Support the underdogs, the start-ups thinking about how to use quantum technologies in radically new ways.
Backing up, it’s much harder for major industry to assimilate new technology and for good reason. By the time they get to the point of being a major company they’ve largely streamlined their operations to make widget 1, 2, and 3 as efficiently as possible. Few have the funds or vision to setup a true, arms-length, blue sky innovations team free from the constraints of the current business.
On the other hand, this is a start-up’s bread and butter. They are the motivated and slightly crazy people with no preconceived notions of where and how quantum technologies should be used. They will be the ones that change the world with it.
Indeed, this is how innovation largely works in the business world now. Large companies have shed much of their R&D departments and instead sit back and watch the start-up scene. They patiently wait for new ideas to catch on and then strategically acquire the start-up that developed them.
So, if you want the UK to succeed, support quantum technology start-ups and those programmes around the UK that are fostering and enabling these new start-ups. And if you want to support one of the best, support the Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre (QTEC). Quite honestly submitted on a bit of a punt to the UK National Quantum Technologies programme, it was courageously funded by some far-sighted people at the EPSRC. People who likely stuck their necks out and took quite a risk in its funding. Now about to pass almost 6:1 return on its initial funding, it sadly is not yet refunded in the next phase of the UK’s National Quantum programme.
Some might call me biased, given that I was part of the team who wrote the original bid and played a small part in helping to setup QTEC alongside their fantastic team. And that’s probably fair. But at the same time, I’m now part of a cutting-edge, seed funded, quantum encryption company called KETS which came through QTEC’s cohort 1. And I can honestly say we, and 10+ other start-ups that have now gone through the programme, wouldn’t be here if not for QTEC.
A bit ahead of its time, it took a few years for others to understand what QTEC is. But now about to go into its 4th and final cohort, QTEC was vastly oversubscribed with the number of people that want to develop their quantum technology start-up through it. It would be a ridiculous shame to let it evaporate into the ether just as it’s hitting its stride.
QTEC has taken no equity in the start-ups it has helped and has no conditions on where the start-up needs to be based. Their mission is just to help build the new quantum technology industry however they can. My only regret is that we’re not yet at a place in KETS where we can donate and give back to the programme we owe much of our success to. The typical lifecycle for that is usually closer to 7-10 years. But nevertheless we aim to do just that if it’s still around, this is the virtuous entrepreneur’s cycle that I love so much. It just needs a little bit more time to close.
So what does the UK need to succeed and what is the call to action? Support the start-ups and the people that help them get there. It’s people that build things not buildings. It’s people that change the world. QTEC and many others like them have made incredibly strides helping to build a thriving new quantum technologies industry, government and industry should support them to finish the job.
Chris Erven, CEO at KETS Quantum Security.
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