Podcast with Thierry Botter, Executive Director of QuIC
My guest today is Thierry Botter, executive director of QuIC — a European quantum consortium that has been growing very rapidly since its formation. Thierry explains what makes the consortium special and shares what he learned in recent months. We discuss how an economic downturn would impact the quantum ecosystem, his World Economic Forum activities and much more.
THE FULL TRANSCRIPT IS BELOW
Yuval: Hello, Thierry, and thanks for joining me today.
Thierry: Hi, Yuval. Great to be here.
Yuval: Who are you and what do you do?
Thierry: My name is Thierry Botter. I am executive director of the European Quantum Industry Consortium, flows right off the tongue, QuiC for short, to make it simple. QuiC is an association that was designed, brought together by industry for industry. In my role, my responsibility is to be the executive director of the organization. The association was founded last year, 2021, by a handful of different European companies. And we’ve since expanded quite a bit. We are today 160 different members, predominantly SMEs, as well as large companies from across Europe. So that includes the European Union, neighboring countries such as Norway, The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Israel as well. And the goal of this association is to strengthen the development and the growth of European companies involved, engaged in the quantum space, to prepare the sector as a whole to help it grow and become a durable sector, and ultimately to see wealth creation in Europe in the quantum field.
Yuval: 160 members in a year, that’s very impressive. I think there are other industry associations in Europe. How is QuiC unique relative to the others?
Thierry: I think QuiC, because of the mission that we serve, to really cater and develop that quantum space, we stand out. So it’s really thanks to the sector, perhaps more so than the association itself. The sector is young but very dynamic. Our members are day to day competing for this growing appetite towards quantum technologies in the plural sense of the term, and we’ll have the chance to maybe dive into this a little bit more, computers, communication, sensing metrology devices, and the many enabling technologies underneath. We’re expanding quickly because there’s such an interest in the field, there’s such a growth as well of the number of companies involved and getting engaged, and QuiC is acting as a catalyst for that development in Europe. And by virtue of that mission, I think we were able to quickly grow and I think we’re starting to really provide meaningful contributions to our members and to the growth of the European quantum sector as a whole.
Yuval: I can imagine that an organization like that would have academic members who are interested in research. It might have companies whose core business is quantum, maybe computing or sensing or communications. It may have larger companies who are starting to work on quantum, and may have large companies who are curious, haven’t done anything yet, but just want to learn. Is there a predominant group amongst the four in the organization?
Thierry: Very good question. Yeah. Our core, the, say, plurality of our members fall into that middle category. The SMEs who are developing various forms of quantum technologies or the enabling technologies that sit behind them, they constitute about 60%, three fifths of our members, and they are the handshake, so to speak, between the two extremities. On the one hand, the large companies, the large groups, some of whom are looking to integrate quantum technologies already in their product portfolio or in their own internal operations. Others are there to learn and to understand how these new technologies, new capabilities might impact their business, their sector.
And on the other side, at the very creative, forward-looking end of the spectrum are the researchers, the academics, the various research groups that are preparing the technologies of tomorrow that these SMEs, and perhaps new ones to come, will take up and use as their own workhorse and their own core portfolio. And so we have this widespread, that core middle ground, the SMEs being the main group, but with about 20% at each end with on the one side this research core and on the other end the end users, large enterprises present.
Yuval: Where do the governments come in? In Europe, there are many governments, there’s the EU government, there are member governments, and maybe even local governments. How does QuiC play with local governments or with governments in general? What are you looking to do, and what were you able to achieve?
Thierry: In Europe, there’s been a very strong support, public support for the development of quantum technologies. And that has happened on the individual country level, as well as the European Union level. It served as a big catalyst for the development of the sector. And what we’ve tried at QuiC is to give these policymakers, these public stakeholders, a perspective, a common perspective coming from industry what does industry as a whole see as key involvement, key additions, where the government could step in and really support the growth. It’s required, on the one hand, bringing companies to work together and think together about what it is that is needed for the sector. It’s not always easy because you have different perspectives, you’re going across a multitude of different technologies, so to even come out with a single clear picture is already a challenge in and of itself.
