Universal Quantum raises £3.6m to develop scalable quantum computing

15 Jun 2020

Prof Winfried Hensinger and Dr Sebastian Weidt. Image: Universal Quantum

Universal Quantum has raised seed funding for the development of what it calls a ‘radical’ new approach to quantum computing.

Today (15 June), UK start-up Universal Quantum announced that it has raised £3.6m in seed funding to support the business at it takes on tech giants in the quantum computing race.

The start-up, which is a spin-out of University of Sussex, was backed by Hoxton Ventures, Village Global, Propagator Ventures, Luminous Ventures, 7 Percent and a number of individual investors. Hoxton Ventures was an early investor in Deliveroo, while Village Global is backed by the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

The quantum computing start-up was founded by Prof Winfried Hensinger and Dr Sebastian Weidt in 2018, with the goal of building the world’s first large-scale quantum computer.

The founders say that they have developed a “radical” new approach to building a quantum computer. Although some companies have created small quantum machines, Universal Quantum said the technology only has a realistic opportunity if it is scaled up into machines large enough to “unleash the huge potential of quantum computing”.

The start-up added that competing approaches may require billions of laser beams for calculations and operate at extremely cold temperatures marginally above absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celcius), which can prohibit scaling up to many quantum bits, requiring complex engineering to connect individual quantum computing models through optical fibre links.

A person wearing gloves and a white suit holding a circle with small squares on it.

Universal Quantum’s silicon microchips. Image: Universal Quantum

Universal Quantum has developed technology based on trapped ions (charged atoms) to carry out calculations using microwave technology, such as that used in mobile phones, removing the need for a prohibitive number of laser beams.

The start-up said that its solution substantially reduces the necessary cooling requirements, allowing it to operate at an easier to obtain temperature of minus 200 degrees Celsius.

According to Universal Quantum, its modular approach, based on fast electric-field links connecting individual modules, enables the company to scale up to practical quantum computers that are able to process millions of qubits.

The funding

Over the course of the next 12 months, the start-up aims to raise Series A funding to drive “even more significant progress”.

Commenting on the seed round, CEO Weidt said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have such high-calibre investors join our vision and being excited about our technology and outstanding team. We’ve done the research, now this investment puts us on an incredibly exciting path to actually building practical quantum computers.”

Hensinger added that the company is taking “a small but significant step” toward realising the potential of quantum computing. He said that this technology could one day allow the start-up to tackle “grand global issues” such as creating new pharmaceuticals, revolutionising financial modelling, tackling optimisation problems and machine learning.

“We’re assembling the brightest minds to do just that, paving the way for a British start-up to lead the journey to a truly useful and usable 1m qubit quantum computer,” Hensinger said.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic