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A new wave of quantum funding

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When the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme launched 6 years ago, Sir Peter Knight (one of the driving forces behind the programme) described it as a 10-year vision with a 5-year funding commitment.

In 2018, government committed the funding to deliver its vision. Philip Hammond’s autumn budget promised more funding to the quantum technology hubs, funding for a new quantum computing centre, and crucially, funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) for a new quantum technologies programme.

Announced today (13 June 2019) the new commercialising quantum technologies programme will build on the success of the ISCF’s quantum pioneer projects, which began work earlier this year to deliver quantum-enabled prototypes within 2 years. Read a case study about one of the pioneer projects: RSK.

Government support for quantum technologies: a timeline

  • 2013: £270 million funding announced for UK National Quantum Technologies Programme
  • 2015: first round of grant funding through Innovate UK, EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and Dstl (Defence and science technology lab)
  • 2018: £235 million committed to quantum technologies in autumn budget
  • 2019: ISCF commercialising quantum technologies programme announced

Politicians and scientists

In many ways, the Industrial Strategy provides the backstory to the National Programme. While our world-class scientists were wrestling with the laws of physics, our civil servants were wrestling with how to boost productivity by backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries, and infrastructure.

If we thought trapping an ion was hard enough, how much more difficult was it going to be to maintain the levels of investment we had started with?

But our scientist and politicians have both delivered results, and quantum technologies are now seen as a key part of how our Industrial Strategy will deliver benefits to our economy and society.

Collaboration is key

It’s clear that the programme’s collaborative approach to date has fostered success.  Our approach going forward must continue to promote partnerships; between scientists and policymakers, universities and businesses established global players and SMEs and university spinouts, and between people with great ideas and those with money to invest.

In planning the next wave of ISCF funding, we’ve spent time listening to our existing partners and seeking out those who want to come on board. And although the 4 ongoing pioneer projects have involved many research organisations, most of the time has been spent listening to industry, because that’s where wave 3 will take a great step forward.

Over the next few years, we expect private investment into many areas of quantum technology to take off. The question we have asked more than any other is what can we do to help you invest?

Investment in people

The outcome is a programme which in many ways looks like wave 2 (quantum pioneer funding), but bigger. Much of the funding will be spent on collaborative R&D (CR&D) projects led by businesses, and the teams they bring with them will look less like researchers and entrepreneurs and more like the first inkling of a supply-chain

With SMEs and spinouts in mind, we will continue with feasibility studies, well aware of the need for new ideas and technologies to be pulled in to the mix. We will also run an investment accelerator to bring in new money from venture capital firms.

We also recognise the need to move towards the back seat. Companies we have talked to are planning investments which – in the longer term – will far outstrip the public purse. We want to be able to get these technology projects started, be they innovation centres (or even districts) or major investments in other facilities.

All 4 delivery streams that make up the new programme – CR&D, feasibility studies, the investment accelerator, and technology projects – have one thing in common. They build collaboration, not just capability. This was the ethos on which the National Programme was founded and one in which – in the age of the Industrial Strategy – will continue.

Quantum predictions

What technologies are we likely to see maturing, and in some cases coming to fruition?

The clocks, communications systems and sensors have seen already will continue to feature, but this time quantum computing will be included in the programme. Here we hope not only to support the longer-term work towards a fully-scalable machine (the holy grail of the quantum computing world) but also the development of analogue quantum computers and simulators.

We want to support those developing algorithms and software. We also want to maintain the pipeline of fundamental research leading to commercialisation projects and business opportunities.  And as we have learned over the past five years, at the heart of this lies investment in people and how they work together.


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