By Mustafa Rampuri, Director of Enterprise Services and Director of the Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre.
The pace of the quantum revolution is certainly picking up, with more machines and devices beginning to show useful applications, opening a chink in the curtains to reveal a whole vista of opportunity that will enable society to tackle some of its hardest challenges and unlock new value for businesses.
However, the throttle on this revolution remains, frustratingly, only partially open.
This is not because there is unwillingness to invest; there have been numerous high value investments of late including our own QTIC members, KETS Quantum Security and QLM Technologies raising each £3.1m in investment, and University of Bristol start-up PsiQuantum raising over $230m with Microsoft as one of their investors.
Despite this, raising funds is still really hard, and I don’t want to diminish these enormous successes in the face of very tough competition. Kudos belongs to those who have done this.
The quantum funding question
It’s noteworthy that the UK quantum academic community is braced for a lower than hoped budget settlement in the next Comprehensive Spending Review. I’m a keen supporter and advocate of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, but perhaps the jewel in the crown is not necessarily the creation of new IP, devices and technologies, it is the concentration of talent that has now built up in the UK academic institutions. And this needs some careful consideration.
Supporting the flow of talent between academia and business
So, herein lies one of the foundational challenges for an emerging new industry – a lack of appropriately skilled people. A lack of UK research grant funding will inevitably mean fewer research positions in universities resulting in highly skilled and talented individuals coming on the job market just as companies are crying out for them. Great you may say, problem solved! Timing is everything, however.
In contrast, Europe is seeing colossal investments in quantum tech, with a European Commission €1 billion flagship programme in 2019, and France and Germany investing €1.8 billion and €2 billion respectively by 2025. And the well-funded US quantum giants aren’t resting either, with outposts popping up across the world pulling in talent and creating a value pipeline for US business.
Can the UK compete?
So, here we are, the eyes are upon us and it is our time! But how is the UK to compete in this increasingly competitive environment? How do we make sure that the phrase “invented here and exploited elsewhere” does not get etched into the history books for UK quantum?
From my perspective a UK market failure in quantum technologies is easy to predict but can also be easily avoided with even comparatively modest sums of additional government stimulus to secure our place in the quantum revolution because the UK has already invested when the “stock price was low”.
The UK government needs to remain steadfast in its commitments to continued investment, because we need to provide new channels and pathways that attract and retain talent in the UK, to enable people to continue to be entrepreneurs, founders and the “Fairchildren”, and to ensure that existing businesses have unparalleled access to university researchers and innovators. It’s essential that important parts of the ecosystem such as the National Quantum Computing Centre, The National Physical Laboratory Quantum Metrology Institute and the Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre remain properly resourced so that we can support businesses, provide stickiness for talent in the ecosystem and give a wrapper for our efforts.
Now we are beyond the point of no return, with everything to play for, it’s imperative we double our efforts to encourage the UK government to back quantum technologies, in what will be known as the crux moment for this new industry that I’m certain has all the attributes to help level up and build back better.
The Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre (QTIC) is at the heart of the wave of quantum entrepreneurs, and we are here to incubate, support and help garner investment and people, supply chains and customers for these businesses. We are open and looking forward to seeing you!