And then on the other side, it’s been liaising with the different governments, articulating to them what is this view of the industry, understanding what are some of their requirements, some of their conditions, some of their limitations as well, and ultimately trying to come out with a plan that is as harmonized as possible. It’s not perfect, of course, but to try and make sure that there’s as little duplication, fragmentation, separation, and really that it’s there to complement what’s happening in the different areas. All this so that ultimately the many different companies that are creating or establishing this European quantum endeavor can benefit from this willingness, this desire to support from government and use that as an accelerator to grow.
Yuval: As we record this episode, there’s a concern that maybe a recession is coming. The funding climate has changed. I read, not too long ago, an article by David Shaw from Fact Based Insight, it said, “Money is drying up. There’s this movement on the SPACs. What do small companies do? What should large companies do? What do governments do?” What’s your view on the funding situation in Europe and what are you recommending to your members?
Thierry: That’s a very good question. It is a difficult time on the macro scale, and I think that this is bound to have some impact on the quantum sector. Exactly what and what form is still to be determined. I think it’s still early days. And for our members, each of them is, I think, mindful of what it means for their own company, their own business, as they look ahead. That said, I think that the support that has been pledged so far for quantum technologies has materialized and is continuing to materialize. So I think in the short term, we’re very excited about this prospect, and many of our members have already capitalized or submitted proposals and been successful with these proposals and capturing some of this public financing, so I think this will stay. Many members have also successfully raised money. How this plays out in the coming months, I think is still to be determined.
Everyone is mindful that private capital can, of course, and is of course influenced by rate settings in various jurisdictions and the overall global financial market. What companies I think are now planning and anticipating is not so much this year, early next year, but it’s beyond that. The funding cycle might last two to three years. How does that look like then at the very end? For a worst-case scenario, as well as a median range scenario, how can we make sure that we build ourselves and get ourselves as far down the line as possible and still on a sound financial footing? This is a challenge. Different companies have different such challenges. I think the message that we tend to share is to be cautious, but at the same time to be present and active, because it’s being active now in an association like QuiC that allows you to connect with the right players and give yourself the best chance possible to get through this period. And we’ll have to then wait and see how the situation evolves.
It’s not only true for quantum, it’s, again, the financial sector as a whole. And ultimately, as we look beyond this difficult period that is going to be these next few years, I think the future for quantum technology is extremely bright. There’s such a promise from this technology. If there is perhaps a silver lining to find through this difficult time is that some of the hype that we’ve seen in the sector might be brought down to reality. I think this is something that our association has been very keen on. Yes, these technologies hold much promise, but there’s still lots of development to do. It is a growing sector. There’s still much work at hand. And so to be able to break through some of this hype, be able to advocate a more reasonable perspective about the development, trying to pair together the promise that it holds together with still the technological developments at hand today, this environment gives us an opportunity to try and do a reset and have an even, I would say, better, stronger footing on which to take off when this economic conditions return to what we’ve seen in the past.
Yuval: I would imagine that at QuiC you run a good number of events, and I believe that Classiq participated in some of those. If someone were starting a similar organization in the United States, which type of events would you recommend focusing on? Which have been the most successful from your perspective?
Thierry: I think different companies and different entities can take different looks on it. I’m going to give my own perception from really what I’ve seen at QuiC, and what I’ve seen is very powerful. What has been really enriching, not only for myself as executive director but more importantly for the many members at QuiC, has been this opportunity to work together and to discover who’s who across the, in this case, European spectrum. I think it’s very easy to get comfortable with a set of suppliers, with a set of customers, with a set of known acquaintances. The quantum space is very large and growing. It’s difficult, even for the best of CEOs and C-level executives, to have a good side of everyone and everything.
So promoting events where you can bring together these people in a common setting to get to know one another, understand who’s doing what, and new ideas come out of these gatherings, new partnerships tend to emanate from these. And with such a young sector, what we’re bound to see in the coming years are mergers, and acquisitions, preparing that in the sense of offering opportunities for companies to get the chance to know each other, know who they are, what they’re doing. Going beyond, as I said, their immediate circles of either customers, service providers or also competitors, I think that’s a very powerful set of activities. And we’ve already seen very positive echoes from several members of having such opportunities.
