Quantum allies push commercialisation 

February 22, 2024

Governments seek a startup ecosystem beyond quantum computing: Australia’s chief scientist Cathy Foley, speaking at the Quantum Australia conference this week

Science leaders from the Australian, UK and US governments are all pushing for the industrialisation of quantum technology within their respective markets, as government money continues to flow for quantum.

Speaking at the Quantum Australia conference this week, Australia’s chief scientist Cathy Foley said while $40 million of venture capital and $150 million of private capital has already been invested in Australian quantum startups, more work was required to encourage university researchers or those working in private companies to take the leap into startup.

“What we want to see now is how we encourage people… to see that you can start your own business and if it doesn’t work out you will not go into poverty and unemployment and lose your house but actually have ways to be able to re-enter where you are or have another pathway.”

Australia last year released its first National Quantum Strategy, with an aim to drive commercialisation and “invest in, connect and grow Australia’s quantum research and industry to compete with the world’s best”.

Australia’s federal government has committed $1 billion for critical technologies like quantum via the National Reconstruction Fund, but it is yet to start making grants.

Meanwhile, the US and UK governments are in the process of re-investing billions of dollars after initial 5 and 10-year programs.

The UK government has a £2.5 billion strategy to deliver a quantum-enabled economy by 2033, and next week will announce a number of new research hubs that will collectively receive $100 million in funding.

Roger McKinlay, Quantum Challenge Director with UK Research and Innovation told the conference the £1 billion the government had spent over the last 10 years had gone towards ”growing the ecosystem and driving toward the science”, including funding industry.

“If you want to fund an industry, fund industry, don’t fund national labs or universities and expect it to percolate out, it doesn’t percolate,” McKinlay said.

The CSIRO has predicted Australia’s quantum industry could be worth $2.2 billion by the end of the decade, and by 2045, it might employ as many people as the oil and gas sector does today, with revenues of $6 billion and 19,400 jobs.

In the US, the government has been focusing on sensors, quantum networks and workforce requirements.

Dimitri Kusnezov, Under Secretary for Science and Technology in the US Department of Homeland Security told the conference sensor technologies required more government help because the markets for these technologies were niche.

“The science is interesting and you can test, but it’s harder in sensors because it depends on the use cases you want,” Kusnezov said.

“I don’t think the market cap in some of the sensor systems would be especially big to compel that much venture capital, and so that’s where governments also working together can help.”

McKinley cautioned governments against thinking their spending on quantum computing could have any effect.

“There are billions of private money coming. The job of governments there is to stay engaged so that they can influence the development for their own applications and they can understand the technology for appropriate regulation,” McKinley said.

“We really need to see a thriving commercial scene, an industrial scene in quantum and then we will have the right tools to play with this difficult international collaboration.”

Chief Scientist Foley said the AUKUS trilateral security partnership between Australia, the US and UK would open up extraordinary opportunities for Australia because it will remove export control issues and encourage the partners to work together to solve the world’s big issues. 

“So the opportunities of collaborating, of seeing how we have clear supply chains and roles and responsibilities, and also not just trying to nick each other’s capability in skills, we actually think very differently in the way we approach the quantum industry,” Foley said.

Written by Charis Palmer, Managing Editor, Refraction Media

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