The British have a tradition of innovation. From being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century to inventing modern tennis and Association football in the following one hundred and fifty years, the list is endless to the things this small, rainswept island on the periphery of Europe has managed to give to the world. In technology too — thanks in a great part to the work of Alan Turing and others – the modern computer first saw the light of day in Old Blighty.
Times change, though. The quantum age has descended upon us and the British are up to their old tricks again.
‘The UK has a long history of world-leading technological innovation and is ideally placed to capitalise on the AI opportunity for economic growth. We have all the elements we need to succeed, a thriving start-up scene, a vibrant investment community, cloud-first government policy and a great pool of UK and global talent.’
— Cindy Rose, CEO of Microsoft UK
It’s no surprise, really, as the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, bastions of science and intellectualism for hundreds of years, are situated here. Research, too, in the form of government grants, bursaries and VC interest has fuelled the fire of quantum information systems from London to Cardiff.
And the effect: a glut of startups in the space.
Cambridge Quantum Computing, Rahko, PhaseCraft, KETS Quantum Security, AppliedQubit, Post-Quantum, GTN Ltd, Q&I, Nu Quantum, TundraSystems Global Ltd, Oxford Quantum Circuits, Quantum Motion, and Universal Quantum Ltd.
The list’s impressive, isn’t it?
And more are coming into being all the time. It’s a good period to be a quantum physicist in the UK, especially those with an idea and enough business savviness to make a go of it. And though the country can’t compete with the investment that startups are receiving from across the pond (and the report of US startups and the big corporations poaching the best QC talent in the UK), the future looks bright for the sector.
One startup leading the charge is Riverlane, based in Cambridge.
Riverlane’s take on QC is simple:
Pioneering quantum software™
They will achieve this by developing a world-beating simulation built on quantum principles.
Founded in 2016 by Dr Steve Brierley, a former research fellow at the University of Cambridge and head of a team that contains top experts in the fields of computer science, mathematics, material science, chemistry and, of course, quantum computing, the startup has lofty ambitions.
Such professionalism, and a knowledge base covering all fields, can only be good for the Cambridge startup.
Already, the UK is one of the best places in the world to start and grow a tech business.
‘British tech is growing over one-and-a-half times faster than the rest of the economy, adding more than £130bn to our economy every year. But if we are going to maintain our position as a global leader, our challenge is how we develop British tech and make it even better. We want this to be the place everyone thinks of — and comes to — first when they want to develop their world-changing tech ideas. This is a challenge shared between industry and government.’
— Prime Minister Theresa May, June 2019
Such positive feedback from the country’s leadership goes a long way in signalling the British government’s intent in regard to its investment in hard tech in the future. And notwithstanding the Brexit fiasco and the upcoming general election, it can only be hoped this stance will remain the same after the political infighting and storm have calmed down.
Brierly, as experienced as they come in the industry, has spent a decade working as a senior research fellow in applied mathematics at the University of Cambridge. Here, he has focussed his mind on the best approaches for quantum computers and the algorithms that are so important in running them.
Riverlane’s main business goal is in the pharmaceutical industry, where the startup hopes to construct a QC simulator for microscopic systems that will, if successful, supplant the need for laboratory tests, which can be extremely expensive. Through interaction with academics and innovative companies, Riverlane has already two use cases in their developmental stage.
Luckily for Brierly and his team, the more than £3 million the startup received this summer in a Seed Round will help them realize their potential. The investment team was led by venture capital investors Cambridge Innovation Capital and Amadeus Capital Partners.
‘There’s only 50 quantum computers currently around, and it’s likely to remain a limited number. Quantum computers are very good at certain things: you won’t see one on your phone any time soon, though it might be used to make the chips on the phone run faster.’
— Dr Steve Brierley
Whatever promises QC has for us in the future, one area where strides should be made will be in medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. It will be here, that quantum computers will have their greatest influence, at least in the medium term. And it will be startups like Riverlane that will lead the way for sure.