Major investors back disruptive new player in quantum computing race
By: Anna Ford
Last updated: Monday, 15 June 2020
- Hoxton, Village Global and Propagator among investors in University of Sussex spin-out
- Universal Quantum uses disruptive technology to scale-up quantum computing
Universal Quantum, a disruptive new player on the global quantum computing stage, has today emerged out of stealth announcing an oversubscribed £3.6 million seed-funding round. The company is set to develop its ground-breaking new quantum computing approach and compete with the world’s biggest quantum computing companies with backing from highly influential tech investors.
The UK Government’s Science Minister, Amanda Solloway MP, will announce the investment at a quantum technology industry event later today.
Universal Quantum’s prestigious list of investors includes Hoxton Ventures, who were early backers of Deliveroo, Village Global, backed by the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, Propagator VC, Luminous VC, 7percent, as well as influential individuals. Investors have described Universal Quantum as having ‘the best approach to deliver on the exponential promises of quantum’.
The University of Sussex spin-out company, founded by quantum computing experts Professor Winfried Hensinger and Dr Sebastian Weidt in 2018, is intent on building the world’s first large-scale quantum computer with Hensinger as the Chief Scientist & Chairman and Weidt as the Chief Executive Officer.
Hensinger and Weidt have developed a radical new approach to building a quantum computer. While some companies have created small quantum machines, Universal Quantum believes that only its technology has a realistic opportunity of being scaled up into machines large enough to unleash the huge potential of quantum computing.
Key to Universal Quantum’s appeal are some fundamental differences in its approach to building a large-scale quantum computer compared to the rest of the field. Competing approaches may require billions of laser beams for calculations, operate at extremely cold temperatures marginally above absolute zero (-273C), which can prohibit scaling up to many quantum bits (qubits), and complex engineering to connect individual quantum computing modules through optical fibre links.
Universal Quantum, however, has developed technology based on trapped ions (charged atoms) to carry out calculations using well-established microwave technology, such as that used in mobile phones, removing the need for a prohibitive number of laser beams. It substantially reduces the necessary cooling requirements, allowing to operate at a much easier to obtain temperature of (-200C) which is critical in making quantum computers far more practical and capable of operating millions of qubits. It has also developed a unique modular approach based on fast electric-field links connecting individual modules, enabling the company to scale-up to practical quantum computers that are able to process millions of qubits.
Dr Sebastian Weidt, CEO at Universal Quantum, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have such high-calibre investors join our vision and being excited about our technology and outstanding team. We’ve done the research, now this investment puts us on an incredibly exciting path to actually building practical quantum computers.”
Professor Winfried Hensinger, Chairman and Chief Scientist at Universal Quantum, said: “Quantum computing has the power to change the world for the better. We are taking a small but significant step toward realising that potential by getting started with the engineering to create practical quantum computers. While it is a major engineering challenge, our technology and approach do not rely on making major physics breakthroughs.
“We’re assembling the brightest minds to do just that, paving the way for a British start-up to lead the journey to a truly useful and usable one million qubit quantum computer.
“Our large-scale quantum computers will one day allow us to tackle the grand global issues of our time, from creating new pharmaceuticals, revolutionizing financial modelling, tackling optimisation problems, machine learning even helping to feed the worlds’ population by making fertilizer more efficiently.”
A spokesperson for Hoxton Ventures said: “At Hoxton, we’re on the search to back the next big thing.
“Quantum computing is where artificial intelligence was back in 2010. We think Universal Quantum’s trapped ion technique is the best approach to deliver on the exponential promises of quantum.
“Their technology is fully modular, relying on electric field connections rather than optical fibres to link individual modules. This is much faster, and also much simpler as an engineering approach.
“We think if UQ succeeds, its impact will lead to potential breakthroughs in technology, healthcare, materials, financial services and other industries. That’s the kind of asymmetric return we invest into.”
