Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. Power people. Bosses. Top executives who get it done within their respective industries. Okay, so they’ve made mistakes, but who hasn’t and doesn’t?
To be at the head of something, the very top, the one who makes the all-important decisions that can shape the future of a company, that’s what it’s all about: Executives, the topic of this article, can have their critics. Many think the expensive suits, the immaculately pressed shirts, the slick Powerpoint presentations, and smooth-talking persona is a means to an end, a smokescreen for the bullshit of the common platitudes and inanity of the boardroom.
And it could be. But I think it’s also more than that as being the person with Atlas’ burden on one’s shoulders can’t be good for stress levels.
This is especially endemic in tech startups: problems of burn rate, runway funding schedules, market fit and finding the right people/team to execute can be the difference between the life and death of the business.
Quantum computing (QC) is at such an inflection point. As a ‘new’, disruptive technology that is only just showing the world its potential, many obstacles are still in the way.
scalability and cost
Are just two. Yet there are many.
All these problems have to be eradicated before our world can become an Asimovian utopia, where qubits are the de rigueur unit for how information is sent to our homes (maybe), our schools (maybe), our offices (maybe), and the satellites in the future (definitely).
And it won’t start with the quantum physicists on the payroll fresh outta Caltech. Neither the QC coders or quantum engineers — though their efforts will be essential. Nor the marketeers. It will have to come from the very top of the tree, from the executives harking back to where we started.
These people will be important because they have a vision.
This article features twenty-two key executives in the quantum computing space. They could be presidents, CEOs or technical leads, what’s important is they’re the people with their fingers on the button, the ones who make the final decision on some of the most important things happening in QC today.
Like past TQD lists, this one is in no particular order and there is no rank on merit or achievement, and of course we are going to miss out many.
1. Mary Beth Rothwell
Mary Beth Rothwell, a senior engineer and manager of quantum fabrication at tech giant IBM — where she’s worked for nearly two decades — has, according to the company’s research blog, ‘had experience in building nearly every part of a computer’.
With a degree in chemistry from Pace University, she is one of the inspirational women, which includes the scientist Hanhee Paik, leading IBM into its quantum future.
One thing that separates Rothwell from others is her lack of a Ph.D.
‘This is the biggest team effort I’ve ever worked on, and the most gratifying. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to help the people on my team, both the engineers and the physicists, grow.’
— Mary Beth Rothwell
Getting to the top as a woman in any industry is much harder than for a man. De facto. Add the absence of a doctorate and Rothwell’s achievement is even more impressive.
But how did this IBM engineer with a chemistry degree get involved in QC?
Picture it: the year is 2007: Steve Jobs has announced the iPhone to the world. In the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are raging. In Yorktown, NY, something a little less world-changing is taking place: the late Roger Koch (who sadly died later that year of a heart attack), a pioneer in QC at IBM, sets up an IBM research group on quantum information science. He needs someone who knows how to build things. Rothwell can. She’s hired.
Twenty years later and she’s still there.
2. Andrew Fursman
1QBit is one of the most innovative startups in the QC space. This could be in part to its leader, co-founder and CEO Andrew Fursman. With a focus on ‘hardware-agnostic QC platforms and services’, 1QBit hopes to be at the cutting-edge of developments in the nascent industry.
His educational background includes studying economics at the University of Waterloo. He also majored in philosophy and political science at the University of British Columbia. Later on, he took post-graduate studies in technology at Silicon Valley’s Singularity University and a course on financial engineering at Stanford University.
‘It’s not necessarily the case that the people who are building the quantum computers understand what they’ll even be used for. And so if you’re a CIO in a large organization that may be impacted by this technology, it’s likely that the answer to how these machines will be leveraged within your organization… it’s not gonna be that someone from big tech company X shows up on your doorstep and says here’s the solution because they probably don’t understand your business…’
— Andrew Fursman, interview with Editor I — CIO digital platform, 2018
While it’s obvious his education falls into the sphere of the humanities, that hasn’t stopped him from making his mark within the hard tech industry.
Far from it, in fact.
He is also a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded VCC firm Minor Capital, Satellogic Nano-Satellites, and Cloudtel Communications.
An impressive resume that just goes to show he has a talent that extends across the board.
A great public speaker and leader who knows where he wants his startup to be, I’m sure he will make his mark on the world of quantum information science in the near term.
3. Krysta Svore
An inspirational woman I’ve written about in an earlier story at TQD, Krysta Svore is general manager at Microsoft Quantum software and leads the Quantum Architectures and Computation (QuArC) group as principal research manager, the QC arm of Washington’s biggest software company.
Heard of ‘em? They’re quite into QC as far as I know, though I could be wrong.
Like her rival Rothwell at IBM for all those myopic misanthropes jealous enough to believe a woman can’t make it in this industry, she has.
Whilst her work for Microsoft keeps her busy, she also does her shift for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a member of the ISAT Committee.
‘In terms of the applications of a quantum computer, what we hope to achieve with a quantum computer is to solve truly revolutionary problems, world-changing problems…’
— Krysta Svore, Microsoft Mechanics interview/keynote presentation with co-host Jeremy Chapman, 2017
Gaining her Ph.D. in Computer Science from Columbia University in the mid-2000s, Svore is an advocate of non-profit organizations where women, racial diversity and the self-esteem of the under-represented peoples are of the utmost importance.
