Q-CTRL Digest

From quantum startup to scaleup: Celebrating five years of Q-CTRL

November 22, 2022
Written by
Q-CTRL
Q-CTRL

Today we celebrate our fifth anniversary by reflecting on how the company was built, how we achieved our milestones and how our efforts have driven the quantum technology industry.

In only a few short years, we have delivered on our mission to make quantum technology useful. Today and always we’re proud to contribute to the advancement of the quantum industry through our groundbreaking research and powerful products.

On this anniversary, we take a look back to highlight our scientific, engineering, and company milestones and achievements over the years.

From academia to industry

Q-CTRL was founded on November 22, 2017 by Professor Michael J. Biercuk, leader of the Quantum Control Laboratory within the University of Sydney’s Quantum Science Group.

Biercuk was a professor of quantum physics and quantum technology when he sensed the time was right to start a company focused on what he had been researching for a decade: how to use quantum control to make the technology useful. After an industry focused event in Munich led by Blueyard Ventures in mid 2017, he knew something had changed about the sector. But more than that he sensed an opportunity.

Biercuk recognized that their technology could solve the hardest problem in quantum technology - the hardware error and instability which was blocking progress in all directions. And they could do this for every kind of hardware and every application area, including both quantum computing and quantum sensing. Q-CTRL had the potential to go everywhere that quantum goes.

Bringing this to market was critical to unlocking all of the promise of quantum technology and it was totally unique at a time when the only quantum plays were either focused on trying to build quantum computers or writing algorithms for machines that could be over a decade away.

Biercuk made the transition from academia to industry by building an initial team of world-class scientists and engineers, securing strategic partnerships and collaborations with giants like IBM, creating innovative products and raising capital.

Winning over investors

Our seed funding was provided in 2017 and 2018 by an exceptional cadre of investors including Main Sequence Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Data Collective, and Sequoia Capital.

We raised a $15 million Series A round in September 2019 led by Square Peg Capital, which put us into the top ten best funded quantum tech companies at the time.

“Q-CTRL impressed us with their strategy; by providing infrastructure software to improve quantum computers for R&D teams and end-users, they're able to be a central player in bringing this technology to reality,” said Tushar Roy, a partner and deep tech focused investor at Square Peg Capital.

Ben Yu, a partner and emerging tech investor at Sierra Ventures weighed in at the time as well: "We were ecstatic when we discovered Q-CTRL. We see Q-CTRL's offerings as not only essential to the industry in the long term, but critical to accelerating the pathway to the first useful applications of quantum computing."

In April 2020, we received a strategic investment from In-Q-Tel (IQT), the not-for-profit strategic investor based in Silicon Valley that identifies innovative technology solutions to support the national security communities of the U.S. and its allies.

In 2021, we raised a $25M Series B round led by Airbus Ventures. This time, we set out to expand our presence in quantum sensing - harkening back to the founding concept that Q-CTRL could go everywhere that quantum goes.

“At Airbus Ventures, we’re particularly excited about Q-CTRL’s widening span of advanced applications and solutions, including lunar development, geospatial intelligence, and Earth observation, all increasingly critical in the global effort to address the accelerating planetary system crises we now face,” said Dr. Lewis Pinault, partner and space-related investor at Airbus Ventures.

As investments came, we have continued to expand our global presence, opening our Los Angeles office in November 2019 and recently our Berlin office in November 2022.

Leading the quantum research community

At its heart, Q-CTRL was founded with a deep connection to the research community. Whilst we are a product-led company, strategically we knew we had to maintain links to the researchers working alongside us in universities and industry.

The research we’ve done has been critical to both advancing our internal technology as well as  increasing commercial traction. Here are just a few highlights of many incredible achievements we’ve made to advance the quantum sector:

Access a comprehensive list of our research outputs in our Technical manuscripts and code-based demonstrations in our Application notes!

Productizing quantum solutions

Our infrastructure software products are designed to help users maximize value from error-prone quantum hardware. Over the years we’ve focused on delivering solutions for different users with unique needs, and filling critical gaps in the quantum industry. Now we have over 7,000 users spanning university academics, national laboratories, quantum computing companies, and large consultancies.

Driving research forward

In March 2020, we announced Boulder Opal, a tool for researchers seeking to achieve dramatic improvements in quantum computer and quantum sensor hardware. It provides everything a research team needs to optimize, simulate, and bring AI automation to quantum devices, and helps realize the quantum firmware layer in quantum computers.

Building the quantum community

In November 2021, we launched the world’s first interactive online learning platform about quantum computing. Black Opal reduces the barrier to entry into a complex field by allowing users to complete hands-on tasks in just minutes a day. It’s a highly intuitive, modern learning platform that leverages visualization, interactivity, and animation, so anyone can learn quantum computing.

Then, in October 2022, we released Black Opal Enterprise - the only comprehensive and interactive enterprise-ready quantum computing education platform. Our enterprise features include user management, tracking, analytics, and co-branding designed to help businesses adopt quantum computing and gain strategic advantage.

