Event round-up: What does the tech sector need from the Quantum Strategy?
On 16 March, techUK hosted a virtual panel discussion alongside UK Government Business Energy and Industrial Strategy focused on how the Government’s Quantum Strategy could support the growth of the quantum industry as it moves towards commercialisation.
The panel included:
- Pippa Sharma, Deputy Director of Technology Strategy & Security in the Business Growth Directorate at BEIS
- Per Nyberg, Vice President, Strategic Markets at Quantum Machines
- Stuart Woods, Managing Director at Oxford Instruments
- Sue Daley, Director of Technology and Innovation at techUK (Chair)
You can watch the full webinar here, or read our summary of the key insights below:
Please note that the below is a summary of the event, and readers are encouraged to watch the webinar to understand the full details of the discussion.
Sue Daley opened the meeting by setting the discussion in the context of the Government’s post-Brexit white paper that committed to developing a world-leading commercial quantum ecosystem, and the recent Quantum Strategy call for evidence published by BEIS.
In their opening remarks the panel focused on the importance of developing the quantum ecosystem in the UK and stimulating the demand side of the industry.
Pippa Sharma set out key elements of the Quantum Strategy, including R&D and commercialisation, supporting start-ups and scale-ups, developing the skills base, communicating the opportunity presented by quantum to the wider economy and building confidence to unlock innovation and investment.
Are we at inflection point for Quantum?
The discussion turned to how the Quantum Strategy could deliver that ambition for the UK and how we become an international leader in the industry.
Stuart Woods argued that we are at a pivotal moment for quantum technologies, not only in terms of our understanding of the science but also the democratisation of access to deep tech, through the capacity for cloud computing to give anyone in the world access to a quantum computer. With investment in infrastructure the UK has an opportunity to exploit this technology at a global scale, and the UK is in a good position to facilitate commercialisation.
Per Nyberg emphasised that the industry still very nascent but confidence in quantum is increasing. Identifying who will use quantum and for what purpose, and massive investment in the skills side, will be vital if the UK is to really accelerate growth in the quantum ecosystem.
Converting academic strength into economic strength
Sue asked how we build on the UK’s previous success in quantum and the NQTP to leverage the UK’s strengths.
Stuart praised the UK’s academic success in this area but pointed out that not everybody needs a PhD in quantum physics to work in the sector. The quantum industry will need a range of skills, including electrical engineers and plumbers, as well as computer scientists, and that includes ramping up apprenticeship schemes in deep tech. There will also be a need to bring business skills into the quantum ecosystem for commercialisation
Per agreed with Stuart and reflected that Quantum Machines is hiring in a range of technical roles outside of academic expertise in quantum physics. Per also argued that the UK’s strengths in high-performance computing – particularly in applied areas like the Met Office – will underpin the growth of the quantum industry.
Pippa responded that skills – not just in quantum sciences but also technical and engineering roles - are essential to the Quantum Strategy and one of the UK’s strengths. Pippa suggested that skills and knowledge and awareness in the end user community were also vital. Pippa also agreed that the convergence points with other emerging and enabling technologies like HPC and AI are an important part of the quantum ecosystem.
Quantum commercialisation and a hybrid model
The panel then moved to discussing how to build understanding of quantum opportunities across wider industry to prepare the market for quantum.
Stuart suggested we start with sectors where quantum technologies are already seeing success, like pharmaceuticals, and industries where the UK has an established legacy of innovation, like telecoms, to start building a broader ecosystem. Different quantum technologies will mature at different rates so showing the different use cases is important. Quantum communications, for example, is starting to move towards commercialisation already
Per argued there are lots of opportunities for commercialisation in and around the industry, particularly in the quantum supply chain. Per also pointed out that quantum will not replace conventional computing but will be incorporated into end user applications as part of the tech stack, so there are lots of convergence points to build an ecosystem and fill in the “white spaces”.
Stuart agreed that quantum commercialisation will be a hybrid model and quantum processors will be accelerating technology solutions alongside GPUs and CPUs.
Per agreed that HPC will be the first commercial home for quantum computing and over time will be integrated into cloud infrastructure. This will be good for quantum as the HPC community is a big driver of standards and interoperability.
Per underscored the importance of communicating better guidance on the road to commercialisation to the demand side of the industry so they can prepare for quantum.
Skills is a limiting factor
Stuart and Per both suggested that it would be easier for the quantum sector to grow and recruit the best talent globally if the visa system was more accessible.
Pippa acknowledged that it was an issue and that the UK needed to be able to grow talent domestically but also recruit the best from around the world.
Per argued there is an opportunity to attract companies to come to the UK by developing a thriving skills base as this is a limiting factor in the industry.
Investing for global success
Responding to questions from the audience, Sue asked the panel how we can scale the UK’s quantum ecosystem to compete on the global stage.
The panellists explored why it is important to have a regulatory and tax environment that ensures income and security for both founders and investors.
Sue closed the event by asking the panel what the most important aspect of the UK’s quantum strategy was that will make the UK a world leader in quantum technology.
Per re-iterated his earlier point that we need a multi-faceted approach that takes all factors into consideration, whilst Stuart said it was talent.
Pippa had three – supply chain, investment for scaling, and readiness and adoption in wider industry.
Sue closed the webinar by emphasising that we must continue to build networks between the quantum industry and the wider tech sector, including HPC, cloud computing and AI. Quantum technologies cannot be viewed in isolation, and the upcoming quantum strategy needs to reflect this. Ensuring quantum aligns to key national priorities such as levelling up, net zero and building a science and technology superpower, will cement the role of quantum in the UK in years to come.
Thank you to all panellists and members who attended techUK’s event. If you would like to learn more about techUK’s quantum work, please do reach out!
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.
During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.
Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.
Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.