using trapped ions.
Quantum computing is undoubtedly the direction where technology is headed. The science is solid and we are beginning to see wonderful new applications emerge. Andrew Lord and has given us a clear picture of what the technology can give us. And as Dr. Olivia Nicoletti pointed out, there is much interest in this field and with investments most likely available, we are likely to see an explosive growth spurt soon.