Oxford Quantum Circuits launches quantum computing in the cloud

Profile picture for user cmiddleton By Chris Middleton July 20, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
We speak to the ambitious CEO of a promising UK start-up and university spin-out, Oxford Quantum Circuits.

Image representing quantum physics
(Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay )

Start-up Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC) has launched the UK's first homegrown Quantum Computing as-a-Service (QCaaS) platform, making the first quantum computer built in the UK with proprietary technology accessible to enterprises and strategic partners.

OQC's patented Coaxmon superconducting qubit array uses a 3D architecture that the company says will make quantum computing much easier to scale than other architectures for new commercial applications.

The move is part of a trend within the sector to put quantum processing in the cloud within a suite of enterprise applications. Google, AWS, Microsoft, and others, all have a presence in a space opened in 2016 when IBM made an early quantum processor available as an on-demand service.

Spun out of Oxford University in 2017, OQC believes its private-cloud approach and focus on industries such as financial services and cybersecurity give it real commercial potential, supported by the UK's diverse and growing network of quantum start-ups in applications, hardware, sensors, and more.

Under the now defunct Industrial Strategy and its COVID-era replacement, the Plan for Growth, quantum computing is a strategic priority for the UK, along with related technologies, such as quantum applications, sensors, communications, and timing.

Dr Ilana Wisby is OQC's CEO. She believes the UK has the potential to establish a genuine leadership position in this fast-emerging field, despite a handful of American behemoths' ability to throw dollars at solving problems.

She says:

Throwing money at things does not always win. With quantum computing it will help, of course, but it's not going to determine who is the winner. The key word is leadership. And with anything new, there is a huge opportunity to lead. The UK has led with the pioneering Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and a pioneering strategy led by the government, and we can now lead in creating and winning in this sector.

There's probably 19, 20, or more companies in the UK that are focused on this kind of deep-tech quantum technology delivery, whether that is software or hardware. At OQC, we just spun out earlier, we are more mature as a company, and with our strategy and the core technology, we've been able to scale and deliver this product to market sooner and effectively, so we are the first platform.

We're seeing quantum companies attracted to the UK, as an epicentre for the industry. We are not afraid of the competition. What we have from universities is incredible innovation, which will help us make sure that we can scale effectively and deliver high-performance quantum computers at significantly lower cost.

Dr Wisby has a quantum physics PhD herself, but saw a more exciting path in entrepreneurship than in academia - evidenced by OQC launching its Series A funding round last week on the back of the cloud announcement. She explains:

I got frustrated with the academic environment, and the impacts that I could make with that, and found my love, entrepreneurship, through an internship while I was writing my thesis. I did work with two start-ups very closely linked to deep tech and was able to see how I could take technology that was coined and ideated within a university environment, but help pull it out and towards having a real-world impact.

Little impact from Brexit

Given the increasing trend to spin ventures out of the UK's universities - in areas such as quantum tech, AI, and robotics - are entrepreneurship and academia still sitting in separate worlds? Or are they increasingly intertwined?

Yes, absolutely right [they are intertwined]. I sit on an advisory board, which is all about helping, particularly with diversity, to ensure that we're promoting entrepreneurship. I do think it's a trend, supported by credible funds that are able to recognise and help high potential, and take that to fruition.

Sciences, fundamentally, are so important for the UK ecosystem. And I think people will look more to science and as an opportunity and be excited by it, to bring it out and make an impact with it.

Has Brexit made that task harder, given that many start-ups' route to new markets has been through Europe, while research, collaboration, and funding opportunities have come from the continent too? She says:

We haven't seen any impact so far. I know there was some concern on the European side with Horizon, but that has been resolved. We have got money and the UK's strategy towards quantum continues to be pioneering. There is still good funding and support for this space coming from the government, and we are incredibly appreciative of that.

The results certainly seem to speak for themselves. She says:

We are seeing a lot more end-market interest now. We have several projects with enterprise customers that I'm not able to talk about yet, but there is a lot of interest - in cybersecurity, finance, pharmaceutical, and other trend areas. Forward-thinking enterprises are making sure they get first-mover advantage and are actively engaging with quantum as a disruptive technology.

Being able to work with customers is important, to understand their needs so we can make sure that the quantum computer as a service we're delivering is built to their specifications. We're open, but it's in Beta, so it's still a collaborative activity.

We are particularly interested in talking to enterprise users that have problems where we can have an impact, so we can start to do things that haven't been possible before, and which one day will lead to really high-impact applications.

My take

Great news for the UK, and a sign that the country's entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, in the hands of a young, ambitious, and, increasingly, women-led group of innovators.

• The first company to access OQC's cloud platform - for its IronBridge quantum cybersecurity demonstrator - will be 2014 start-up Cambridge Quantum Computing, another spin-out from the UK's varsity system. In June, that company merged with Honeywell Quantum Solutions to create an integrated provider that will remain in Cambridge, backed by US industry contacts.