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Science Ascending: Colorado Mounts its Claim as U.S. Quantum Supersystem

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA.

Editor’s Note: Reports suggest that Colorado will be named a U.S. Tech Hub, a designation that offers increased visibility for the ecosystem and a path toward funding opportunities. Here, we break down the history, its rapidly emerging quantum startup ecosystem — and possible future — of the Colorado quantum community.

Insider Brief

  • Colorado’s quantum community is making the argument that the state should be included at the top of the list of US and global quantum ecosystems.
  • The state lists a rich ecosystem of quantum companies, plenty of well-paying quantum jobs and rapidly increasing quantum innovation.
  • Colorado quantum experts say that support from national, regional and state policymakers is needed to maintain and grow its leadership status in quantum.

Colorado is leading the way. The state is home to more quantum companies, more quantum jobs and more quantum innovation than anywhere else in the world, according to leaders of Colorado’s quantum community.

Colorado is not just participating in the quantum revolution; it’s pioneering it, said Corban Tillemann-Dick, Founder & CEO of Maybell Quantum Industries and Chair at Elevate Quantum, the largest regional consortia of QIS organizations.

“Quantum technology will be as important to the next century as semiconductors were to the last,” said Tillemann-Dick “This revolution will transform economies, drive geopolitics, create millions of jobs and improve billions of lives.” Zach Yerushalmi, the Chief Executive and Regional Innovation Officer for Elevate Quantum continued “Colorado is the leading quantum ecosystem in the country, Colorado has more Nobel Prizes, more Quantum-focused organizations, and more Quantum jobs than anywhere in the US. But we cannot and will not rest on our laurels. It’s why we brought together the largest regional coalition of Quantum-focused organization in the country. Working together, we will accelerate the commercialization of product-ready quantum technologies today, bring forward translational research, and ensure equitable access to the opportunities that quantum brings.”

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A Rich History and Culture of Quantum Innovation

The genesis of Colorado’s quantum history can be traced back to 1954. During the Cold War, the U.S. government established a series of premier research institutions in the Rockies, believing the mountainous terrain would act as a natural barrier to attack or infiltration.

It was during this period that pivotal institutions like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) were founded. Long before the term “quantum” entered the tech lexicon, this region was a hotbed for pivotal atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) Physics research. One of the earliest quantum milestones was the installation of research on the world’s first atomic clock—a fundamentally quantum device—in the newly established NIST facilities in Boulder in 1954.

This momentum strengthened less than a decade later with the inception of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in 1962. A collaborative venture between CU Boulder and NIST, JILA became the epicenter of the community’s quantum research, equipped with state-of-the-art academic facilities and world-renowned faculty.

Atom Computing
Dignitaries attend the opening of Atom Computing new facilities.

The Quantum Ecosystem Today

Building on that rich history and intense planning, Colorado’s current quantum ecosystem is diverse and thriving, with a wide range of institutions and companies leading the way.

Some of the key players in the Colorado quantum ecosystem – and leaders in the global quantum industry – include the aforementioned NIST and Maybell, along with  CU Boulder, Colorado School of Mines, Atom Computing, Infleqtion and Quantinuum.

The region is home to major academic centers with leading research in quantum computing and sensing, as well as companies with high-TRL/commercially-ready products in quantum sensing and supporting quantum infrastructure.

Attracting Quantum Startups to Colorado

Several factors have contributed to making Colorado a magnet for quantum startups. First, the world-class research based in the region serves as a wellspring of innovative ideas, offering startups the invaluable opportunity to organically collaborate with customers1

Second, the talent pool in Colorado is unparalleled, all these institutions attract smart, motivated students and workers, while the University of Colorado (CU) serves as home to the largest physics programs in the U.S., and Colorado School of Mines was the first in the nation to offer a Masters degree in Quantum Engineering and boasts the nation’s largest Society of Women Engineers.

The region’s diversity is bolstered by the widest range and highest number of QIS institutions and a workforce that spans the educational range between trades, high-school, bachelors and advanced degrees.

Beyond the technical and academic allure, Colorado offers a quality of life that’s hard to beat. The state features breathtaking landscapes, 300+ days of sunshine each year, vibrant communities and recreational activities that make it not just an ideal place to work, but also a wonderful place to live.

Building a Diverse Quantum Workforce

The region’s quantum workforce is its greatest natural resource. The deep and diverse ecosystem in Colorado means that workers can find good jobs in the quantum field, regardless of their educational background.

