Quantum computing is moving at ‘breakneck speed’

26 Oct 2023

Hans Henrik H Knudsen. Image: Kvantify

Hans Henrik H Knudsen discusses the rapidly moving market of quantum computing, the importance of understanding business challenges and the interest boost that generative AI has created.

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Hans Henrik H Knudsen is the CEO and co-founder of Kvantify, a Danish start-up focused on bringing the power of quantum computing to businesses.

The start-up was founded last year but has grown rapidly, recently expanding its operations to the UK.

Before starting Kvantify, Knudsen was leading an online marketing company that he also co-founded called Principium Media. “It was in no way an advanced operation, nor did we intend to grow it into a large company; however, Principium did give me the opportunity to build something from the ground up, both in terms of all the IT systems we put in place as well as trying to build an actual company with a small team,” Knudsen said.

Knudsen decided to close down Principium when he began discussing the idea of Kvantify with co-founders Nikolaj Zinner and Allan Grønlund. He said the marketing company was a “fantastic learning opportunity” that helped him decide to start Kvantify and shift into the quantum-computing sector.

“Quantum computing is a fast-moving field, but we didn’t know two years ago how big of a focus area this was going to be, or how fast the development of the hardware that we are very dependent on would be,” Knudsen said.

“Fortunately, the field is moving at breakneck speed, and we are getting more interest from customers, investors and governments than we ever even hoped for.”

Going full circle

Knudsen has worked in a variety of roles over the years, which have all helped give him the leadership tools he needs to run Kvantify. His first “real job” was with McKinsey & Company, where he worked as an engagement manager for more than five years before becoming a director with KMD.

“McKinsey was still a very protected environment for me, with a lot of guidance, feedback and coaching,” Knudsen said. “KMD was then another step, into the real, real world if you will.

“At KMD, I got my first real management experience, initially leading around 20 people, but during the last couple of years I ended up managing a full end-to-end business unit with more than 100 people.”

Knudsen rose through the ranks to become KMD’s energy and utility VP, where he had responsibility over “everything from sales to product development as well as service and support”.

“At McKinsey, I gained invaluable insight into the business world and learned the art of problem-solving and the tools of business before I moved fully into the IT sector at KMD,” Knudsen said.

Before Principium or Kvantify, Knudsen was EVP of products at Nuuday where he was dealing with a “diverse product portfolio, a team of 700 people and more than €3bn in revenue”.

Knudsen described leading Kvantify as “going full circle” as he is using all of the expertise and experience he has gained over the years. He is also able to utilise his education background, having a PhD in nuclear physics.

“Now we are building what will hopefully be a major player in the quantum-computing space, trying to solve some of the world’s toughest computational challenges with software products, using a computer that is based on advanced physics – how is that not a perfect match,” Knudsen said.

“Additionally, I’ve found that the teaching aspect of the PhD student experience definitely also comes in handy when trying to explain the nature of quantum to customers and investors today.”

The shifts in quantum computing

Quantum computing is a developing sector, with new breakthroughs being announced constantly as scientists work to overcome the technology hurdles.

Knudsen claims that his company has a combination of three “pillars” which are quantum expertise, an understanding of how to “make classical solutions quantum-ready” and an understanding of the business challenge.

“The last pillar is a clear understanding of what drives business value and how to efficiently address critical business challenges of your customers,” he said. “We are business-problem-first, meaning we use our technologies to help companies to solutions.

“I feel very few companies have deep competencies within all three pillars, and even fewer have it amongst their founders.”

Knudsen said that there were concerns – on top of the usual fears when starting a new business – that the company’s timing would not be right, particularly due to the fact that the sector is still evolving.

“It feels like everybody is looking towards the point we call ‘quantum advantage’ – that is the point when a quantum computer can do something useful – better than a normal classical computer,” Knudsen said.

“The timeline for that is dependent on hardware, and the uncertainty here brings scepticism from some of the companies that will benefit from quantum-computing software.”

Surprisingly, Knudsen believes that the recent boom in popularity of generative AI – from products like ChatGPT – has helped push interest in the quantum sector, as governments and industry professionals don’t want to be “caught without a plan for yet another breakthrough technology”.

“In that sense, the customer dialogues we are having today are completely different than those we had two years ago,” he said.

“Additionally, as well as incorporating various AI methods into our day-to-day work, we also build on this momentum to support our advice that the time to invest in quantum computing is now, if you want to be among the first to reap the benefits and gain a competitive advantage.”

The importance of trust

Kvantify has grown into a company with three offices, 50 staff and a foothold in the UK in less than two years. While the company will likely evolve as quantum computing itself develops, Knudsen said Kvantify is also building products that are “useful today while being quantum-ready”.

“I think this is another area that truly sets us apart – we are laser focused on creating business value both today and as soon as possible using quantum computing,” Knudsen said.

To get the most out of his team, Knudsen believes in letting his staff be “free to perform at their best” and said that trust is one of the “core tenants” of his management style.

“We are a Nordic company, and in that sense our culture is deeply rooted in the Nordic tradition of very flat hierarchies and a very open and direct communication style,” Knudsen said. “We aim to cultivate a dynamic and flexible working environment that not only accommodates but actively encourages our team’s own initiatives for learning and testing new ideas.”

The current focus for Knudsen appears to be making Kvantify as successful as possible. But like many tech leaders, he also tries to balance his work life with his family life – to spend more time with his wife and two young children.

“As an entrepreneur, I have unrivalled flexibility in managing my own time, but my work is also my hobby, and something that I spend most of my waking hours thinking about,” Knudsen said. “Getting that balancing act right between work and family while also taking care of my own personal wellbeing is still something I am working on, and getting better at that is a clear goal for the future.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic