IQM developing high-speed quantum processors
Please introduce yourself and your startup IQM to our readers!
The startup IQM is a spinout from Aalto University (Aalto) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT). We are developing high-speed quantum processors to reduce the error rates currently limiting quantum computers. Our founding team connected through our common research at Aalto and VTT. We all hold PhDs in quantum physics and have a background in superconducting quantum processors. Aalto and VTT were natural incubators for us. Both are world-renowned for their research in superconducting circuits, and more recently, quantum technology. During our work at Aalto and VTT, we have already pioneered breakthroughs in thermal management and other areas that influence computational speed and information accuracy of quantum processors.
My personal path in the quantum world started during my time at TU Munich, where I have studied physics and later did a PhD at Walther-Meissner-Institute. After my PhD, I went for a postdoc in QCD Labs at Aalto University. QCD Labs were founded by Mikko Möttönen, one of our four founders. Together with Kuan Tan, another member of the founding team, we developed the technology, which is now the basis for IQM.
How did you get the idea of IQM?
There is no single moment that can be attributed to the initial idea for IQM. Quantum computing is a moonshot project and many scientists are working on it globally. We are very well connected in the international quantum ecosystem and have been constantly discussing with colleagues from all over the world. During these discussions it became more and more clear that we have developed very powerful technologies and have gathered a great team around us. These are the two preconditions you need for a startup, team and Intellectual Property (IP). In the end it was a common move by the whole founding team, when we decided together “OK, let’s do this”.
Why did you decide to start with IQM?
Before I joined the founding team of IQM, I had worked with Mikko and Kuan already for two years. It was clear from the beginning that the chemistry is right between all of us. When I met our fourth founder, Juha Vartiainen, it was clear that he is a perfect support for the team due to his longtime experience from working in industry for many years. The mutual trust between the founders and the great research environment at Aalto and VTT made the decision to join the founding team very easy. Especially since it was clear that many of the extremely skilled scientists from our labs and our network were also willing to join our common endeavor.
What is the vision behind IQM?
At IQM we have the vision to create value based on the power of quantum technologies. There are many applications for quantum computers, which solve problems for our global society. These include for example the development of new medicines, which is nowadays very inefficient and costly. But there are also more practical applications that will influence our everyday life, like optimizing traffic flow in crowded cities or very efficient database searches.
How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?
Our founding team consists of very experienced quantum experts. We had, however, very little experience with the startup world. This was a challenge and we all had to learn quickly how the entrepreneurial world works. Fortunately, we had very valuable support right from the beginning from people who trusted in us. They have helped us to get connected with the investors and with setting up a real company. Once we found our investors, we got of course great support from them as well and we are very thankful to have them on board with their large experience in the field.
Who is your target audience?
Quantum computing is a disruptive technology for high-performance computing. Foreseen applications are in material development, optimization, and search algorithms. IQM develops the hardware for computers on which the quantum algorithms are executed. These algorithms are typically developed by specialized software companies focusing on quantum applications. We anticipate that these software companies will be the first users of our hardware. On the long run, we also see big corporates from the pharma, chemistry, automotive and finance sector among our customers.
What is the USP of your startup?
If you look at the current 1st generation of quantum computers, you realize that they are mostly limited by the high error rates during their computations. The reason for the errors is that the carriers of the quantum information, the qubits, interact with their environment. This interaction changes the state of the qubits, which causes an error. A general rule of thumb is that the longer the interaction time, the more errors occur. At IQM, we develop ultrafast quantum processors, which give the qubits less time to interact with the environment and therefore less time for errors. This is important because only having very low error rates allows you to build a scalable quantum computer.
Can you describe your typical workday?
My background is experimental quantum physics, where you typically run sophisticated labs, do clean-room fabrication, organize funding, supervise PhD & Master students, and write scientific articles. The very different nature of these tasks results in a work life where no day is like the other. I have made very similar experiences of having totally unpredictable workdays when becoming the CEO of IQM. The main difference is that the focus has somewhat shifted from the experimental work more towards organizational tasks. As a scientist, you typically don’t deal so much with legal texts or business plans. Nevertheless, I feel that my scientific career has prepared me very well to become the CEO of a startup company.
Where do you see yourself and your startup IQM in five years?
With IQM we have the ambition to shape the quantum future from Europe. We have a very strong academic quantum ecosystem in Europe. Our goal is to leverage on this expertise to make a difference globally. We will now first focus on developing a prototype processor based on the unique IP that we have developed for faster quantum processors. Based on this, our goal is to scale towards a machine that can solve commercially viable problems.
What 3 tips would you give other Start-up founders on the way?
I think the most important thing is to stay authentic and to focus on your strengths. Don’t try to change yourself just because others like you to do things the way they want. I think it is very hard for a startup founder to cover all the required expertise areas anyways. Therefore, I would recommend building a strong founding team where the individual founders complement each other. Finally, I would recommend accepting help and be open for guidance. There are typically many people out there who have much more experience than you do. Try to get advice from several directions and make the best out of it.
More information you will find here
Thank you Jan Goetz for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.