Rene: Hi! Welcome to QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing. My name is Rene, from Valorem Reply and today we are going to talk about the quantum startup world. Exciting stuff, right? And for this I’m honored to have a special expert guest today, Emily Meads. Hi Emily and welcome to the show. How are you today?
Emily: I'm doing really well. Thank you. Thank you for having me here today. I'm really happy to be part of these digestible bits of quantum information.
Rene: Love it! Yeah, thank you and can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as relates to quantum computing and your whole field.
Emily: Yeah of course. So, I studied physics bachelor's degree in the UK and let's say that I'm not one of these people that physics always came really easily or naturally to. I actually had a pretty hard time with my physics degree, but I think I came out of it much stronger actually because by that point, I was really sure that I wanted to work hard to stay involved with physics. And after my degree, I did a little bit of business development, took a step in the startup world, started to hear a little bit about quantum already doing some market research. Then I actually went back towards the academic world. So, I was working on 2D materials in the lab like actually putting the grind in like experimental physicists do, but it was actually within the lab setting that I realized I was more concerned in helping the tech get out of the lab and into the real world. And so, that kind of led me to deep tech and my position now at Speed Invest. I guess when I joined them, I had my physicist hat on, let's say, and kind of took that opportunity to jump onboard the quantum side of things, make that my main investment focus and that's really what I've been working on over the past year as part of the deep tech team here.
Rene: Gotcha, gotcha. Well impressive journey and I'm sure you got a lot of experience in all these different positions which is always helpful, right, to look beyond your current stuff, which you are an expert in, right, and growth mindset in the end, right? Well, let's dive into today's topic. You're working on startup investments, like you just said, your role is a deep tech analyst. So, what is that, can you explain? What the deep tech analyst is doing and what your typical day for you looks like?
Emily: Yeah of course. So, I guess I can start simple. My main job can be described as analyzing deep tech opportunities, kind of like it says on the tin, and within that scope basically I'm looking for investment opportunities, so startups and deep tech that have breakthrough or disruptive technologies that need to be commercialized. So, I spend my time looking for these opportunities and also supporting founders in the deep tech space on their journey of commercialization. So, we, at Speed Invest, are an early-stage investor and what that means is that we come in at, what we call the seed stage or pre-seed stage, which is really the very early days- Pre revenue often pre product. There are a lot of things to figure out and so that's why, you know, a lot of operational support and kind of just not necessarily handholding but support in general, can be really important for founders. So, in terms of what a typical day looks like for me, I would actually say no such thing! But I can give you a little bit of insight into how I split my time maybe. So, a lot of my time is spent speaking with founders. So, I get to speak with amazing entrepreneurs, academics that were telling me about the research or whatever Idea is, that they have, that they've been working on for a while. I spend a lot of time trying to keep up with market trends, whether it's artificial intelligence or machine learning or for IoT, you know, edge networks and most of the time quantum. And then, of course, part of my time is spent supporting Speed Invest’s mission. So, you know we're very committed to some outward facing commitments we make to the ecosystem in the world like diversity and equal opportunities and inclusion, you know, very strong environmental policies. So, the time is really split between those, but most of the time is focused on founders and how I can help them on their journey.
Rene: Makes sense, makes sense. Thanks for sharing that. That’s very insightful. Could you actually share some examples of certain startups that you see, that are providing real impact already today? Like things we're focusing really in QuBites is, like you know, making quantum computing approachable but also looking at the impact it is already providing today. Because for lot of people, still this is a sci-fi thing, that is like 20 years out or might not happen at all. But folks, it's happening already and things are real and so can you share some of examples? Maybe your favorite examples, maybe quantum computing hardware, maybe, you know quantum computing algorithm software space, I don't mind whatever it is.
Emily: Yeah of course. So, maybe before I dive into some specific startups, I think it's important to think a little bit about what people mean or what people think of when you say the words ‘real impacts today’, you know, what does it mean to have impacts now, when is value being created? And I think already taking a step back and thinking about those words says a lot, because people in the quantum ecosystem or people looking into the quantum ecosystem have really big expectations of what quantum computers can do. Right, so there are these promises of these fancy algorithms that can you know, really cause improvements and, for example searching of unstructured databases, you know, the classic Shor’s algorithm, Grover certain types of optimizations, and there are all these promises of things being really accelerated. The reality is, as you know, the hardware today is not quite there. There is a big gap between those promises and what people can do now. Does that mean that what people are doing now is not having an impact? In my opinion, no, because if you don't construct these foundational blocks, if you don't pave the roads step-by-step, you're never going to get to what people are thinking of, is this real-world impact. And the way that people are doing it today and having impact, is working really closely with the people who can later on benefit from the applications of quantum computing. So, working very closely with industrial players, whether it's in logistics and finance, you know, mapping to certain types optimization problems that fits within the category of like algorithmic complexity that quantum computers are good at, and just keeping that Link very close is very important and in my opinion already has impact today. For example, the startup Pascal, based out of France, they are developing atomic array based quantum computer and they have partnerships with a whole bunch of different industrial players and, for example, they published quite an amazing paper, I think about a year ago, where they worked with EDF, the largest electricity provider in France, to basically map the optimization problems required to basically figure out how to best charge electric vehicles and their charging stations and how that can be mapped to the quantum scenario. So, you know, here is where you're getting these first taste of potential acceleration of speed up that are not accessible otherwise and I think, just thinking about this closeness, even though, you know, some of these might not be generating you know cash-cash money so to say now, they are essential and they are foundational and I think that impact is real today. That's on the computing side. Then on the sensing side, you know, have a lot of companies who have fully commercialized products. For example, QLM out of Bristol, are using it to detect gas leaks in industrial gas plants. You have, you know, incredible increases in telemetry and different sensors and then on the software side exactly, you have this mapping, that's being happening so that the hardware is building up to be ready to the problems that we may know tomorrow.
Rene: Got it. Well, that's a great way to actually approach the question that I just gave you and it's perfect. Thank you for that absolutely. And like, for example, what we do, we actually do quite a bit of quantum inspired optimization work, like working on a software stack. And we had clients which have optimization solver in production that saves them 20% of the time for some scheduling tasks and so on, right? And so, there's real impact already today and that especially in the optimization space and you know, so basically, solving nonlinear problems in linear time is the big promise later on with true quantum computers. But well, we won't get to the linear execution time with classical hardware but we can use GPU arrays and get at least a little bit of acceleration there and it's already outpacing classic optimization algorithms with quantum inspired optimization algorithms, that, though run on classical hardware but just think about, like in a few years we can just take these algorithms as they are, don't need to rewrite them, and put them on a quantum computer and it will just fly even more. And so, this an investment into the future as well, right? Anyway, but just like you said, there is quite a few already where we are seeing impact but the expectation is sometimes a little bit too much on certain people's mind and some people think like, “oh quantum computers going to replace like my cell phone, well I have a quantum computer on my cell phone!”. No folks! Quantum computer is adding on top. It's providing new models for computation and it won't just kill classical computers, right? They will actually be needed; you need to control quantum computers and what not. So, it's an addition on top that will help us to solve crazy problems that are unsolvable today right. Sorry I've been talking already too much. But let me ask you a last question here. In season 2, episode 9, we talked with Araceli, about the skilled workforce shortage and I know you're also passionate about the topic as well, right, and in your opinion, what are the required skills in order to be working in quantum computing? Is it a degree in Physics or what kind of expertise is required to get started working in quantum computing?
Emily: Yeah, pretty loaded question, I think! Like a lot of spaces in quantum and parts of the ecosystem, for me it helps to kind of categorize these things, right? I like to put them into boxes, to think about how they work together and how they fit together. And in terms of workforce needed, I kind of like to put it into three categories. So first of all, we have, you know, the sort of really upskilled academic players that have PHD's in Physics and computational simulation and theory and electronics and electrical engineering. You know, people that are really there and have very deep expertise. And because, you know, you talked about that in the previous episode with Araceli, because the environment is so close to academia, those jobs are not going anywhere anytime soon. And those are the roles that are continuing to be needed and because it takes so long to get a PhD in whatever and become, like an expert in the subject matter, it's also going to take a while to upskill a considerable amount of the population. But then you think ok, it's not really fair that we expect, you know, all these people to get PHD's in Physics, that's just not everyone's cup of tea and it's not really reasonable or sustainable. So then you get into this category of sort of more approachable and entry level jobs that can be either on the communication side of things, the community building, you know educators and real pedagogical approaches and also more entry level software developers. You know, people who may have some engineering experience or nanofabrication experience but maybe not specifically in this part of quantum and you know you have a bachelor's degree and maybe a masters or you've had some really amazing experience in different startups and you can kind of already start entering the field, right? I mean you have to give it to IBM, with all of their Qiskit advocates and making everything as accessible as possible to everyone, to really lower that barrier to entry and those I think stuff is going in the right way for that. And then in my opinion, what we see is also, this needs for a sort of more senior upper-level business developers that have an understanding of quantum. You can't really sing the quantum story if you don't have a genuine understanding inside of you, of what the tricks are that are being leveraged. Why is it so weird and amazing and if you don't understand that in your core and have a little bit of understanding of quantum, you can’t sell the story, you can't understand what kind of partnerships and collaborations and I think, this is what you touched on previously with Araceli. This more experienced, you know, deep tech expert that also understands quantum and can build the partnerships and do the sales. That's a role that is missing in the world right now and that is going to take a while to fill in. So that's kind of how I like to think about the three different categories. Progress is being made, I think just talking about it, things exactly like this, that are making it accessible to the people as the first step. Because then, little by little, you know, just familiarity lowers the barrier to entry to everyone. You know, you don't think, what the heck are they talking about anymore, when you hear superposition and entanglement. It will become hopefully more casual lingual.
Rene: Awesome! That was a fantastic answer! Thank you so much for sharing all the insights today. We, unfortunately are already at the end of the show. We could talk for many more hours, but thanks so much for being on the show and sharing your insights today.
Emily: Thanks so much Rene. Catch you soon!
Rene: Well, that was amazing, right? Thanks everyone for joining us for another episode of QuBites, your bite side pieces of quantum computing. You know the drill, right? Watch our blog, follow the social media channels to hear all about the next episodes of season three and maybe the next season, we will see. So far take care, be safe and see you soon bye-bye.