Svore joins a whole host of women in the quantum computing industry making their mark.
Without doubt, we will hear a lot more from Svore as QC takes a more pronounced position in the tech world.
4. Nicholas Farina
EeroQ, a QC startup in founded 2016 and based in New York City and Lansing, Michigan, is a leading light in quantum computing hardware. Along with this, it is also a founding member of the Quantum Industry Coalition.
Its CEO Nick Farina, like his industry colleague Andrew Fursman, doesn’t have a technical or scientific background. He gained a B.A from Haverton College — one of the country’s top liberal arts colleges — on Meiji Japan.
This, fortunately, didn’t mean Seppuku to a life as an entrepreneur: for nearly two decades, Farina has co-founded a handful of startups, from one of the first eBay drop-off companies to a web development and advertising agency.
In between, after and before those two gigs, he’s also been a journalist, an ambassador to the tech community in Chicago and an angel investor.
‘We build quantum computing hardware using electrons on helium. We’ve been doing this for about four years now and in addition to our work on the chip side of quantum computing, we also sponsor and develop work in quantum computing ethics and advocate for the quantum computing industry in the US.’
— Nick Farina, L’Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, 2020
Quite an impressive resume, if I have to say so myself.
With such a mixed bag of experience, this is sure to be a good thing as Farina and EeroQ’s strategy develops, and will definitely make him a key component in the startup’s success.
You can learn more about Nick and his work here.
5. Arvind Krishna
In January 2020, tech giant IBM announced its new CEO. The person, Indian Arvind Krishna, was replacing the long-serving Virginia ‘Ginni’ Rometty (who had been the company’s first female CEO, by the way).
Krishna has worked at IBM for almost thirty years. Starting at the Thomas J Watson Research Center in 1990, he gradually moved through the ranks from general manager of information management to software senior vice President of Hybrid Cloud to become the top dog of one of the richest companies on the planet.
Born in 1962, Krishna studied electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in the mid-1980s. Later, the United States beckoned. At the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Krishna obtained his Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
‘Quantum computing must also be ubiquitous in the classroom. From computer science courses to chemistry and business classes, today’s students need to understand the technology, and hopefully pursue career paths rooted in quantum computing.’
— Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM
This should be ultimately a good stance for the new sheriff of Armonk to take. With big rivals all around, which include Google, Microsoft, Honeywell, and the Chinese monolith Alibaba, his vast experience in tech is sure to help in the competitive nature of the market.
Will IBM — as it did at the birth of the computer age — change the technological landscape once more?
6. Alan Baratz
D-Wave Systems — the Canadian QC company — has been on the cutting edge of the industry for more than twenty years. Founded in 1999 by its former CTO Geordie Rose amongst others, it is famous for being the world’s first startup in the space. Its current CEO, Alan Baratz, took control on the first day of 2020 from Vern Brownell. Baratz began his employment journey with D-Wave Systems in 2017 as senior vice president of Software and Applications before a promotion to R&D and chief product officer a year later.
‘I joined D-Wave to bring quantum computing technology to the enterprise. Now more than ever, I am convinced that making practical quantum computing available to forward-thinking businesses and emerging quantum developers through the cloud is central to jumpstarting the broad development of in-production quantum applications. As I assume the CEO role, I’ll focus on expanding the early beachheads for quantum computing that exist in manufacturing, mobility, new materials creation, and financial services into real value for our customers. I am honored to take over the leadership of the company and work together with the D-Wave team as we begin to deliver real business results with our quantum computers.’
— Alan Baratz, Globe Newswire, December 2019
The pronouncement, then, is typical of Baratz whose intent on how disruptive technology can change the status quo goes back decades.
Starting with a computer science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, he went on to gain a Ph.D. in the same discipline at MIT in 1981.
His first job after he had finished MIT was at computer giant IBM as director of strategic development. Important positions at Java Software and CISCO Systems followed, with many others in between. He’s even had a stint as an angel investor.
With this expansive resume, it’s no wonder D-Wave Systems ‘came a calling’.
D-Wave Systems, to its credit, has already built a handful of quantum computers over the last decade and even sold a few to the likes of NASA and Google. Baratz, by his words alone, seems to know the direction the company needs to take to compete with the colossi on the market.
7. Yaoyun Shi
Yaoyun Shi is in an enviable position in the QC landscape: he leads the quantum initiative for one of the biggest multinationals in the world from a country with 1.7B inhabitants.
You probably guessed it by his name alone, it’s China. But do you know the company?
I’ll tell you: it’s Alibaba.
Jack Ma’s baby, which IPO’ed earlier this year to much fanfare in Hong Kong, was founded in the same year as D-Wave Systems. Both companies, however, have taken very different trajectories: Alibaba had some $56B in revenue as of 2019… In D-Wave Systems’ case, it’s more difficult to gauge with all the venture rounds that have taken place since 2013 that have raised a total north of $200M.
It’s like a Bugatti Chevron versus a jalopy in a 100-yard dash, at least regarding liquidity.
‘Our long-term goal is to realize the potential of quantum computing. I myself have been a theoretical researcher for almost 20 years. My new role now is to make it real.’
— Yaoyun Shi
Shi talks a good game, though, as his credentials are impeccable. Graduating with a bachelor in computer science from Peking University in 1997, he got a Ph.D. at Princeton in 2001 that led to post-doctoral research at Caltech and nearly two decades as a teacher/tenured professor at the University of Michigan in electrical engineering and computer science.
His tenure at the Wolverines finished in 2017 when he became head of Alibaba’s Quantum Laboratory.
On Alibaba’s QC target, Shi said: ‘At Alibaba, we often say customers are our highest priority. That is the same philosophy that will guide the future of this laboratory, which is to serve our customers. That is why I really put emphasis on the end applications — I want to see our customers benefiting from our quantum technology.’
With something similar to Andrew Carnegie’s fortune backing Shi’s words, there’s little doubt Alibaba will play — with the Chinese government’s backing — a major role in the QC market for some time to come.
Though I think Baratz will have something to say about that. Wink. Wink.
8. Peter Chapman
When Peter Chapman became CEO of IonQ in May of 2019, the former director of engineering at Amazon Prime brought a vast amount of experience in AI and gaming with him. This is, of course, highly beneficial for the Maryland-based QC startup founded by quantum physicists Christopher Monroe and Jungsang Kim back in 2016.
Chapman’s journey in tech began as a sixteen-year-old at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. In the late 1980s, he founded a startup called Level Systems, a company that created video games like Dungeons and Dragons, Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom, Riders of Rohan, and Windows Chess to name but a few.
‘There’s so much to be done in a quantum [computer]. From education at one end all the way to the quantum computer itself. I think some of our competitors have taken on lots of the entire problem set. We at IonQ are just focused on producing the world’s best quantum computer for them. We think that’s a large enough task for a little company like us to handle.’
— Peter Chapman
By the late 1990s, he had started another company in partnership with Fidelity Investments, called Boston Compliance Systems Inc. After that was sold, Chapman worked in several executive positions at major firms before, in 2013, he became president and CEO in two entertainment companies, eMusic and Media Arc, respectively. Those positions lasted barely a year until his Amazon Prime gig.
With a background in gaming and tech startups like the great Nolan Bushnell, Chapman is sure to offer IonQ a lot of advantages. Another will be the $55M it raised in a Series B round, bringing the total raised over to rounds to over $75M.
On the round, Chapman said ‘This investment round marks a key milestone in our effort to make quantum computing commercially viable. We are building a future where IonQ’s quantum computers will be available to developers in fields from finance to manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. We expect this to inspire a new generation of developers to build applications that will power the next wave of discovery.’
With a great team of quantum physicists and a viable technology in place in trapped ytterbium ions, Chapman seems to be the right man to lead them into the company’s future endeavours.
9. Ilana Wisby
As with Krysta Svore, I included Ilana Wisby, CEO at Oxford Quantum Circuits Limited (OQC), in the TQD Exclusive: 12 Women Pioneering The World Of Quantum Computing back in February.
She is — though don’t quote me on this — the youngest executive here.
‘In five years’ time, our end users will be working on commercial-sized applications which will either save them money or help them prove their business case through quantum computing. We want to accelerate what quantum computing can do.’
— Ilana Wisby, Interview with TQD 2020
With a Ph.D. in physics from Royal Holloway, University of London with a thesis on Hybrid Quantum Systems for Quantum Information Processing Applications while simultaneously working as a research engineer at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Wisby has also had stints as a data-scientist and a COO at a startup ‘devoted to creating innovative digital products’.
In April 2018, she became the CEO of OQC. Founded in 2017, the startup is the brainchild of Peter Leek and is bent on ‘[…] creating the core of the quantum revolution to solve some of humanity’s most significant challenges.’ Its secret weapon, ‘the Coaxmon — a qubit developed from first principles with commercial scalability in mind and liberated from the constraints of 2D technology’.
When interviewed earlier this year by TQD journalist Matt Swayne, Wisby’s answers on the investment space, and the challenges facing the startup, were illuminating:
‘It’s important to know how to communicate what the core concepts of quantum computing are and what our company’s unique selling points are, why we are different and why that’s meaningful’.
This is a difficulty with all the startups in the space competing for the finite amounts of cash available, no less so since OQC raised an undisclosed amount in a Seed round back in 2017 where Parkwalk Advisors and Oxford Sciences Innovation were involved.
Venture capitalists don’t care about changing the world or about the technology that underlies their investment on the whole… well, sorry, they do if they’re making a buck in the process and a healthy ROI, and Wisby, obviously aware of this, gave a great example of this during her TQD interview:
‘It’s always a challenge to explain, for example, if you’re superconducting, how that’s different from ions, and how that’s different to silicon. Everyone has an opinion on the different technology spaces. There is still a lot of education to be done.’
Whatever the outcome, Wisby will be up to the challenge, just as the other CEOs/executives will be.