Supporting quantum computing end users

Based on the exceptional technical demonstrations coming from our research team, we’re bringing something new to help quantum algorithm developers and researchers get better answers, save money, and move faster when using cloud quantum computers. Keep an eye out for an exciting announcement at Q2B Silicon Valley in December

Psst … Something new and exciting is coming in 2023 as we deliver these same capabilities directly to quantum computing cloud-service providers.

Expanding our sensing division

In August 2022, we introduced our quantum sensing division - one of the largest in the world. Our team includes global experts from Australia, the UK, and Europe with deep experience in building ultrasensitive atomic devices, using quantum control to augment the performance of quantum sensors, and building detailed quantum digital twins for hardware to simulate end-to-end performance in real environments.

Our team is uniquely able to leverage all of the quantum control research and software engineering ongoing across the company to deliver capabilities no other sensing company in the world can. The team is delivering a new generation of ultrasensitive “software-defined” quantum sensors for use in measuring gravity, motion and magnetic fields that can have real-world impact in defense, earth observation, and space exploration.

The team showcased its capabilities publicly for the first time at the Army Quantum Technology Challenge (QTC) by demonstrating record-breaking quantum sensing for critical Army missions with magnetometry for RF emitter detection. The Army QTC is part of the more than $60M of publicly disclosed quantum sensing contracts and grants awarded to our sensing team and partners.

Stay tuned for many more demonstrations of the team’s capabilities in 2023, especially in our gravimetry and navigation efforts!

Driving the quantum ecosystem

Over the last five years, we have earned awards, formed partnerships, and been awarded high-value contracts for our efforts in making quantum technology useful.

We are globally connected leaders of the quantum industry as members of the US Quantum Economic Development Consortium, the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, the Tech Council of Australia, and recent founding members of the Australian Quantum Alliance.

We were named in The Australian Financial Review (AFR) BOSS Most Innovative Companies list ranking third in the technology category, and awarded the inaugural InnovationAus Australian Hero Award We were also selected to become a World Economic Forum Global Innovator.

Our Founder has been repeatedly recognized for his research and commercial leadership via inclusion in The Australian Top 100 Innovators, appointment to Australia’s National Quantum Steering Committee, and election as an Australian Quantum Alliance co-chair.

We have strategically chosen partnerships over the last five years that have supported important research and development accomplishments. Our first collaboration was with IBM in 2018 as an inaugural startup member of the IBM Quantum Network. We have since expanded this collaboration to include exploring use of our software on IBM quantum computers.

Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow and Vice President of IBM Quantum shared his thoughts on the ongoing collaboration.

“At IBM we’ve been keen supporters of the emerging ecosystem of the quantum industry. It’s been exciting to watch Q-CTRL develop from an inaugural member of the startup network to an important collaborator in IBM’s efforts.  We recognize the impact Q-CTRL is having on the industry and look forward to working together more closely.”

We have since expanded our partnerships to include relationships with Transport for New South Wales to further research into optimizing transportation with quantum computing, with IonQ to deploy and manage quantum learning at scale with Black Opal Enterprise, with The Paul Scherrer Institute to pioneer quantum research and development, and with dozens of research teams around the world whose pioneering efforts we support through our globally leading products.

In sensing, we work directly with defense and intelligence agencies in the US and Australia, with space agencies, and our exceptional innovation partners Advanced Navigation. We’ve been grateful to work with the Australian Department of Industry through the MMI program and our partners at Fleet Space and the Seven Sisters Consortium as we bring quantum sensors to the stars!

Attracting top global talent

We have built a strong and passionate team with strategic hiring - attracting veterans and experts across industry and academia to join our mission of making quantum technology useful. This includes members of our research and engineering teams, as well as our technical and operational leadership.

In December 2017, Robert Love joined as Chief Technology Officer, and in January 2018, Michael Hush joined as Lead Quantum Control Engineer. We were thrilled when three years later Michael was promoted to  Chief Scientific Officer. In January 2022, we announced the addition of Aravind Ratnam as Chief Strategy Officer who has brought a wealth of experience from Silicon Valley startups where he led product, technology, and corporate strategy.

The heavyweights kept coming with several key hires this year including our Head of Product, Silicon Valley veteran Alex Shih joining our team after leading product efforts at Slack, Airbnb, Twitter, Google, and Planet Labs. And just this month, we have welcomed Kelly Gurr as our Head of Marketing and Donna Hacker as our Head of Finance.

At the five year mark our staff is approaching 80 people. This is an incredible milestone as we scale our solutions to achieve true market dominance.

All of these exceptional leaders and team members are backed by a technical advisory board that includes true luminaries in the fields of quantum and classical control theory, autonomous robots, deep learning, and infrastructure software for hardware design.

Looking ahead

Reflecting on all we have accomplished over the last five years inspires us for what is to come. We will be doubling our team over the next two years - join us! As one of only a few companies in the world achieving consistent and growing revenue with quantum computing software, we are excited to expand our efforts and will announce a range of new commercial partnerships over the next several months.

Plus, we’re excited for the opportunity we have to deliver true sovereign capability to AUKUS allies through our efforts delivering useful quantum sensing to land, sea, and space.

Thanks to our outstanding team, it’s been an amazing five years. Here’s to many more fruitful years to come in the always exciting quantum industry! 🥂

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