Nationally, almost half – about 47% – of quantum jobs do require an advanced degree. This trend is particularly true in Colorado, where the quantum ecosystem includes both research players, and more mature enabling hardware companies focused on the production of cryogenic platforms, lasers, and other quantum infrastructure. In fact, a recent survey found that nationally, Colorado boasts the largest number of job openings for people without advanced degrees.

These are among the country’s highest paying jobs, too. Quantum jobs pay an average of $124,000 per year, according to Astute Analytica and Lightcast.

As the quantum revolution continues to unfold, Colorado is well-positioned to maintain its leadership in the field.

Colorado’s educational resources mean that the smart, talented and trainable workforce can grow with the rapidly emerging quantum industry. Educational leaders say they are prepared for the quantum future.

“As president of Front Range Community College, I’m excited about the possibilities quantum technology brings, particularly in fostering employment opportunities within our region,” Colleen Simpson, Ed.D., President, Front Range Community College. “FRCC is committed to providing opportunity for Coloradans while meeting the evolving needs of our state’s diverse economy. Helping to build the quantum workforce— through innovative, tailored programming and degree offerings—ensures our students are well-equipped to navigate the quantum landscape and seize the exciting opportunities it presents.”

Diversity and inclusion is also etched deep in the ecosystem’s DNA. One example of the ecosystem’s commitment to inclusivity is its initiatives like the ‘Pathways to CU Physics’ program, which provides access to the quantum industry for underrepresented communities.

“Colorado has a unique quantum ecosystem, bringing quantum industry, enabling technologies, and research at academic and government institutions together in one hub.” Said Dr. Marlou Slot, Quantum Lead at the Womanium foundation and quantum researcher. “The density of companies in quantum computing hardware, sensing, and quantum infrastructure and tools is the highest in the country, offering a thriving environment for innovation, workforce training, jobs and investments. At Womanium, we profoundly support the opportunities that the region offers for the advancement of quantum technologies, workforce building and tech transfer.”

The Future of Quantum

With a rich history of innovation, a diverse and thriving ecosystem, and a commitment to inclusivity and quality of life, the area is poised to remain at the forefront of the quantum revolution for years to come. But success is not guaranteed.

Leaders suggest the full realization of Colorado’s promise as a world-class quantum ecosystem will rely on continued support.

They say that based on the semiconductor revolution in California and Taiwan, the model for lasting leadership in advanced industries is clear: strong, thoughtful state support for fundamental research, diverse workforce development, and access to enabling hardware paired with demand driven by acquisition of key technologies, often by the defense sector.

Currently, however, most cryogenics, wiring, and control electronics are manufactured abroad and for every $1 the USG invests in quantum, China invests $8.22. The Mountain West area is one of the few ‘full-stack’ ecosystems that can address the opportunity in quantum. However, US Government funding will be essential to closing this gap, or the region and country could fall behind, the officials warn.

“Colorado is at the heart of America’s quantum journey, rooted in a legacy of innovation and a vibrant, diverse ecosystem. Our position today is not just a result of our storied past but also a testament to our relentless drive,” remarked Yerushalmi. “However, winning in the quantum century will demand more than past glories. We must champion inclusivity, ensuring that the quantum century uplifts all, not just repeating the exclusivities of the silicon age. We must ensure American leadership is holistic, encompassing everything from quantum infrastructure to practical applications, guarding against the oversights akin to the 5G era. We also need to foster collaborations between workforce development organizations, academia, industry, and government to truly harness our collective potential. In essence, our approach must be anchored in purpose, foresight, and collaboration. By leveraging Colorado’s unmatched foundation with thoughtful investments, the U.S. is well-positioned to set the pace in the global quantum race.”

Tillemann-Dick added, “As we have noted, the Mountain West is one of the few ‘full-stack’ ecosystems that can address the opportunity in quantum but without the US Government closing this gap, the region and country could fall disastrously behind. We must learn from mistakes made with 5G and invest now to increase infrastructure resilience and prevent costly catch-up later.”

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Matt Swayne

With a several-decades long background in journalism and communications, Matt Swayne has worked as a science communicator for an R1 university for more than 12 years, specializing in translating high tech and deep tech for the general audience. He has served as a writer, editor and analyst at The Quantum Insider since its inception. In addition to his service as a science communicator, Matt also develops courses to improve the media and communications skills of scientists and has taught courses. [email protected]

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The Future of Materials Discovery: Reducing R&D Costs significantly with GenMat’s AI and Machine Learning Tools

When: July 13, 2023 at 11:30am

What: GenMat Webinar

Picture of Jake Vikoren

Jake Vikoren

Company Speaker

Picture of Deep Prasad

Deep Prasad

Company Speaker

Picture of Araceli Venegas

Araceli Venegas

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