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Finnish tech firm aims to create scalable general-purpose quantum computer

University spin-off is attempting to take quantum computing capabilities to multiple business sectors

Espoo-based IT company IQM Finland has an ambitious plan to build the world’s first scalable general-purpose quantum computer after capturing initial investment seed capital of €11.5m earlier this year.

The Aalto University spin-out’s quantum computer project involves the development of second-generation quantum processors, based on proprietary technology, for large-scale and fault-tolerant quantum computing. The aim is to significantly accelerate the speed of quantum processors.

In a few years, quantum computers will be able to make calculations that traditional computers fundamentally cannot do. It has potential applications in multiple sectors, including financial services, artificial intelligence and supply chain and logistics (see box below).

Analysis conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in May predicted that productivity gains by users of quantum computing, in the form of cost savings and revenue opportunities, could exceed $450bn a year. BCG expects quantum computing-related gains to initially flow to firms in industries with complex simulation and optimisation requirements.

Mikko Möttönen, co-founder and chief scientist at IQM, said: “Although a quantum computer doesn’t really calculate faster than normal computers, it solves problems in a completely different way. In some instances, it will be possible to solve problems that would be impossible for a normal computer to solve.”

As a result, investor interest in quantum technology companies, many of them spin-outs from university departments, is growing.

The capital funding IQM has raised will enable it to push ahead with its build plans and drive disruptive advancements in quantum computing, said Möttönen. “The new funding is critical for us to move ahead and meet the targets we have set in our development,” he said.

“It puts us in a position where we can start developing the hardware systems and solutions to build the first scalable general-purpose quantum computer. We are still working to bring in the right mix of expertise to ensure we stay on course.”

The emerging field of quantum computing has entered the innovation race globally, with global giants such as IBM, Google and Microsoft showing more interest in startups while exploring ways to best exploit the technology.   

Five application areas for quantum computing

  • Drug and materials discovery: Untangling the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions leading to the discovery of medicines and materials.
  • Supply chain and logistics: Finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and supply chains, such as optimising fleet operations for deliveries during the holiday season.
  • Financial services: Finding ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments.
  • Artificial intelligence: Making facets of AI, such as machine learning, much more powerful when datasets can be too big, such as searching images or video.
  • Cloud security: Making cloud computing more secure by using the laws of quantum physics to enhance private data safety. 

“Our task is to build the kind of computer that nobody has built before,” said Möttönen. “This will require significant investments. Otherwise, a small startup company like IQM would get overtaken by others. It just wouldn’t make sense to begin this journey without an adequate funding plan.”

The initial round of seed capital funding may be the first of several for IQM over the next three years, said Ilkka Kivimäki, a partner at investor Maki.vc. “It is vital to have adequate funding in place at critical stages in high-value research such as this,” he said. “As regards research, it helps that Finland has a strong and long-established pedigree in computing research, and that the fruits of this work are now starting to materialise.”

Kivimäki said IQM’s “world’s first” scalable general-purpose quantum computer project proved an instant attention-grabber in Finland’s IT and technology investment sectors. “Quantum computing is coming down the track, although the timeline and exact technological solutions are not yet clear,” he said. “What is clear is that the implications of quantum computing will be fundamental for many industries. Being a tech-focused venture capital actor, we felt the time was right to join the race.”

IQM operates a technology-sharing partnership with the state-funded VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto to build next-generation hardware for quantum computers. It will draw on their deep research in the core areas of superconducting circuits and quantum technology.

Jan Goetz, IQM’s CEO and co-founder, said: “Quantum computing has the potential to change the world by being able to deliver answers to many unanswered questions. It also has many practical applications that can benefit society, such as the development of new medicines, better solar cells, and optimised traffic control.”

Joining forces with VTT and Aalto will give IQM a ready-made hub of quantum research in Finland. It also gives the company access to technologists and niche experts who are currently engaged in ground-breaking quantum research work, and institutions that can offer fabrication facilities with cutting-edge process technologies that IQM can use to develop products.

Kuan Tan, IQM’s chief technical officer, said: “With the experts and facilities at our disposal, we are well positioned to advance our efforts to demonstrate the fastest qubit reset and readout in the industry. This gives us the confidence to believe that this will bring the industry closer to a viable quantum computing solution.”

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