10 hot quantum-computing startups to watch
- 10 December, 2019 09:45
Quantum computing is still in its infancy, but you wouldn’t know it judging from the investments pouring into the space.
Startup Rigetti has raised nearly $120 million in VC funding; the U.S. Department of Energy has committed $218 million to advance quantum information sciences; and incumbents such as Microsoft and IBM have launched accelerator programs for quantum startups.
Analysts are already bullish on the potential of this technology. Research and Markets estimates that revenue from quantum technology will top $13 billion by 2023, while ReportLinker predicts that the quantum cryptography alone will grow from $101 million in 2018 to $506 million by 2023.
2019 looks like it could be an inflection-point year for turning quantum computing from theory to fact. IBM, D-Wave and Rigetti all have commercial quantum computing products on the market now, and several startups in this top-10 lineup have already landed customers.
The startups outlined here are developing everything from quantum semiconductors and quantum cyber-security tools to cloud-based, quantum-powered applications for the enterprise.
Year founded: 2012
Funding: $45 million (Canadian)
Headquarters: Vancouver, B.C.
CEO: Andrew Fursman, a Founding Partner of Minor Capital.
What they do: 1QBit develops applications that are intended to scale up in step with advances in quantum computing. 1QBit’s SDK gives developers the necessary tools to test and develop hardware-agnostic applications. The SDK includes an interface to connect to quantum hardware, a tool that transforms problems into polynomial form, and pre-built algorithms that can be customized. 1QBit also offers a cloud-based service, 1Qloud that serves as a computational bridge to quantum-computing hardware.
Key Differentiator: 1QBit is focused on applications, algorithms and APIs. Other quantum cloud startups may have similar messaging, but 1QBit’s decision to plug the gaps between classical computing and quantum computing is already paying off. For instance, the startup recently began working with NatWest and Fujitsu to leverage quantum computing to determine optimal investment portfolio compositions. 1QBit is also working with Accenture Labs and Biogen to develop a quantum-enabled molecular-comparison application that could improve advanced molecular design, an innovation that could speed up development of drugs to treat complex neurological conditions.
Competitors include: Google, IBM, Rigetti, Intel, Microsoft, IonQ, QC Ware, Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC), Xanadu and Zapata Computing
Customers include: DowDupont and Biogen
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: 1QBit has the funding, talent, and early wins needed to establish itself as a front-runner in the quantum cloud niche.
In November 2017, 1QBit announced the close of a $45 million (Canadian) Series B round led by Fujitsu Limited, with additional strategic investment by Accenture, Allianz, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and CME Ventures. The amount raised in the Series A round has not been disclosed. Strategic investments from Fujitsu and Accenture have already resulted in collaborations to build financial and drug-discovery tools.
The founding team has a financial background. Prior to 1QBit, President and co-founder Landon Down was a founding partner of both Agentis Capital Partners and Minor Capital. CEO and co-founder Andrew Fursman was a founding partner of Minor Capital, and before that he co-founded Satellogic Nano-Satellites and Cloudtel Communications.
1QBit is part of both IBM’s Q Network and Microsoft’s quantum development program for startups, which should help it carve out a niche in the quantum-technology market. Finally, 1QBit has something that most quantum computing startups do not: named customers.
Year founded: 2016
Funding: $22 million
Headquarters: College Park, Md.
CEO: Christopher Monroe, who is also Bice-Zorn Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland.
What they do: IonQ is developing full-stack quantum computing products. IonQ’s hardware is based on trapped ion technology that CEO Chris Monroe developed at the University of Maryland in collaboration with CTO Jusang Kim, who was at Duke.
The first quantum computers on the market – from the likes of IBM, Google, and Rigetti – create qubits on silicon chips that are cooled to nearly absolute zero. While this approach is said to benefit from the mature manufacturing technologies of the semiconductor industries, IonQ argues that solid-state quantum computers have proven to be unstable and error-prone, limiting them to short and simple calculations.
IonQ’s trapped-ion technology suspends individual atoms of the rare earth element ytterbium. Those atoms are the quantum bits (qubits) in IonQ’s system. Precisely aimed laser beams store information, process it and retrieve it from atoms.
