Follow the Money…the Quantum Computing Goldrush

You’re likely thinking to yourself, “OK, I see there is some potential in Quantum Computers, and some theoretically important use cases, but nobody has created a robust working Quantum Computer…existing qubits only stay coherent for milliseconds at best, so isn’t this all just hype?”

While no one can say for sure, my suggestion, paraphrasing Deep Throat’s instructions to Bob Woodward, is to “follow the money.”

The amount of funding being dedicated to Quantum Computing on a global basis is staggering.  Governments, private companies, venture firms and academic institutions are all committing huge sums of money and resources to this field.  While investment flows are no guarantee of future value, there is a broad common theme to push the development of Quantum Computers, and the equivalent of the modern “space race” is garnering growing attention in the media.  Given the awesome power, potential and disruption that Quantum Computers can deliver, these trends should not be surprising.

The industry is at an interesting crossroad, where it has evolved from being an esoteric theoretical construct, to having many dozens of firms and academic institutions creating actual working (albeit still not very powerful) Quantum Computers. The challenge now is an engineering one, not a theoretical one. And with the growing pull of resources, it should be expected that engineering challenges will be overcome and developments will accelerate. When integrated circuits were still being created in the 1950’s, very few people could have imagined the boon it would create. Things like personal computers, cellular phones or the Internet were not yet contemplated. Even when PC’s were made available in the early 80’s, many were skeptical that there was an actual market for such an esoteric device. In fact, here is a reprint of an editorial by William F. Buckley Jr. as printed in the Lancaster New Era on July 19, 1982, where he is mulling that he cannot fathom any possible way a personal computer could be useful in the home:

Not surprisingly, his point-of-view was strictly in the context of the written word, since he was a writer, so his myopia makes contextual sense. Given that Quantum Computers are based on a completely different set of physics, logic gates and architecture, I am confident that the use cases will expand well beyond any currently contemplated uses and that current skeptics should try to maintain an open mind.

Government Directed Quantum Computing Investments

As can be seen in the chart below, the top ten countries focused on Quantum Computing technology have recently invested or committed over $21 billion towards this field:

The breadth and depth of these commitments are catalyzing the industry and I expect these trends to continue, so even excluding private company investment, there will be significant advancements achieved at the national level.

Major Current Players

Some of the largest players in the technology space have already dedicated large departments or divisions to Quantum Computing, and lead the push to broad adoption, as highlighted below:

Many are already offering their own quantum software platforms and providing early access to prototype machines over the web. For example, anyone can download the IBM Qiskit open-source Quantum Software Development Kit (SDK), create programs and run them on an IBM quantum emulator. Similarly, you can download and run Google’s Cirq, Microsoft’s Azure, Alibaba’s Aliyum, etc. among others. These firms are leveraging their broad infrastructure, technological resources and established web-based platforms to advance the access to, and utilization of, evolving Quantum Computing resources. In addition, in June Honeywell agreed to invest $300 million into its Quantum Computing unit after it merged with Cambridge Quantum Computing.

Venture Investment in Quantum Computing

In addition to the large government programs and major push by leading technology firms, there is a growing and accelerating focus on Quantum Computing among venture investors. According to the Quantum Computing Report, there have been more than 450 venture investments in Quantum Computing companies made by more than 300 different venture investment firms.  Echoing the growth of Silicon Valley companies funded by legendary Sand Hill Road venture investors, current venture investors are making increasing large and diverse bets on many parts of the Quantum Computing ecosystem.  The following chart showcases aggregate venture investments in each of the past three years (with more than a month still left in 2021):

A few venture firms have focused on Quantum Computing investments, with 17 firms making 3 or more such investments and with two (Quantonation and DCVC) making 10 or more each, as highlighted in the following table:

Not only has the playing field for Quantum Computing investments been growing, but there have been some very significant investments made. The following highlights some of the larger announced venture investments:

Sources: PitchBook, Boston Consulting Group

Of these companies, IonQ became the first-ever pure-play Quantum Computing company to go public, debuting on the NYSE on October 1, 2021 and as of Nov. 23rd had a market capitalization of $4.8 BILLION. Rigetti Computing also recently announced it would be going public in an expected $1.5 billion reverse merger with a SPAC. The latest PsiQuantum investment was announced this past summer and included a $450 million investment at a valuation exceeding $3 billion, with ambitious plans to build a commercially viable Quantum Computer by 2025.

University Focus on Quantum Computing

Quantum computing and quantum information theory has gone from being a fringe subject to a full complement of classes in well-funded programs at quantum centers and institutes at leading universities.  Some world-class universities offering dedicated Quantum Computing classes and research efforts include:

  • University of Waterloo – Institute for Quantum Computing
  • University of Oxford
  • Harvard University – Harvard Quantum Initiative
  • MIT – Center for Theoretical Physics
  • National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University – Centre for Quantum Technologies
  • University of California Berkeley – Berkeley Center for Quantum Information and Computation
  • University of Maryland – Joint Quantum Institute
  • University of Science and Technology of China – Division of Quantum Physics and Quantum Information
  • University of Chicago – Chicago Quantum Exchange
  • University of Sydney, Australia
  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich – Quantum Applications and Research Lab
  • University of Innsbruck – Quantum Information & Computation

These Colleges and Universities, as well as many others, continue to add courses and departments dedicated to Quantum Computing.

We are witnessing an unprecedented concentration of money and resources focused on Quantum Computing, including substantial government initiatives, major industrial player committment, accelerating venture investment and evolving university programs. While not all investments will be positive, and the landscape continues to evolve, serious, smart money is backing this trend. The clear message is that resource focus will lead to engineering breakthroughs and immense value creation. There are now 100’s of companies jockeying for position in this evolving field. Stay tuned to this blog as we watch for the winners and losers.


References:

Jean-Francois Bobier, Matt Langione, Edward Tao and Antoine Gourevitch, “What Happens When ‘If’ Turns to ‘When’ in Quantum Computing”, Boston Consulting Group, July 2021.

Hajjar, Alamira Jouman, 33+ Public & Private Quantum Computing Stocks, AI Multiple, May 2, 2021

Inside Quantum Technology News, Government Investments in Quantum Computing Around the Globe, May 31, 2021.

Pitchbook Database, Retrieved November 2021

Universities With Research Groups — Quantum Computing Report, Retrieved November 2021

Venture Capital Organizations — Quantum Computing Report, Retrieved November 2021

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