10. Vikram Sharma
Australia is fast becoming a focal point of the QC industry on the planet. Startups h-Bar Consultants, Q-CTRL and Quantum Brilliance join the likes of research institutes the Macquarie Centre for Quantum Engineering (MQCQE), the Quantum Information Science Group (MonQIS), the University of New South Wales, the University of Queensland, Quantum Science Research Group at the University of Sydney, and the Centre for Quantum Computation & Intelligent Systems (QCIS).
Another is QuintessenceLabs, a startup (should we call it that) whose focus is quantum key distribution (QKD) amongst other things.
Set up in 2008 by its CEO and founder, Vikram Sharma, a physicist, entrepreneur and compelling public speaker, QuintessenceLabs’ aim is simple:
‘We push the boundaries of what’s possible in data security, so you can push boundaries of your own.’
But enough of the company and more of our main man, Messr Sharma:
His education is an eclectic mix of computer science, business and physics. Starting with a BSc and MA in computer science and management, the former from The Australian National University (ANU) and the latter from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. His Ph.D., which he completed in 2007, was in physics from his former school, ANU.
‘I attended the Sloane Program at Stanford which was typically designed for mid-career people in Fortune 500 companies that were looking to gain experience and groomed for the highest-level executive positions.’
— Vikram Sharma interview with Alan Kohler on Qantas Radio programme Talking Business
This unique insight into the important aspects of the QC industry shows Sharma is wired for sound.
Sharma’s goal since the early 2000s has been to realize the potential inherent in quantum cryptography and apply it to the commercial world.
This has led him to take an active role in the QC industry on the world’s smallest continent with such initiatives as the Canberra Business and Australian Cyber Security Growth Network Ltd.
Talking to Alan Kohler, host on the Qantas Radio programme ‘Talking Business’ in early 2019 about QuintessenceLabs’ strategic future, Sharma’s response was interesting:
‘Ours is at an interesting scale-up stage of the organization. Taking deep science takes a number of years to mature the science then the engineering to get it to product which is repeatable and scalable and cost-effective. Over the last three years, we’ve really spent a significant amount of time getting the market product fit right and now that is deployed across financial institutions, governments, defense department in multiple geographies around the world and given the market context which we see as very positive we’re right in the midst of a very important scale-up phase of our company and, in fact, this year we expect an approximate doubling of growth of our company.’
With an exquisite plan to conquer the QC space, Sharma’s surely to be ‘there or thereabouts’ when QKD becomes the norm.
11. Richard Uhlig
Our next executive is Richard Uhlig, a Senior Fellow and the managing director of Intel Labs, Intel’s research arm into disruptive technologies. Having started at the computer chip pioneer in the mid-1990s, Uhlig has been a key person in the development of, and release of late last year, a cryogenic control chip called Horse Ridge. The device will, according to Intel, bring powerful chips on the market and empower the development of quantum computers for commercial viability.
In an interview with VentureBeat on the Horse Ridge chip, Uhlig responded:
‘We’re looking at what it’s going to take to scale quantum systems to a large number of qubits. And we need to get there because until you get to thousands or millions of qubits, you’re not really going to be solving the interesting problems. If you want to do that, you have to have a strategy for configuring, reading out the state of qubits in large numbers. And today, those control electronics need to run at higher temperatures than the qubits themselves.’
Uhlig was awarded a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Michigan in 1995, having earned a BSc and MA in computer engineering at the same college.
As the QC hardware and software become more advanced in the years to come, the intermediary chips are sure to play a significant role. Intel, and Uhlig in particular, will be at the forefront of this.
12. Michelle Simmons
As with Krysta Svore and Ilana Wisby, Michelle Simmons was on TQD’s list of inspirational women in the QC industry some months back.
And she is.
She has been instrumental in putting Australia on the QC map.
‘Australia back in 2000 set up some of the first centres in quantum computing and they’ve been going for a long time: they’re the envy of the world and other people are trying to replicate them. And what that means is that for the last twenty years we have been building our workforce and capacity to be ready for the quantum revolution when it comes.’
— Michelle Simmons, The Einstein Lecture: The Quantum Computing Revolution, UNSW Sydney 2018
An adopted Australian (she received Australian of the Year in 2018 to prove it), Simmons left the UK in 1999 for the land Down Under.
Simmons obtained a degree in physics and chemistry of materials and a Ph.D. in physics at Durham University, graduating in the early 1990s. From there she became a Research Fellow in quantum electronics at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. It was during this time her expertise in the space made her a highly sought-after commodity. A QEII Fellowship followed and a two-decade trip to Australia, where she became an integral and founding member of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology.
On accepting her Australian of the Year award in 2018, Simmons said:
‘Don’t live your life according to what other people think. Go out there and do what you really want to do. Seeing women in leadership roles and competing internationally is important. It gives them the sense that anything is possible.’
Although more ‘white coats and lab work’ than many of the executives listed, her excellent keynote speeches, passion for the industry, vision for future developments, and lack of hubris just might make her one of the best bets to take QC to the next level.