Key Differentiator: Co-founders Monroe and Kim are longtime collaborators, best-known for their work on ion-trap experiments. Ion trapping differentiates IonQ’s tech from competitors. Trapped ions represent one of multiple approaches being explored to power quantum computers.
According to IonQ, most of the incumbents getting into this market are attempting to leverage their legacy core semiconductor technologies by creating qubits with superconducting circuits. IonQ argues that trapped ion technology, which uses lasers to cool and isolate individual ions, will leapfrog over retrofitted legacy technology because trapped ions are identical, stable, easier to control, and, therefore, they will scale with better performance and greater predictability.
In December 2018, the startup announced that it had successfully built two quantum computers based on ion trapping. These quantum computers will be available to researchers sometime early this year.
Competitors include: IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Rigetti, Ankh.1 and Xanadu
Customers include: IonQ says that during this calendar year, it will launch a private beta to make its quantum computers available to researchers and industry.
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: IonQ launched in 2016 with $2 million in seed funding from New Enterprise Associates and a license to commercialize core quantum computing technology the founders developed while at the University of Maryland and Duke University.
In July 2017, IonQ locked down an additional $20 million in funding from GV, Amazon Web Services and NEA. In December IonQ announced its first two trapped-ion quantum computers, and the startup claims it has achieved record performance for quantum calculations. The founders intend to publish the results in peer-reviewed journals sometime in Q1.
Year founded: 2015
Funding: $21.5 million
Headquarters: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
CEO: Scott Totzke, who previously served as senior vice president of enterprise and security at Huawei, and as a senior vice president at BlackBerry.
What they do: ISARA is developing security software to protect against threats posed by the enormous power of quantum computers. The startup currently offers two products: Radiate and Catalyst.
The Radiate Security Solution Suite is a quantum-safe cryptographic library and set of implementation tools that OEMs and governments can use to migrate existing commercial products and networks to quantum-safe security. The foundation of Radiate is a set of quantum-safe, speed-optimized algorithms ready for use in current security protocols and products.
Catalyst is an X.509 digital-certificate extension that enables developers to integrate quantum-safe security into existing certificate- and public-key-infrastructure- (PKI) management products.
Key Differentiator: Security experts predict that within a decade, quantum computers will break current public-key cryptography because they will be able to easily factor large numbers. To prepare for this inevitability, cryptographers are working to design quantum-resistant public-key algorithms.
ISARA claims that its Radiate Security Solution Suite is capable of protecting traditional networks against quantum threats now – before those threats are technologically feasible.
Competitors include: IBM, Microsoft, EvolutionQ and QuantiCor Security
Customers include: BlackBerry
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: ISARA secured $21.5 million in Series A funding from Shasta Ventures and Quantum Valley Investments. Compared to other startups evaluated for this roundup ISARA’s executives have more industry experience than many of its peers, which often rely heavily on academics with little corporate experience.
While CEO Totzke’s time spent at Huawei will need to be addressed soon due to recent revelations about Huawei’s key role in Chinese espionage, systematic IP theft and money laundering, he also has relevant leadership experience with organizations not in the counterintelligence spotlight.
Totzke, CTO Mike Brown and COO Mark Pecen all served in senior leadership roles at BlackBerry, while other team members gained executive experience at Mocana, Telenav, and Certicom.
ISARA is also grabbing an early leadership position in the quantum-safe market. BlackBerry is an early named customer, and the startup is also partnering with Cisco, DigiCert, Gemalto and others on quantum-safe digital-certificate technology and standards.
Year founded: 2014
Funding: $6.5 million
Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
CEO: Matt Johnson. Prior to QC Ware, Johnson was a managing director at Apollo Management, and he started his career as an Air Force officer.
What they do: QC Ware is developing a quantum cloud-computing platform for enterprise applications. QC Ware’s software is designed to be hardware-agnostic – compatible with any quantum-computing hardware.
The QC Ware platform is intended to solve problems in combinatorial optimization and machine learning that traditional high-performance-computing systems can’t tackle. Using the QC Ware platform, scientists, researchers and developers can integrate quantum computing into their existing computational workflows or they can start developing new applications on top of current-generation quantum-computing hardware.