Yuval: Speaking of events, you and I go to events, and I think that’s actually when we set up this podcast recording, and often we both speak at events as well on panels and so on. And the risk, of course, is that we say the same things again. What do you know today that you didn’t know or would have said completely differently six months ago? What’s new in Tierry’s world?
Thierry: Lots has happened over the last six months, so difficult to point to just one thing, but I’ll try and pick one, possibly two that really stand out for me. One subject that has come ever increasingly to the forefront has been the importance that quantum is being given on an international front. We all know that today’s world is a very geopolitically, challenging world involving a lot of different technologies, and quantum tech is increasingly at the forefront. And what we’re noticing as well is talks about potential fragmentation. And of course, this is worrisome for such a young, still growing sector that is still looking to establish itself for the long run. So I think on that front, the need to be even more proactive, foster more international discourse, alignment, and ultimately to avoid having too many roadblocks placed too early on a technology that still is growing, still requires or needs to fully prove itself on the market, I’ve said it before, we all see the potential of this technology, but there’s still much more development to be done.
And it’s important that international trade fosters that growth, serves as an enabler and not a break. So I think that has really grown in magnitude over the last six months. Another one where I myself was better educated or I’ve been better educated over the last six months and I’ve come to appreciate is standardization. When we think about standardization, we typically, and I would say even naturally, think about more established sectors, but standardization in the sense of being able to help companies that are looking to get engaged for the first time in quantum technologies, or that are looking to even understand the minutia between two different providers of slightly different technologies, to be able to grasp what are the important metrics at hand, what should be the key elements to distinguish them.
This all comes down to standardization. When I say standardization here, I don’t necessarily mean on physical interfaces and exact form factors, but rather on the characteristics that need to be expressed when we talk about a quantum object. How do we measure the performance of a quantum computer? What are the right metrics to employ there? How do we compare, if we’re a quantum computing manufacturer, the different components that go into it? What are the key metrics for those individual components?
We might have one idea, but we might also discover over time that there’s actually some additional minutia. And, of course, when you’re working without standardization, it’s difficult to always compare apples to apples. You’re often finding yourself comparing apples to oranges. So for that reason, as the sector continues to grow and mature, really understanding those standardization in the spirit of drawing honest benchmarks for companies to be able to make an informed decision will, I think, be very important and, of course, doing so in a matter that still respects the plurality of technologies. We’re still in a very early stage, taking, again, the example of quantum computers, there are a multitude of different flavors of a quantum computer. That’s a strength, and that’s a benefit, and it shows the degree of development and research that’s happening, but still, within each one of these branches, to be able to offer certain comparisons and certain fair metrics across the different groups is something of value and that needs to be really looked at very carefully.
Yuval: And to do this development, one needs developers, and I think that’s a common thread in many of the events that we participate. There’s a concern that there’s just not enough talent, and even organizations that want to get into quantum are having a hard time finding the right people. What is QuiC doing to help solve this problem?
Thierry: The need for staff is, I think, well recognized as an important ingredient, and a lot of projections are showing that, indeed there’s bound to be a shortage. QuiC is there to do a few things. One is to understand, pool together, the requirements of different companies. No one company can on its own necessarily alter and implement particular training programs or encourage the development of certain types of recognitions of diplomas and whatnot. So I think we’re there to try and capture, from a collective point of view, what are the needs, and then in a second step, to be able to approach, again, the very same public stakeholders that we’re already engaged with and orient them on the subject here of education, of professional trainings, to support individuals who want to reach and enter into this quantum space to be able to do so.
And it’s really important to take a moment to recognize that we’re not simply speaking here about what most companies to date have hired for the quantum sector, namely holders of PhD degrees in quantum physics or very near subject matters, but more and more it’s about engineers, it’s about scientists with master’s degree and even other broader set of skills, communication, HR, and so on that have some knowledge, some sensibilities, I would even say being versed in the quantum sector without being experts in it. This kind of capabilities, these kinds of skill sets are going to be increasingly important and there’s a need to prepare that in. And so it’s about both approaching the subject for the next generation of employees, as well as the current set of professionals.
Yuval: As we get close to the end of our discussion today, I know you also have a role at the World Economic Forum. Could you explain what the World Economic Forum is doing about quantum and why there’s a need to do it at that level, and what is your role in that activity?