13. Chad Rigetti
This next entry, the main man at Rigetti Computing — a startup founded as a pioneer of full-stack quantum computing with integrated circuits — is probably one of the most entrepreneurial on the list. Rigetti by name, Rigetti by nature, Chad Rigetti is the eponymous architect and CEO of the innovative California-based QC startup. Talking in an interview at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF in 2018, Rigetti had this to say on QC:
‘I find it to be the most fascinating and alluring technology that is out there in the world today…’
Before founding Rigetti Computing in 2013, the Canadian had been a technical lead at the IBM Quantum Computing Group. His educational background began at the University of Regina and a B.Sc in physics. This led him to Yale University and a Ph.D. in applied physics.
Having worked with quantum computers ‘most of his adult life’, Rigetti saw a niche in the market ‘to build a company from the ground up to really solve the essential problems that need to be solved to make QC truly useful for the world.’
According to Crunchbase data, the startup has raised an eye-watering $190.5M over eight rounds since its inception, the last one a Series D round in March of this year, worth $71M. But that’s not all: in the same month, Rigetti Computing was reported to have received a grant of over $8M from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
This only goes to prove Chad Rigetti is doing something right.
14. Kazuhiro Gomi
Not having a Japanese executive or CEO mentioned somewhere on this list would be strange to some. For the country — and the people — have been at the forefront of technology since the 1960s. Toshiba and Sony are, for many, the most famous, household names, bywords for a whole cultural technological shift. Yet there are countless others.
Ask the average American or European about the multinational Japanese concern NTT and the feedback will be sparse.
Nil, in fact — unless your interlocutor is a business major with a penchant for all things commerce in the Pacific Rim.
Meet Kazuhiro Gomi, president and CEO of NTT America, Inc., a subsidiary of NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone), a Japanese telecommunications company ranked 55th in Fortune Global 500, NTT is also the fourth largest telecommunications company in the world in terms of revenue as of September 2019.
With an MS in electrical engineering from Keio University and an MS in industrial engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Gomi (known as Kazu to his friends) — a one-company man — started his professional career as a director in charge of general planning at the Cyber Space Laboratories in Yokosuka, Japan before moving to the United States in the early 2000s to NTT America. He became CEO in 2010.
Now, the argument could be what NTT America and its CEO have in common with QC?
Well, I’ll tell you: NTT Research consists of three laboratories, each one focussed on specific areas:
— Quantum science and computing
— Medical and health informatics
— Cryptography and information security.
So, it’s clear that quantum science and computing, as well as cryptography, are important cornerstones in the development of QC. NTT America, then, by way of advanced research, wants to ‘fundamentally change the way we live and the way we work’. With Gomi, NTT America has a leader whose knowledge of his company’s business in communications should be a major advantage as they plan future strategies in the QC industry.
15. William ‘whurley’ Hurley
When you’re name and image are copyrighted and you’ve done groundbreaking work at both Apple and IBM, you must be doing something right. And our next person is certainly that: Born in Virginia but raised in ol’ Texas, William whurley Hurley is to QC what Nolan Bushnell is to the history of gaming: a smart, passionate innovator and to some maybe a little bit of an oddball. Yet in this game peculiarity will often get you everywhere. Founder of Strangeworks Inc, the Austin-based QC startup that designs and delivers tools specifically for researchers and software developers.
Just take a look at this for a moment:
I am an Eisenhower Fellow, a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Liaison for Strategic Partnerships for the Entrepreneurship Steering Committee at the IEEE, the first Ambassador to CERN and Society, founding partner of the CERN Entrepreneurship Student Programme (CESP), recipient of the IEEE Entrepreneur Achievement Award for Leadership in Entrepreneurial Spirit, and co-founder (with the United Nations ITU & UN Women) of EQUALS; The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age.
That’s whurley’s LinkedIn profile. Impressive, isn’t it? Especially when we talk about how he got to that point.
In a TQD interview with journalist Matt Swayne earlier this year, Whurley discussed at length about his startup. He summarized it with this:
‘Building a hardware-agnostic community is phase one. We built the community, we took feedback from the community and built what we have on QuantumComputing.com, and we continue to build that community.’
Unlike many of the people on the list whose career paths have trod the well-worn path of the academic/corporate trajectory, whurley’s education and professional development have been rather more grungy in comparison.
Electronic music courses at Temple Junior College were as far as the future entrepreneur’s academic life went. Whurley’s first working gig was at Apple in the early 90s. Not quite the company it is today and without the inspirational Steve Jobs at the helm after his dismissal in 1985, he worked in research and development.
In 1997, he migrated to another tech giant IBM where he gained the title Master Inventor.
A few years at Armonk led to whurley’s adventure at a number of startups. Symbiot, which he founded, a security management company. Work at casinos as on security audits followed. Chief architect of open source at enterprise software company BMC Software brought him to the creation of Chaotic Moon Studios, a creative technology studio that does software, mobile development and design he co-founded with Ben Lamm and Mike Erwin in 2010.
‘A lot of the startups are founded by academics and have very little enterprise or entrepreneurial experience.’
— William whurley Hurley, TQD 2020
Four years later — and after having left Chaotic Moon Studios — the Austin-based businessman got stuck into the startup world again, co-founding Honest Dollar with Henry Yoshida, a financial technology company that ‘helps set up and maintain employee retirement accounts for small businesses.’ In 2016, the startup was acquired by investment bank Goldman Sachs.