Key Differentiator: QC Ware is collaborating with both Google and IBM. It has integrated its platform with Cirq, an open-source quantum-computing framework from Google. Cirq will serve as the back-end for QC Ware’s quantum cloud platform. Cirq provides a means for quantum programmers to specify and run quantum circuits, and it will serve as the official interface to Google’s prospective quantum-computing cloud services.
QC Ware has also joined IBM’s Q Network, which provides participating organizations with cloud-based access to IBM quantum expertise, resources and even access to IBM’s quantum computing system, IBM Q System.
Competitors include: 1QBit, D-Wave Systems, Microsoft and CQC
Customers include: This startup has yet to name any customers.
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: QC Ware is backed by a solid round of Series A funding led by Citi and Goldman Sachs and joined by Airbus Ventures, D. E. Shaw Ventures and Fenox Venture Capital. It has also lined up partnerships that should serve as force multipliers for this young company.
Its collaboration with Google has accelerated QC Ware’s development of a quantum cloud platform, and it is one of a handful of startups invited into IBM’s Q Network, an emerging quantum ecosystem. The startup is also entering the enterprise cloud-computing market early enough to gain first-mover advantages.
Year founded: 2017
Funding: The startup has raised seed funding from Sequoia Capital, Data Collective, Horizons Ventures and Main Sequence Ventures. According to CEO Michael Biercuk, Q-CTRL’s seed round was a “multi-million dollar round at an undisclosed level.”
Headquarters: Sydney, Australia
CEO: Michael J. Biercuk, former professor of quantum physics and quantum technology at the University of Sydney
What they do: Q-CTRL develops tools that help quantum-computing developers stabilize their quantum hardware against decoherence (the loss of “quantum-ness”).
According to Q-CTRL, decoherence and hardware error work in tandem to limit the ability of existing quantum computers to tackle practical industry problems, as well as slowing progress towards large-scale quantum machines.
By eliminating decoherence, Q-CTRL’s software helps its customers reduce the errors that limit quantum-computing hardware performance. Q-CTRL’s software helps customers create lab-validated drop-in replacements for single and multi-qubit gates to improve computational performance.
Q-CTRL’s flagship product is Black Opal, cloud-based quantum control software that reduces qubit decoherence and errors at the physical layer. Next on their roadmap is a software suite to help quantum developers automate workflows.
Key Differentiator: Early quantum computers are unstable and fragile because the systems can be so easily disrupted by interference from other particles. Thus, these early quantum computers can only function in supercooled environments. Products like control tools from Q-CTRL will be needed for quantum computing to scale up to reach its commercial potential.
Competitors include: Q-CTRL appears to be the first mover in quantum control software. However, academics at the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech and the University of the Saarlands are working on quantum-control solutions.
Customers include: Bleximo
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: Being a first mover often means you’ve moved too quickly, too early. However, the quantum-computing space is attracting substantial investments, and the consensus among the quantum experts is that big breakthroughs are just around the corner.
Usually, “breakthroughs coming soon” is red flag, too, but there has been steady progress recently, such as IBM unveiling its first commercial quantum computer at CES 2019. Q-CTRL also has an early on-the-record customer, and is part of IBM’s Q Network, which will grant the startup access to IBM’s quantum-computing systems.
Finally, Q-CTRL says that many quantum-chip producers have in-house quantum control tools, but these tools are very basic and don’t do all that much to eliminate decoherence. If you’re going to be a first mover, it’s good to target a real-world problem that already has a solution, but a solution that is universally considered subpar.
Year founded: 2014
Funding: $8.5 million
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
CEO: Michael Brett, who formerly served as COO of the Shoal Group
What they do: QxBranch delivers enterprise quantum computing tools and simulation systems for enterprise users. These are the same quantum computing tools that QxBranch is using to develop its own applications.
QxBranch also provides professional services, working with enterprises to develop quantum-powered applications to solve industry challenges. The first quantum-powered application QxBranch offers is enterprise predictive analytics software. Verticals the startup currently targets include finance, cyber-security, biotech, energy and sports.
Key Differentiator: CEO Michael Brett points to what he calls “explainable data analytics,” or data-analytics tools capable of delivering business insights without the need for expensive data scientists or quantum-computing experts.
