Startup Quantum Brilliance has secured a huge US$9.7 million ($13.4 million) seed funding round, as its founders set their sights on becoming Australia’s first quantum unicorn.
The startup was founded in 2019 out of research at the Australian National University, by co-founders Andrew Horsley, Marcus Doherty and Mark Luo.
The round was co-led by Main Sequence and the founders of Australian quantum computer applications company QxBranch.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Luo says Quantum Brilliance is differentiated from other quantum technology providers, focusing on building what the founders call ‘quantum accelerators’ that can enable quantum computing on a small scale in all manner of different environments.
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“That allows us to do tasks that were not possible before,” he says.
For the most part, other organisations working on quantum tech infrastructure tend to use a technology called ‘superconducting qubits’, Luo explains. This tech, however, is fairly unstable and fragile, and has to be kept under cryogenic temperatures.
Other systems, such as vacuum systems, for example, are also not ideal for everyday use.
Using synthetic diamonds means Quantum Brilliance is able to operate its technology at room temperature, and to build relatively simple control systems, Luo says.
“Synthetic diamonds are such a rigid material, it becomes the ideal material for turning quantum computing into an everyday technology.”
Now, the team is working in shrinking down the technology to about the size of a lunchbox — something Luo says should be possible within the next five years or so.
That means it can start selling its tiny quantum accelerators all over the world.
Doherty compares the tech to a graphics card accelerator that you might use in gaming, for example. However, it will be able to increase computing power in various different industries and use cases.
For example, it could allow for simulations of complex molecular systems, which could have applications in things like electrochemistry and modelling of catalytic processes.
Small quantum computers could also be placed within autonomous vehicles, or on board satellites.
One clear use case is in satellite imaging, Doherty explains. While currently satellites send unprocessed data down to earth to be turned into images by supercomputers. A quantum computer would harness enough power in a small enough space to do it in space, beaming down complete images instead.
This funding will partly be used to build out the Quantum Brilliance team. The founders are currently hiring for engineers, scientists and physicists, and ultimately plan to build a team of more than 100 by the end of 2022.
But the cash injection will also allow them to focus on three key growth areas.
The first is to increase the power of the quantum computers themselves. The second is to decrease the size of the product, in order to reach that shoebox goal.
Third, the team is focused on demonstrating ‘quantum utility’ — that is, demonstrating the practical applications of their tech.
When a quantum computer can outperform a classical computer of the same size, at any given task, that’s the point of quantum utility, Doherty explains. It’s the point where the tech becomes relevant to consumers, and therefore hits a point of commercial viability.
“That is when a quantum computer is now useful. It’s now relevant.”
The founders have big dreams for this business, envisioning Quantum Brilliance tech being part of the universal tech ecosystem, making the practical benefits of the tech available to all.
When asked whether this will be Australia’s first quantum unicorn (complete with diamonds and everything), Doherty doesn’t hesitate for a second.
“Yes,” he says.
“We provide such a different future for quantum computing than other quantum computing companies,” he adds.
“We will get these quantum accelerators built, then we will work out a way of mass producing them and delivering them to as many people as we can.”
A quantum leap in Aussie tech
This is a bigger-than-average seed round, to say the least, and that could be indicative of an emerging trend. Quantum Brilliance isn’t the first Aussie quantum startup to hit the headlines lately.
In the US, Aussie-led PsiQuantum raised a whopping $611 million in July to continue its work on ‘fault-tolerant’ quantum computing tech.
Where previously coverage of this kind of tech has focused on research and theory, now there’s interest from investors, and significant dollar-figures up for grabs.
Over the past couple of years, Luo notes that there has been a push for investment from both the private sector and governments around the one.
“It’s really a once in a generation transformational technology,” he says.
So, early investors in the private sector will likely “be significantly rewarded”.
From a government perspective, there are national programs investing heavily in this tech, too.
All of this has increased momentum in the space, driving more capital and more interest in the sector.
“Whoever can harness the power of quantum computing will have a competitive advantage over its competitors for a long time to come.”
Australia, specifically, has been a world leader in quantum technology research for the past 20 years, Doherty adds.
But in terms of formulating a national strategy around capitalising on that research, he says the government is playing catch-up.
“What we’re seeing happening in Australia is pioneering companies …. Really setting the example and the tone of what needs to happen in Australia.”
Quantum Brilliance itself created the Super Computing Innovation Hub, in partnership with the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, with a view to create an ecosystem of users and suppliers.
That’s the kind of thing it’s working with the government to create more of, he adds. He expects to see a national strategy emerge, tailored to the needs of Australia, before too long.
“What it will look like we don’t know yet,” he says.
“We have to be very careful about how we do it so we encourage as much growth in this industry as we can and not stifle it through controls.”