In the same year, whurley set up Equals: ‘The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age’ in partnership with the International Telecommunications Union and United Nations Women. The noble initiative — like many of whurley’s — helps empower women around the world in gaining technology skills and procuring employment in the technology-related fields.
But there’s still more gas in this engine:
A year after founding Strangeworks in 2018, he set up, along with his co-founder at Chaotic Moon Studios Mike Erwin, Ecliptic Capital, a venture capital firm. With a war chest valued at $125M, the fund invests specifically in startups in the Austin metro area.
Without a doubt whurley’s resume in startups and experience in the corporate arena is unparalleled — at least concerning most QC executives I have mentioned and those I haven’t whose competences, for the most part, are in the boardrooms or labs.
If QC is to become a viable technology — by that in terms of scalability, problems of decoherence and cost-effectiveness — William Hurley, whose father was a member of a US Army Special Forces, needs to be on top of his game.
Let’s just hope Hurley Senior has passed on the Special Forces gene to his son.
16. Christian Weedbrook
Australian Christian Weedbrook, founder and CEO of Toronto-based QC startup Xanadu whose intent is to design silicon photonic chips to hopefully build a full-stack quantum computer.
As of 2020, the QC War — that is the work going into the science in terms of hardware — is ongoing:
Will the annealing-adiabatic approach win over the superconducting view of things?
Do trapped ions have something over cold, neutral or helium atoms?
Can quantum dots with spin, win the war over nitrogen-vacancy diamonds and the topological viewpoint?
Or, in Weedbrook’s opinion: can photons, those particles of light, end up as the hero?
Weedbrook, who has more than a decade in the QC space in research and government positions, has a Ph.D. from the University of Queensland in quantum information theory and postdoctoral research from MIT and the University of Toronto.
‘When you think of quantum computing you are always thinking of something that can change the world, and the caveat for that is it’s very, very hard to build one of these computers. But, it is true, if one of these computers can be built, you’re looking at actually changing the world.’
— Tech Toronto keynote speech, 2019
Good news for Xanadu and Weedbrook is the startup’s financial status: TQD reported late last year about a DARPA grant while in January of this year Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) invested $4.4M in the startup. This was on the back of a $32M Series A round led by OMERS Ventures in 2019.
On the SDTC investment, Weedbrook’s comment to TQD stated: ‘We are thrilled by the recognition and support that we are receiving from SDTC for the development of our technology. We firmly believe that our unique, photonic-based approach to quantum computing will deliver both valuable insights and tangible environmental benefits for our customers and partners.’
17. Darius Adamczyk
Honeywell’s Polish-born president and COO Darius Adamczyk, leads a multinational with some of the grandest ambitions in the QC space. Honeywell has promised by mid-2020 (which we’re already there) it will release the most powerful quantum computer on the market. Pressure aside, this is good news for the industry and will surely keep the other big players on their toes to keep up.
In charge of all this then — along with Tony Uttley, president at Honeywell Quantum Solutions (mentioned at the end)— is Adamczyk.
‘The way we measure quantum computing power is through effective qubits. We’re actually going to have six effective qubits, which is going to make our computer the most powerful quantum computer. We’re very proud to have JP Morgan as one of our flagship customers.’
— Darius Adamczyk, interview at CNBC’s The Closer, March 2020
When Adamczyk arrived in Michigan from Europe as a young boy in the late 1970s, he spoke no English. This didn’t stop the Pole from achieving the American dream, though.
He started that quest with a B.S in electrical engineering from Michigan State University. He completed an M.S from Syracuse University in computer engineering before going to the Harvard Business School for his MBA, which he finished in 1995.
Adamczyk’s early career was at General Electric, working as an engineer. After that, he had several years at Ingersoll Rand as president of Air Solutions and at Metrologic Instruments. It was at Metrologic Instruments, while CEO, Honeywell bought the company. Valuing Adamczyk’s knowledge and insight, he joined the Honeywell executive team.
Although no physicist by profession, his engineering and computer science background, in addition to his MBA and decades of senior leadership roles, makes Adamczyk the perfect fit for a company which, until a few years ago, was more famous for making thermostats than quantum computers.
How times have changed.
When Adamczyk was asked in a CNBC interview in March that Honeywell is not seen as a tech company (never mind one involved in QC) his riposte was sweet:
‘I think it’s a shame that people don’t think of us as a technology company because that’s what we are. We happen to provide technologies for the industrial space. But nevertheless, there’s going to be competition in quantum. We feel very good about our offering. We feel we’re ahead from a technology perspective. This is going to be a large marketplace that going to evolve over the next two, three, four years. Ah, but this is the ‘new’ Honeywell[…]’
Well, let’s hope the corporation finds the QC honey with Adamczyk at its head.
18. Hartmut Neven
When I wrote an article about this next person on the list last summer off the back of the commotion it caused in the QC and greater scientific community, I thought it was nothing special. As a non-specialist in quantum computers and quantum physics in general, the headline was enough to get the scribe in me working overtime to get a story out.
As a ‘journalist’ (I’m a novelist, by trade), I know the difference between professional integrity and clickbait. Okay, clickbait can bring in the views, a fleeting moment of positive notoriety and a few freelance writing gigs that pay good bank, but what then, especially in science journalism, where accuracy and an impartial view are prerequisites to gaining respect?
