10 hot quantum-computing startups to watch

Well-funded young companies are tackling hardware, software, algorithms, security, analytics and more as they work to make quantum computing a reality in enterprises.

Quantum Computing
Y. Colombe / NIST

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.

1Qbit

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.

IonQ

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.

ISARA

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.

QC Ware

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.  

Q-CTRL

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.

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