Quantum computing has been making quantum leaps of progress in the last several years — going from theoretical concept to multiple testing environments, to help organizations prep for a time when quantum computers, and their unparalleled processing power, become a scaled reality. Now, UK-based Oxford Quantum Circuits is announcing £38 million ($47 million) in funding to fuel the growth of its own contribution to the space — a patented 3D processor architecture it calls Coaxmon, plus quantum-computing-as-a-service that will run on it. OQC says that this Series A is the largest to date for a UK-based quantum computing startup.
“We work at pace, and our systems are being optimized. We’ll continue to scale and reduce error rates,” said Ilana Wisby, OQC’s founding CEO, in an interview. “Our vision is seamless quantum access.”
Lansdowne Partners and The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) a deep tech fund out of Japan, are co-leading the round, with British Patient Capital, Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE) and Oxford Investment Consultants (OIC) also participating. OSE and OIC previously led a £2.2 million seed round into the startup, which began life as a spinout from Oxford University and work done there by quantum physicist (and OQC founder) Dr Peter Leek.
The plan will be to use the funding to keep hiring more talent (it’s now at 60 employees), continue improving accessibility to quantum computing for developers interested in working with it, and to continue building out its computing infrastructure, which today is based on an 8-qubit machine. And as you might guess from the investor list, it will also be using some of the funds to expand into Asia Pacific, and specifically Japan, to tap would-be customers there in financial services and beyond.
“Quantum computing promises to be the next frontier of innovation, and OQC, with its state-of-the-art Coaxmon technology, aims to integrate the forefront of modern physics into our everyday lives,” said Lenny Chin, a principal at UTEC, in a statement. “UTEC is honoured to be part of OQC’s mission of making quantum technology accessible to all and will support OQC’s expansion into Asia-Pacific through collaborations with academia including the University of Tokyo, and partnerships with Japan’s leading financial and tech corporations.”
Wisby told me that OQC actually started raising this Series A before the pandemic, back in early 2020; but it opted to shelve that process and go for grants instead to build out the company in its earlier phases.
That got OQC quite far, advancing from a 1-qubit, to a 2-qubit, then a 4-qubit, and now currently an 8-qubit machine.
The startup is also already providing services to a variety of customers who work across either OQC’s private cloud or via Amazon Braket, AWS’s quantum computing platform that also provides developers access to other quantum-as-a-service providers such as Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave. (OQC notes that its quantum computer, named Lucy, is the first European quantum provider on Braket — a key detail for companies and quantum researchers based out of Europe who need to comply with data protection laws by keeping data and the processing of it local: this gives them a local option.)
Its customers include Cambridge Quantum, which runs its IronBridge cryptographic number generator on OQC’s computer; financial services companies; molecular dynamics researchers; government organizations and large multinationals with in-house R&D teams working on systems capable to be run on quantum machines when they are eventually spun up.
“Eventually” is the operative word here: the real promise of quantum computing is vast computing power, but there has yet to be a quantum computer built that can achieve that at scale without also producing a lot of errors.
But it seems that a lot of the hope these days is not on “if” but “when” that hurdle will be overcome. “We’re well past theory,” Wisby said.
That’s led to a big wave of both large tech players such as IBM, Amazon and Alphabet to get involved, as well as a number of smaller startups, and companies like Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave that sit between those two poles. While there are some opting to build and sell quantum devices, the economics don’t make sense for most potential use cases, so for now the bigger efforts appear to be around quantum in the cloud: offering it as an infrastructure-free, use-as-you-need-it compute service.
Although Oxford Quantum Circuits’ 8-qubit computer is not the largest in the field, Wisby said that one reason it’s picking up users, and this investment in what has been a tough fundraising climate, is because its platform is better, in that it produces less faults than others.
“We’re all working towards larger scale processes,” Wisby said. But, she added, there is something to be said for better quality and less errors. “We have low error rates, and the funding will enable us to deliver on the next steps.”
Another major fillip in the process is the fact that regions, and countries, are looking to back leaders in the field early on to help cement their respective standing in that next generation of technology, and so backing Oxford Quantum Circuits is seen to be part of that strategy. British Patient Capital is a strategic backer in that regard: it’s the investment arm of the British Business Bank, which is a government-owned bank focused on developing business and industry in the U.K.
“Since launching the UK’s first commercially-available quantum computer, we have continued to be highly impressed with both the technical developments and also the future ambitions of OQC,” said Peter Davies, partner and head of developed markets strategy at Lansdowne Partners, in a statement. “We are very excited to be investing in this innovative and forward-thinking company.”