UK’s Oxford Quantum Circuits secures $47 million for quantum computing as a service
Quantum computing has made quantum advances in recent years – moving from theoretical concept to multiple test environments, to help organizations prepare for a time when quantum computers, and their unrivaled processing power, will become a large-scale reality. Now based in the UK Oxford Quantum Circuits announces £38 million ($47 million) in funding to fuel the growth of its own contribution to space – a patented 3D processor architecture it calls coaxmon, as well as quantum computing as a service that will run on it. The OQC says this Series A is the biggest yet for a UK-based quantum computing startup.
“We are working at pace and our systems are optimized. We will continue to evolve and reduce error rates,” OQC founding CEO Ilana Wisby said in an interview. “Our vision is transparent quantum access.”
Lansdowne Partners and The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC), a Japan-based tech fund, are co-leading the round, with participation from British Patient Capital, Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE) and Oxford Investment Consultants (ICOs). OSE and OIC previously led a £2.2million seed round in the startup, which began life as a spin-out from Oxford University and the work done there by the physicist quantum (and founder of the OQC) Dr. Peter Leek.
The plan will be to use the funding to continue to hire more talent (it’s now at 60 employees), continue to improve accessibility to quantum computing for developers interested in working with it, and continue to develop its infrastructure. computing, which today is based on an 8-qubit machine. And as you might guess from the list of investors, it will also use some of the funds to expand in Asia-Pacific, and particularly Japan, to tap potential clients there in financial services and beyond.
“Quantum computing promises to be the next frontier of innovation, and OQC, with its cutting-edge Coaxmon technology, aims to bring the forefront of modern physics into our daily lives,” said Lenny Chin, Director of UTEC, “UTEC is honored to be part of OQC’s mission to make quantum technology accessible to all and will support OQC’s expansion in Asia-Pacific through collaborations with universities, including the University of Tokyo, and partnerships with leading financial and technology companies in Japan.”
Wisby told me that the OQC actually started raising this Series A before the pandemic, in early 2020; but he chose to suspend this process and opt for subsidies instead of building the business in its earlier phases.
This took OQC quite far, going from a 1-qubit machine to a 2-qubit machine, then to 4-qubit and now currently to an 8-qubit machine.
The startup also already provides services to a variety of customers who work on OQC’s private cloud or via Amazon Brake, AWS’s quantum computing platform that also gives developers access to other quantum-as-a-service providers such as Rigetti, IonQ, and D-Wave. (OQC notes that its quantum computer, named Lucy, is the first European quantum provider on Braket – a key detail for companies and quantum researchers based outside of Europe who must comply with data protection laws by retaining data and their local processing: this gives them a local option.)
Among his clients are Cambridge Quantumwho manages his IronBridge cryptographic number generator on the OQC computer; financial services companies; molecular dynamics researchers; government organizations and large multinationals with in-house R&D teams working on systems capable of running on quantum machines when they are finally launched.
“Eventually” is the key word here: the real promise of quantum computing is vast computing power, but there is no quantum computer built yet that can achieve this at scale without also producing a lot of errors.
But it seems that much of the hope these days rests not on “if” but on “when” that hurdle will be overcome. “We’re well past the theory,” Wisby said.
This has led to a great wave of big tech players such as IBM, Amazon and Alphabet to get involved, as well as a Number smaller startups, and companies like Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave that fall between these two poles. While some are opting to build and sell quantum devices, the economics don’t make sense for most potential use cases, so for now the biggest efforts seem to be focused on the quantum in the cloud: by offering it as an infrastructure without use, computing service according to your needs.
Although Oxford Quantum Circuits’ 8-qubit computer isn’t the largest in the field, Wisby said one of the reasons it’s attracting users, and that investment in what has been a climate of collecting difficult fund, is that its platform is better, in the sense that it produces fewer defaults than the others.
“We’re all working toward larger-scale processes,” Wisby said. But, she added, there is something to be said for better quality and fewer errors. “We have low error rates and the funding will allow us to take the next steps.”
Another major boost in the process is that regions and countries are looking to support leaders in the field early on to help solidify their respective position in this next generation of technology, and therefore Oxford’s support Quantum Circuits is considered part of this strategy. British Patient Capital is a strategic funder in this respect: it is the investment arm of the British Business Bank, which is a public bank focused on the development of business and industry in the United Kingdom.
“Since the launch of the first commercially available quantum computer in the UK, we have continued to be very impressed with both the technical developments and the future ambitions of OQC,” said Peter Davies, Partner and Head of developed markets strategy at Lansdowne Partners, in a “We are very pleased to invest in this innovative and forward-thinking company.”