A spokesperson for Village Global said: “No other company has shown how they can work with millions of ions for a powerful quantum machine without needing millions of lasers, which quickly becomes unfeasible at scale. Universal Quantum execute quantum gates by applying voltages to a microchip, which is a smart and elegant solution to the problem of scaling up.
“At Village Global, we will always back the best ideas and we are excited supporting this great venture going forward”
Andrew J Scott, a founding partner at 7percent ventures, said: "When we looked for a quantum computing team to invest in it was very clear that Winfried and Seb not only had the experience to deliver on such a technical challenge but have the vision to do so.
“This will be a step change for science, equivalent in impact to the invention of the microprocessor or the internet. It's just the sort of big idea at 7percent Ventures we love to back."
Lomax Ward from Luminous VC said: "Quantum computing will unlock seismic changes for both this generation and the next. We are delighted to be partnering with two visionary scientists and founders in Prof Winfried Hensinger and Dr Sebastian Weidt in their mission to crack quantum computing at scale. Luminous Ventures exists for investments like this."
A spokesperson for Propagator VC said: “The team’s engineering approach to building a scalable quantum computer together with their deep experience makes Universal Quantum uniquely positioned. By operating at much milder temperatures, Universal Quantum’s technology successfully swerves a major stumbling block of their competitors. They are the company closest to achieving quantum computing at the scale and power we need. Their approach utilizing microwave radiation gates has the potential to overcome many of the current obstacles to building a truly scalable quantum computer.”
A spokesperson for Founders Fund said: "While making investments in BioPharma, cybersecurity and fintech, we have been looking for an ambitious team in Quantum Computing with a unique combination of world-leading technologies and highly practical engineering approaches towards truly universal quantum computers. After we spoke with Dr. Sebastian Weidt, watched Prof. Hensinger's in-depth video talks, and read through all their ground-breaking publications in Nature and Science, we are thrilled that we found the perfect team, who can cross the chasm, taking Quantum Computing from rocket science to everyday engineering solutions. Besides the clear advantage of mild cooling with trapped ions, I believe their sheer focus on using standard semiconductor chip processes and proven modular integration techniques will set this team apart ultimately. Look forward to supporting Universal Quantum to grow big!"
Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex, said: “This University of Sussex spin-out company will see the Greater Brighton area become a new centre of gravity in the world’s rapidly growing quantum computing industry.
“We are very proud of the achievements of Professor Winfried Hensinger and Dr Sebastian Weidt, and their team, who have long been pushing the boundaries of developments in this area, from publishing the world’s first blue-print for building a large-scale quantum computer in 2017 to pioneering technology which uses microwaves rather than lasers to execute calculations within the quantum computer.”
The next twelve months will see a much larger funding round (Series A), which will drive even more significant progress.
The seed-funding - to the value of £3.6 million - has been secured from the following investors:
- Hoxton Ventures - an early-stage technology venture capital firm. They partner with founders seeking to invent new market categories or transform large, existing industries. Their portfolio includes Darktrace, Deliveroo and others
- Village Global - an early-stage venture capital firm backed by some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs including Diane Greene, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, Mark Zuckerberg and Sara Blakely.
- Propagator VC, which invests in companies with deep tech at its core taking their first steps towards building commercial success-stories. Their focus areas are: machine learning/AI; Quantum Computing; Robotics; Encryption; and Materials
- Luminous VC, which backs founders with a vision to significantly change the world with breakthrough technologies and applied science.
- 7percent Ventures, who invest in tech start-ups which want to change the world, giving founders with moonshot ambitions their first money. Past investments include Oculus, Flexport, Blue Vision Labs and Magic Pony Technologies.
- FoundersX Ventures is a Silicon Valley venture capital firm investing in disruptive technologies in smart enterprises with AI and big data, quantum computing, space technology, digital healthcare, Fintech and Foodtech.
- La Roca Capital: German Seed investor specializing in insurance tech and other promising product development.