Thierry: Certainly. The World Economic Forum, for a few years now has been very keen to understand the development of still this young technology, quantum technologies, and has especially taken interest in the area of quantum computing. Last year, I had the privilege to be part of a group that developed governance principle on quantum computing. These principles were published early this year, early 2022.
And since then, we’ve taken another step as part of the Global Future Council to develop this time not simply the governance principle, but a state of play, so to speak, in quantum computing, what’s happening today, what is the state of the art, what is the situation worldwide on the subject, companies, industrial developments research, and so on to really give decision-makers, World Economic Forum permanent members, a clear sense of this new technology and a baseline from which to develop potential policies or potentially propose actions that should be taken on an international level. More work is still to come. My involvement has been from both an industrial and European perspective. I continue to stay engaged with the group and quite frankly I think it’s quite exciting to see this development happening and seeing the interest that quantum is gaining as a whole. We’re still early, but clearly I think there’s an appreciation for the impact this is bound to have in everyone’s future.
Yuval: One takeaway for me from this conversation is that there is an incredible amount of activity happening in Europe. First, would you agree that’s the case?
Yuval: How do you compare it to other regions in the world? And maybe as a follow up to that, whether because of the World Economic Forum or the work that you’re doing in Europe, how do you view China in that regard?
Thierry: First, I think the activities in Europe on the international scale has maybe not always been so evident, so obvious, which has been, in my opinion, a pity, and I think it’s important to articulate just how dynamic the development’s here. Not only does QuiC have 160 members, if we have this number, it’s because there’s such a wide pool of new companies, startups of all sorts of flavors there to pioneer and develop this sector. And these many different startups are the products of a very strong academic basis. Some studies have showed that up until very recently, and I think it’s still true as we speak, Europe is leading in terms of scientific publication in many of the quantum spaces, which I think shows the level of academic capabilities that exist here and ultimately fuels this overall industrial development. So I think there’s a lot happening in Europe, perhaps less flashy than what you might find in other regions of the world.
But I certainly would draw curious people, people who are entering this space to look at what’s happening here. Across the countries, there’s, I wouldn’t say a particular country that stands out, but rather the collection of them across Europe that are really impressive. In terms of how this then compares on the global scale, yes, there’s much happening in the US. I think this has been very well seen in many news outlets. There’s a lot more report coming from what’s happening in the US, perhaps helped by the fact that there are some headline names, especially in the quantum computing space, such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, that are perhaps easier for some to capture their attention. With regards to China, I think this has been an area of the world with lots of work, lots of achievement, should not be underestimated as well, perhaps less visible in terms of the developments, the results, perhaps even in terms of new companies that have emanated.
However, when you look at the research, the number of publications and the quality of those publications, you can tell that there’s a substantial amount of activity happening there. And so China is poised to also be a very meaningful player in the development of quantum technologies. So it’s an exciting time, there’s still much more road ahead, but clearly, the subject has a very dynamic group of individuals, and very dynamic group of companies, and our future is bound to involve quantum in one way or another, even though it might not be transparent to you and me and everyone else on a day to day basis. I think a lot of what powers the world around us will feature some degree of quantumness in it.
Yuval: Thierry, first I wanted to apologize for butchering your name. Believe me, it takes one to no one. So if I mispronounce, it’s just because of my inabilities and not your fault in any way. But more seriously, how can people get in touch with you to learn more about the work that you’re doing?
Thierry: Thanks for that. Anyone interested can get a hold of me on LinkedIn. You can easily search for, Thierry Botter. And as well through the association, www.euroquic.org. You’ll find more information about myself, the association, and what’s happening in Europe, and I certainly encourage your listeners to go take a look.
Yuval: Well, thank you so much for joining me today.
Thierry: Thank you.
About “The Qubit Guy’s Podcast”
Hosted by The Qubit Guy (Yuval Boger, our Chief Marketing Officer), the podcast hosts thought leaders in quantum computing to discuss business and technical questions that impact the quantum computing ecosystem. Our guests provide interesting insights about quantum computer software and algorithm, quantum computer hardware, key applications for quantum computing, market studies of the quantum industry and more.
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Originally published at https://www.classiq.io.