Some writers go where the money is. Others want to alleviate their reputation to that of legend, the level reserved for the gods of reporting.
But like I always do sometimes, I’ve gone off on a tangent when the current project, Hartmut Neven, has been left behind.
But all I’ve said has relevance to Hartmut Neven, anyway. Famous for Neven’s law, which was one of the big stories in the tech and science world last spring, the computer scientist believes that quantum computers are becoming computationally more powerful at double the rate. He predicted that in 2019 quantum supremacy would be achieved. And guess what? Lo and behold, in October of 2019 Google actually achieved it.
But who is this German?
Born in 1964, Neven is currently engineering director at Google at Google while also leading the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab. The lab, which he founded in 2012, is at the cutting-edge of innovation in the space. He has worked across many other disciplines in hard tech like, for example, quantum machine learning, robotics and computer vision.
Neven’s educational background is as varied as his interests: he has an MA from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics.
‘Why are people excited about in quantum computers, what’s the tantalizing promise of quantum computers? And it’s essentially from the perspective of theoretical computer science: an abacus and a classical computer, a digital computer, is not all that different […] but a quantum computer processor is in a different league in the sense it can do certain tasks with fewer steps…’
— Hartmut Neven, Quantum Computing, Explained keynote speech, Google Zeitgeist, 2019
He wrote his MA thesis on a neuronal model of object recognition at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and a Ph.D. from the Institute for Neuroinformatics at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany in 1996.
As an entrepreneur, Neven has co-founded two computer vision startups, Eyematic and Neven Vision, too.
His education, business experience and vision for future trends backed by Google’s financial coffers make him one of the key people on the list.
19. Jay Gambetta
Aussie physicist Jay Gambetta, an IBM Fellow and vice president, Quantum Computing, IBM Research, joins Mary Beth Rothwell and Arvind Krishna in representing IBM on the QC world stage.
Without a doubt, Gambetta is one of the most high-profile on the list. To date, he’s been cited just shy of twenty-thousand times (as of June 2020). Having worked for IBM since leaving academia more than a decade ago — where he worked as a postdoctoral associate at Yale University and a three-year stint at the University of Waterloo as a research assistant professor — Gambetta’s insights into the QC industry are second to none.
He gained both his BS and Ph.D. in physics from Griffith University, Australia.
Starting his career at IBM as a research staff member in 2011, the Australian has climbed his way up the heady heights to where what he says now garners respect and weight.
Gambetta was central late last year in the dispute with Google and its claim to have achieved quantum supremacy. In an IBM Research blog post co-authored by his IBM colleagues Edwin Pednault and John Gunnels soon after Google’s announcement, Gambetta stated:
‘We argue that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity.’
Do Gambetta and IBM have something better up their sleeve?
My guess is Google and IBM will be there or thereabouts (in a decade or two) when the flag-waving starts on QC’s triumphant lap of honour occurs.
Until then, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see, though while we do I think IBM is in safe hands with Gambetta.
20. Christopher Savoie
This next guy is a quintessential mixed bag, ‘the round peg in the square hole’, as the late Steve Jobs said.
A question first, though:
What do you get when an American Japanese-speaking (who’s also a citizen of the country) qualified Judo blackbelt with a serial entrepreneurial streak gets involved in QC?
Yeah, you guessed it: a qubit ninja.
But that’s not all.
This polymath, founder and CEO of Zapata Computing, a quantum software and services company, has published work in several fields which include computer science, business, biochemistry and medicine.
‘Using Zapata’s unified Quantum Operating Environment, users can build, run and analyze quantum and quantum-inspired workflows. This toolset will empower enterprises and institutions to make their quantum mark on the world, enabling them to develop quantum capabilities and foundational IP today while shoring up for derivative IP for tomorrow, is a new computing paradigm, built on a unified enterprise framework that spans quantum and classical programming and hardware tools. With Orquestra, we are accelerating quantum experiments at scale.’
— Christopher Savoie
Christopher Savoie gained a BA in biology from the University of Rhode Island and a law degree from the Nashville School of Law. His educational travels then took him to Japan where he got an M.D from Kyushu University in molecular medicine.
In between founding at least four startups before getting Zapata Computing up and running in 2017, Savoie also had employment stints at communication technology company Verizon as a data tower manager and a senior manager of big data analytics at Nissan Motor Corporation while also moonlighting as an independent consultant and attorney.
Savoie’s leadership and expertise at one of the most exciting QC startups in the industry, Zapata Computing, will be crucial for its development and whether or not it will leave a lasting mark.
21. Mike Lazaridis
Greek-Canadian businessman Mike Lazaridis is an investor and the co-founder of Quantum Valley Investments (QVI). More famously, however, is he also co-founded BlackBerry Limited in 1984 along with his childhood friend Douglas Fregin (his co-founder at QVI, too). Born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1961, Lazaridis came to Canada as a five-year-old, settling in Windsor, Ontario.
QVI’s war chest is a reportedly $100M (CDN), making it a sizable amount to invest in startups in the technology space.
