A lot is said about quantum computers these days. It seems a day doesn’t go by without the next big breakthrough headlining the most-read tech journals or more main-stream mass media. While quantum computing (QC) is still in its infancy, that doesn’t stop companies claiming — like Google did last October about reaching ‘Quantum Supremacy’ or MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers’ proving ‘trapped-ion pairs, through lab tests, could scale up quantum computers’ — they are the front runner with the technology.
Meet ORCA Computing, a British startup founded in late 2019 by a team bursting with talented individuals with the bold tagline:
We are building the first scalable, modular & flexible quantum computing platform
ORCA are the newest QC startups trying to prove they have the knowledge, people and will power to reach their goals.
The four co-founders, CEO Dr Richard Murray, President and COO Dr Cristina Escoda, Chairman of the Board Professor Ian Walmsley, and CTO Dr Josh Nunn have a vast amount of experience in the industry.
The quartet’s roles are well defined in the startup, one half is focussed on the business side of things while the other two concentrate their time and efforts on the scientific aspects of the operation.
This, of course, means they run a tight ship.
In the red corner, leading the business side of things, is Murray and Escoda.
Murray is an expert on the commercialization of quantum technologies while adept at bringing scientific innovation to the market. With a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Southampton, he has also led the UK government’s £32m commercial QT portfolio and worked on product development and sales at the Cambridge consultancy TTP and American conglomerate Teledyne. But the talent doesn’t stop there: he’s a closet Tolstoy, too, having co-authored 2016’s Quantum Manifesto, a European initiative.
Catalonian Escoda, meanwhile, has had a varied career that has encompassed both the business and scientific worlds. First off, she has a University of Cambridge Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Bolstering the resume, she gained an MBA in Finance from the United States, to then join the NYC hedge fund DE Shaw & Co in their macro investment and quant teams. Years of work as a tech transfer advisor, biotech VC and angel investor only add credence to her capabilities in the space.
In the blue corner is the scientists’ team, represented by Walmsley and Nunn, respectively.
A Fellow of the Royal Society, Walmsley’s credentials are impeccable. A professor of physics and provost at Imperial College London, he’s an expert on experimental quantum optics with six patents, over 300 papers and 14,000 citations to his name… Oh, and I nearly forgot, he’s a director at the UK quantum hub.
Nunn, in a word, is the ORCA Inventor, the one who has the ‘day-to-day grind’ of discovering new innovations, the Dr. Hans Zarkov of the team. A reader of photonics at the University of Bath, he specializes in quantum memory, has four patents, fifty publications and over 3,500 citations to his credit.
‘ORCA is building the most scalable and connected quantum computer yet. This means computationally more powerful and faster to market.’
— ORCA Computing
Backed up by a four-strong technical cadre, made up of experts in quantum photonics and memory, this completes the dream team.
In many ways, the startup is taking a similar approach to that of Psi Q and Xanadu in that they are looking to build quantum computers using photonics. What sets them apart is their quantum memory, which allows their photonic quantum computers to be build using optical fiber technology. This, the company claims, brings opportunities for ‘ greater scalability and flexibility’.
By drawing from off the shelf components, the company has an ambition to build a quantum computer without needing billions of $ of investment, which would certainly set them apart from the competition if it was possible.
When asked about her technology, Cristina said: “At ORCA we believe that Photonics has a key role to play in the future of the quantum computing industry, potentially offering answers to the scalability challenges that the quantum computing hardware community will face”. “Using our proprietary quantum memory technology, our goal is to enable quantum computers to scale towards millions of qubits”.
There are challenges to overcome, like any other quantum computing startup, and ORCA suggests that their main challenge is to increase the efficiency of their components, and reduce the loss of photons within the system, which are engineering challenges, rather than science.
Still having doubts about the startup’s angle? Well, they’re externally validated with a core IP developed and licensed from Oxford University.
Investment-wise to date, the startup is closing their convertible note for an undisclosed amount at the end of this month to reach their goals of a ‘Photon Cannon’. ORCA hopes to garner a Seed Round by the fall of 2020.
In an industry still finding its feet, ORCA Computing has a long way to go, but the team are aware of the ground they need to catch up. Built on the foundations of intellectual power and incite, they will definitely create a product that, in the coming years, transforms the QC landscape.