IQM Finland, co-founded by Jan Goetz and Kuan Tan together with their two colleagues Juha Vartiainen and Mikko Möttönen, is based on innovations that are taking quantum technologies to new heights.
What problem is IQM solving?
Jan Goetz: “Many problems! We are strong at building quantum computer technology in a bottom up approach. We specialize in producing the processors, which are the hearts of any computer.
The end goal is to have a fault-tolerant quantum computer that can solve very complex problems in a matter of minutes. However, we are a startup and this task might take several years, so our solution is to slice the strategic goal down into smaller steps.
Currently, we are providing quantum computers to universities and research centers for scientific and educational purposes. They can be used for scientific computing and educate the best scientist out there. The next step is to build a machine that is streamlined for a special purpose, not in a sense that it can solve any problem, but optimized to solve an application-specific problem.
Quantum technology can be used to achieve technological breakthroughs in multiple industries such as finance, material science, and machine learning. In the case of the latter, it could work in the optimization of cities’ traffic flow, for instance.”
What kind of research is IQM based on?
Kuan Tan: “I have done research in semiconducting qubit technology in the University of South Wales in Sydney, Australia and then moved to superconducting technology at Aalto University. I got my PhD in quantum computing in Sydney.
In addition, I’ve also had the opportunity to work at Microsoft who were serious about their efforts to build a large-scale quantum computer. Along the way, I picked up many know-hows to scale up the technology, and to build something commercial from it.”
Jan Goetz: “All four founders are physicists by training. I got my PhD in Munich in superconducting circuits, which is the most promising technology platform for quantum computers. I moved to Finland in 2017 to do a postdoc with Mikko Möttönen at Aalto University and the idea of starting IQM came from him during that period.”
What similarities are there between the work of a researcher and an entrepreneur?
Kuan Tan: “I think the similarities start and end with controlled chaos! As a scientist you don’t have a strict timeline to conduct your research, but you still want to achieve the best outcome. Getting there can be pretty chaotic – you have to work hard to get the funding and make progress at the same time.
Similarly, when you start a company, you don’t necessarily know how to get the best results at first and need to form your own team from scratch, but you just start figuring things out as you go. That will be pretty chaotic but also a lot of fun!”
Jan Goetz: “In the research and entrepreneurial world, nobody will be there to tell you what to do next. Either you have the intrinsic motivation to get things done or you don’t. The founders of startups that came out of academia usually have it because that is what made them successful in their research career. You can succeed as an entrepreneur as long as you have the mentality of always wanting to move forward.”
What can researchers gain from commercializing their work?
Kuan Tan: “The obvious thing would be that they can get financial rewards. But more importantly for me is the reward to see something you invented become an actual product and not something that’s finished after publishing a scientific paper about it.
When you commercialize technology, there is a potential for your research idea to become a product. If it’s something that’s really groundbreaking, like for instance the mobile phone, it can really change the world.”
Jan Goetz: “When entering entrepreneurship you open your eyes to the complexity of the world. Once you become an entrepreneur, you also have to assume business, HR and marketing roles, which develops your character from the purely academic life you had. It’s actually quite rewarding to grow as a professional and expand horizons.
What is especially interesting for me is the whole team aspect of the story. Only if you have a world class team in place, you can succeed. Luckily, we are full of world leading experts in IQM.”
What advice would you give for researchers who are looking to commercialize their work?
Jan Goetz: “Be open to different opinions. As an entrepreneur, you’re entering certain fields where you are missing the necessary expertise. You have to be very open-minded and to listen and trust the right people.”
Kuan Tan: “A researcher at the very least needs to understand what is the definition of a product – how to take an idea and turn it all the way into a thing that can be safely used by many people.”
What does the future hold for IQM?
Jan Goetz: “We just closed our first deal. The near future goal naturally is to replicate this and sell more quantum computers. On the strategy side, the goal is to reach quantum advantage and build a commercially viable computer. This will lead to a very well-defined, scalable business model that adds value to humankind. But as I explained earlier, there are still a few steps to take along the way.”
Kuan Tan: “We also want our R&D efforts to be sustainable. At the moment we’re utilizing equity from our investors, but we would like to grow and use future revenue to fund our R&D to reach our strategic goal. We also want to contribute to the development of the economy and the advancement of the quantum community globally.”
IQM is the leading European company designing and building superconducting quantum computers. It also provides partnerships and co-designs quantum computers for the specific needs of their customers. IQM is a spin-out from Aalto University, Finland, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The team’s pioneering work has yielded breakthroughs in qubit reset, readout, thermal management of quantum circuits, and other innovative solutions.
Jan Goetz and Kuan Tan are finalists for the Young Researcher Entrepreneur of 2020 award. Read about other finalists!