Competitors include: QC Ware, 1Qbit, Strangeworks and CQC for Quantum Computing software. Palantir, McKinsey, PWC, Deloitte, Accenture and SAP, among others, for data analytics.
Customers include: UBS, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Merck
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: In June 2018, QxBranch closed a $4.1 million Series A round led by Dymon Asia Ventures and Alpha Intelligence Capital (AIC). Other investors included WorldQuant Ventures and the Maryland Venture Fund. CEO Brett also has a VC background, which can’t hurt when it comes time to raise another round.
With named customers and partnerships with the likes of Microsoft, IBM and Rigetti Computing, QxBranch is positioned right in the middle of the quantum gold rush.
Year founded: 2013
Funding: $119.5 million
Headquarters: Berkeley, Calif.
CEO: Chad Rigetti, who previously worked in the quantum-computing group at IBM, where he was Technical Lead for 3D superconducting quantum computing.
What they do: Rigetti develops semiconductors, hardware and software for quantum computing. Its full-stack quantum vision starts with superconducting quantum integrated circuits. Rigetti operates a rapid prototyping fab called Fab-1 that enables it to not only quickly create semiconductors, but also to experiment with new designs for 3D integrated quantum circuits.
Rigetti packages and deploys those chips in a low-temperature environment, building control systems to perform quantum-logic operations on them.
Quantum Cloud Services (QCS) is Rigetti’s quantum-first cloud-computing platform. With QCS, quantum processors are tightly integrated with classical computing infrastructure to deliver application-level performance that surpasses that which Rigetti says can be achieved with classical computing alone.
Rigetti’s first product, Forest, was released in 2017. Forest is a full-stack programming and execution environment for quantum computing. The Forest SDK includes a Quantum Virtual Machine (QVM), which runs locally, that developers can use to create algorithms for quantum computing.
Key Differentiator: Rigetti’s semiconductor fab and the ecosystem growing up around Forest have given the startup a head start on becoming the first one-stop shop for quantum computing.
Competitors include: IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, D-Wave, IonQ and Xanadu
Customers include: Forest is being used by Oak Ridge National Labs to simulate the structure of the nucleus of deuterium atoms, by Los Alamos National Lab to develop quantum computing algorithms, and several researchers are using Forest to research machine learning. The company says Forest has been used to run more than 65 million quantum-computing experiments.
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: Rigetti has strong VC backing, having raised $119.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Sutter Hill Ventures, Vy Capital and several others.
Founder and CEO Chad Rigetti entered the quantum-computing field early and worked with top talent. He not only worked at IBM in its quantum-computing group, but he also earned his Ph.D. from Yale, where he studied under quantum-computing pioneer Michel Devoret.
Fab-1 gives Rigetti the ability to experiment liberally and, when it strikes gold with one of those experiments, to iterate quickly. Rigetti was mentioned by many of the other startups either as a major competitor or a partner through Rigetti’s QCS Developer Partner Program. With QCS and Forest, Rigetti’s goal of building a quantum-computing ecosystem feels more substance than hype.
Year founded: 2017
Funding: $4 million
Headquarters: Austin, Texas
CEO: William Hurley. Prior to Strangeworks, Hurley founded Honest Dollar and sold it to Goldman Sachs.
What they do: Strangeworks is developing SaaS tools to help software developers, IT system managers and researchers take advantage of advances in quantum computing. As with a few other startups in this roundup, Strangeworks is inking a number of partnerships with the likes of IBM and Stack Overflow with the hopes that it can carve out its own niche in this market early. Other partners include Rigetti and CERN.
Key Differentiator: According to a company representative, Strangeworks’ mission is to “humanize quantum computing in order to demystify and democratize the technology.” This looks similar to the go-to-market strategy of the many SaaS players in Big Data, cloud, AI, etc. that seek to abstract away complexity in order to deliver benefits to a broader market.
This may sound like typical marketing spin, but the partnership with IBM, which grants access to IBM’s quantum-computing resources, and its partnership with Stack Overflow, which gives Strangeworks a foothold in the developer community, are the kind of steps a startup should take to transform its mission statement into reality.
Competitors include: IBM, Microsoft, Google, 1Qbit, Zapata Computing and QC Ware
Customers include: None announced
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: Strangeworks has secured $4 million in seed-round funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and including Ecliptic Capital, GreatPoint Ventures, Lux Capital, BoxGroup and Amplify Partners.
CEO William Hurley, COO David Cardona, and CTO Justin Youens were all involved in the sale of Honest Dollar, a digital retirement-account platform, to Goldman Sachs. Hurley also founded Chaotic Moon Studios, which was acquired by Accenture.
In a market as new as quantum computing, inking partnerships with the likes of IBM, CERN and Stack Overflow will help Strangeworks position itself in the middle of this evolving ecosystem.
Year founded: 2016
Funding: $9 million (Canadian)
Headquarters: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
CEO: Christian Weedbrook, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Queensland and held postdoctoral fellowships at both the University of Toronto and MIT.
What they do: Xanadu designs quantum photonic semiconductors. According to Xanadu, using photons rather than electrons to carry information and perform calculations gives its chips the ability to perform incredibly complex computations extremely fast. By integrating these photonic chips into existing hardware, Xanadu intends to provide full-stack quantum computing products. Xanadu also offers three open-source software products: Penny Lane, a machine learning platform for quantum computers; Strawberry Fields, a full-stack Python library for designing, simulating and optimizing quantum optical circuits; and Blackbird, a quantum programming language.
Key Differentiator: Instead of using electrons to carry information and perform calculations, Xanadu uses photons. According to Xanadu, unlike electrons, photons are very stable and are almost unaffected by random noise from heat. As a result, Xanadu is able to use photonic chips to generate, control and measure photons in ways that enable extremely fast computations.
Competitors include: IBM, Microsoft, Google, Intel, D-Wave, Rigetti and IonQ
Customers include: Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto is using Strawberry Fields for its Quantum Machine Learning program.
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: Xanadu’s quantum photonic chips could be the breakthrough that pushes quantum computing out of the lab and into the mainstream enterprise. In the meantime, Xanadu is attracting developers with its open-source software and partnership with Creative Destruction Lab.
When Xanadu raised its $9 million (Canadian) seed round, it also attracted quantum-computing pioneer and MIT Professor Seth Lloyd to serve as its chief scientific adviser. In an industry still in its infancy, having heavy-hitting scientists in your corner certainly can’t hurt.
Year founded: 2017
Funding: $5.4 million
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
CEO: Christopher Savoie, who previously served as Chairman and CEO of GNI Group
What they do: According to a Zapata Computing representative, quantum hardware is approaching the limit where classical computers can no longer simulate the outcome of a quantum algorithm run on such hardware. This creates a “computational bottleneck.”
Zapata Computing develops software and algorithms that run on gate-model quantum computers. It also provides a set of tools that help developers create software and algorithms that are used to migrate workloads from classical computers to quantum circuits. These quantum circuits can then be executed on quantum hardware. Zapata also provides tools that help interpret the results of quantum measurements.
Key Differentiator: According to a Zapata spokesperson, Zapata’s team has “developed and published many of the fundamental algorithms that are useful on near-term quantum computers.” This class of algorithms – variational algorithms – can run on the “noisy” quantum computers being built today. Unlike the algorithms that require the fault-tolerant quantum computers that are expected in five to10 years, variational approaches are beginning to hit the market now.
Competitors include: Google, IBM, Rigetti, Intel, Microsoft, IonQ, QCWare, 1Qbit, CQC and Xanadu
Customers include: None announced.
Why they’re a hot startup to watch: Zapata Computing has raised a decent-sized seed round and has a founder who has guided a company to a successful IPO.
Zapata is backed by $5.4 million in seed funding, co-led by The Engine (the venture firm founded by MIT to invest in tech startups) and Boston-based Pillar VC, with participation from FF Science and Prelude Ventures. CEO Christopher Savoie founded the pharmaceutical company GNI Group and served as its chairman and CEO, leading it to a successful IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2007. Zapata’s focus on variational quantum algorithms could help it carve out a niche in the market while other competitors are still stuck in the R&D phase.