The quantum industry: the challenge of staying ahead

The quantum industry: the challenge of staying ahead

Based in Sherbrooke, the DistriQ zone aims to bridge the gap between the work of researchers and commercial applications. (Photo: 123RF)

INNOVATION. Quebec is one of the world leaders in the quantum industry, and to maintain its position, the province is counting on the development of the skills of its researchers and companies located here.

Although significant investment is expected in the coming years in this disruptive technology, which is not yet ready, money will be scarcer than elsewhere. China has reportedly earmarked more than $15 billion for the industry, which promises to revolutionize computing, communications, materials manufacturing, drug design and a host of other fields, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Canada ranks well with approximately $1 billion in investment over the past ten years. Across the country, the regions of Waterloo, Ontario and Sherbrooke, Quebec share most of the pie.

In this race to develop the tools of tomorrow, Quebec therefore relies on human resources and close collaboration between stakeholders to maintain its competitive advantage created by researchers at the University of Sherbrooke. It was in this region that the quantum innovation zone DistriQ was established last year, which aims to connect research and commercial applications.

“Our priority is to provide the infrastructure to enable businesses to start or accelerate,” Martin Enaut, DistriQ’s interim CEO, said in an interview. We want to attract international players to make Quebec a hub. »

State of the art equipment

Among the benefits Quebec enjoys is IBM’s Quantum System One quantum computer, Bromont, the only one in the country and one of only a few in the world. Its access is managed by the Quebec Digital and Quantum Innovation Platform (PINQ²)

“This gives us national and international influence. We are becoming more attractive,” notes Gael Humbert, Founding Partner and Head of Business Development, Partnerships and Strategy at PINQ².

“Having a quantum platform available to companies and universities is rare,” he adds. We get a lot of inquiries from Europe and even from Japan and South Korea. »

The second asset of the innovation zone is Quantum Space 1 and its laboratory for the development of quantum technologies in Sherbrooke, which was announced at the end of November and will open its doors next year. In particular, it will contain cryogenic laboratories with five dilution refrigerators, as well as a quantum optics laboratory.

Spaces are provided for accommodation by organizations. The French company Pasqal, which makes quantum computers, will be based there, as well as Nordquantum, SBQuantum and many others.

The site will also be connected to NPO Numana’s quantum communication testbed via optical fiber, which aims to test data transmission with a view to a completely secure future internet.

“We want to attract foreign partners,” says Numana CEO François Borelli. The strategy is “come play with us and we’ll show you what we do in Quebec”. »

Inspire an entrepreneurial culture

The Quantum Institute of the University of Sherbrooke is another pillar of the ecosystem. It brings together 39 researchers from this pioneering facility in the field in Quebec.

“We want to increase the critical mass of researchers in this field,” emphasizes Christian Sarra-Bournet, executive director of the institute. We doubled the number of students. »

Training researchers who advance science is not everything. The authorities want to convert these innovations into commercial projects.

“We want to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship,” adds the man, who is also director of quantum strategy at the University of Sherbrooke.

Last September, QV Studio was founded precisely with this in mind. This non-profit organization is a “venture studio” that aims to work with researchers to help them create their businesses.

“Evaluating commercial potential is not in the DNA of quantum physics researchers,” notes Sarah Jenna, director of QV Studio. We have an educational role with researchers to convince them to take their innovation out of the university by creating a start-up. »

As part of its support program, QV Studio works hand in hand with Quantacet, the first and only quant venture capital fund in Quebec, and the French fund Quantonation. At least two Quebec start-ups will be funded for this first cohort.

“Our fund is a piece of the puzzle to implement a complete ecosystem from research to marketing to investment,” says Martin Laforest, partner at Quantacet. One of our goals is to help startups get positioned for their Series A and B funding rounds.”

Participation of Québec incl.

For Quebec’s quantum industry to excel, it will also be necessary to convince the province’s big companies to get on board. Bell is participating in the Numan project, but according to Olivier Gagnon-Gordillo, director of Québecquant, others, such as mining companies, would be interested in pursuing these technologies. “It takes an educational effort for companies to understand the value of quant to their business model,” he believes. Funding is available at the federal level to implement adoption projects. »

Thanks to its transversal nature, the quantum industry can connect with other cutting-edge fields where Quebec excels, especially artificial intelligence, microelectronics and photonics. It will require not only specialists in quantum physics, but also other disciplines, whether in programming, engineering or even administration. Developing and attracting talent is therefore vital.

“The quantum possibilities are so great that I’m losing my Latin,” says Christian Sarra-Bournet. We are opening a whole new market. Things we can’t currently do and others we can’t yet imagine. We are beyond innovation. »

In this Wild West, industry players are united that the strategies deployed to build the ecosystem are the right ones so far, especially thanks to the strong support of the Quebec government.

This article was originally published in the paper edition of the newspaper Offers from December 13, 2023.

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