‘The technologies that are being developed in Waterloo will shape the 21st Century even more than the digital revolution changed the world in the 20th Century. And just as the discoveries and innovations at Bell Labs led to the companies that created Silicon Valley, so will the discoveries and innovations at research centers in Waterloo transform the region into an area known as ‘The Quantum Valley’.’
— Mike Lazaridis
With his VC firm geographically at the heart of many of the QC developments, Lazaridis and his team bring decades of financial acumen to the table.
A college dropout (two months short of graduation) from the University of Waterloo (where he studied electrical engineering and computer science), Lazaridis then gained a minor contract from General Motors (GM) to develop a network computer control display system. With the cash from the GM contract, a modest government grant and a loan from his parents, the budding entrepreneur launched BlackbBerry Limited (back then known as Research in Motion Limited).
According to Crunchbase analytics to date, QVI’s QC portfolio contains a sole $11.5M Seed round in Isara Corporation (2015), a QC security solutions startup, though investment in other hard tech startups has been healthy.
Lazaridis, though, has much more to boast as far as his contribution to quantum information science goes in Canada, being the founding father of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) in the early 2000s, the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre and the Institute of Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo.
Lazaridis seems to have, like fellow veterans of the business world Kevin O’Leary and billionaire Ray Dalio, a keen eye for current trends and a bullshit detector that is second to none.
TQD wishes the man and his fund luck.
22. Bob Sutor
I ask forgiveness to all those Googlelites, Honeywell fanboys, Microsoft acolytes, and Intel Tifosi out there to bear with me for a second before you go off in a rage, a hissy fit, believing that the next — and last — person on the list is here because of TQD’s biased for IBM.
Yet it’s not the case at all: technologist Bob Sutor, with decades of experience in QC, blockchain, AI, blockchain, and data science, is here on merit.
And he sure writes well.
Like Kazuhiro Gomi at NTT, Sutor is a one-company man, having started at IBM in 1982 as a software programmer. Climbing through the ranks of the tech giant in a variety of positions ranging from research programmer, director of e-business standards strategy/web services strategy to vice-president of open systems and Linux, he became VP of IBM’s Quantum Ecosystem Development in early 2018.
‘We [at IBM] do believe that this is going to be very possibly the most important computing technology of the century.’
— Bob Sutor
All this practical experience has a great foundation, however.
With a degree in mathematics from Harvard and an MA and Ph.D. in the same subject from its bitter Ivy League rivals Princeton, Sutor’s credentials in both the academic and corporate sphere have served him and IBM well.
And will continue to.
Sutor and his employer are on course to make a major breakthrough in QC. Close behind them, though, will be the other well-funded corporations, with brains and cash in abundance, too. This competitive symbiosis of science and business will, TQD only hopes, drive the industry and technology forward with people like Sutor, Wisby and Rigetti driving it on.
The Ones We Left Behind
Before I sign off, though, I’d like to administer a modicum of respect for other CEOs/executives/persons of importance who influence the industry and have their QC mojo switched on to a superposition because they have their place here too: some teach at universities and are academics at heart, believing the QC startup scene offers an alternative to the grind of research and lectures.
John Martinis, Former Head of Quantum Computing at Google
Tony Uttley, president at Honeywell Quantum Solutions at Honeywell.
Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, CEO of Nu Quantum.
Matt Johnson, QC Ware’s CEO and co-founder.
Thomas Monz, CEO of Alpine Quantum Computing (AQC).
Denis Farnosov, founder and CEO at ApexQubit.
Ben Bloom, CEO of Atom Computing.
Jeffrey Cohen, CEO/president of Chicago Quantum.
Vish R, founder and CEO at CogniFrame.
Bo Ewald, president/CEO at ColdQuanta, Inc.
Tommaso Demarie, CEO/co-founder of Entropica Labs.
Michele Mosca, co-founder, president/CEO of Evolution.
Scott Totzke, CEO/co-founder at ISARA Corporation.
Thomas Pasakarnis, CEO at Janis Research Company, Inc.
Bob Gelfond, CEO at MQS Management and Chairman at MagiQ Technologies.
Joseph Geraci, CEO/co-founder of NetraMark Corp.
Cristina Escoda, president/COO and cofounder at ORCA Computing.
Magdalena Hauser, CEO/co-founder of ParityQC.
Michael Biercuk, CEO/founder of Q-CTRL.
Andrea Rodriguez Blanco, CEO/founder of Q-Lion.
Benno Broer, CEO at Qu & Co.
Nathan Shammah, CTO at Quantika.
Phil Speed, CEO/co-founder of Quantum Base.
Joseph Emerson, CEO/founder/chief scientist at Quantum Benchmark.
Andrew Horsley, CEO of Quantum Brilliance.
Carlos A. Sanmiguel, CEO of Xofia Inc.
Martin Mengwall, CEO at Quantum Circuits, Inc.
Itamar Sivan, CEO at Quantum Machines (QM).
Rebecca Krauthamer, CEO/founder of Quantum Thought.
Steve Brierley, CEO at Riverlane.
Niels Hersoug, CEO of Sparrow Quantum.
Jean Phillip Bernier, CEO at Spin Quantum Tech.