French quantum startups move into commercial phase

The technology is being driven by a growing number of start-ups that are starting to sell their products and attract the attention of investors.

Still in its infancy a few years ago, the French quantum computing ecosystem today displays a powerful dynamism. In March 2022, start-up Alice & Bob caused an uproar by claiming the world’s most stable superconducting quantum bit (or qubit) and at the same time announcing a €27 million fundraiser. At the beginning of the year, Pasqal acquired the Dutch company Qu&Co and, more recently, Quandela ordered a connector for handling qubits in photonic processors, unprecedented in the world. Not to mention the first products on the market. So many ads that demonstrate the vitality of the sector.

A quantum computer with the ability to simultaneously process multiple states at the same time, its performance increases exponentially as new qubits are added. Keeping qubits in a stable quantum state is, however, a real technical challenge. There are several techniques for this: some actors choose to cool them to a cryogenic temperature, others lock them with a laser. In any case, it is a laborious process, which requires extensive research work, but also being able to invest in expensive equipment.

“When we created when she, in 2017, we were one of the first quantum start-ups in France. Since then, absolutely everything has changed. There are more and more companies starting out, and since Covid, the idea of ​​making hardware, of setting up their own assembly shops in France, has found a much more favorable reception from investors. The other novelty is that large groups are willing to invest in the formation of this technology and in the development of uses”, observes Valérian Giesz, co-founder and general director of Quandela. An actor who raised 15 million euros in 2021 and wants to build his quantum server in France until 2023.

ENS, INRIA and CNRS on the move

If today we are witnessing the sudden appearance of a quantum ecosystem, it is the result of a slow maturation process, the result of many years of laboratory research. “The single-photon source technology, which we relied on to build our machine, was developed twenty years ago at CNRS”, specifies Valérian Giesz.

“Quantum is a deep technology ecosystem, with high capital intensity and extremely long cycles, that relies on the world of fundamental research”

When we discuss with these young shoots, it’s the same story that comes back: the founders met in a research lab, and then decided to create their activity. before cofounding C12 with his twin brother Pierre, Matthieu Desjardins was part of Takis Kontos’ research group within the physics laboratory of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. A laboratory that worked, among other things, on the use of carbon nanotubes in the service of quantum electronics. “After promising results, Matthieu Desjardins decided to create his start-up. Three members of the research group also became scientific advisors to the company”, says Juliette Ginies, director of personnel at C12. After raising $10 million in June 2021, the company, which uses carbon nanotubes to reduce qubit errors, plans to make a Series A to fuel its growth.

In order to develop post-quantum cryptography software, Cryptonext Security is a spin-off of INRIA, CNRS and Sorbonne University, also the result of twenty years of scientific research. Your ambition? Preparing for the day when quantum computers will make current encryption techniques obsolete.

A dedicated investment fund

If they have scientific excellence on their side, these companies also need funds to develop the hardware that will support their ideas. However, here again, the landscape has changed over the past five years, with the establishment of an investor ecosystem. the investment fund quantization, supported by Audacia, was launched in 2018, with the aim of supporting quantum startups. Since its creation, the fund has invested in around twenty companies around the world, including the French Pasqal and Quandela, with tickets ranging from a few tens of thousands to several million euros. A second fund, dedicated to high-growth structures, will be launched in September, with the aim of investing between 10 and 50 million euros in each targeted company.

“We already have direct applications in finance to evaluate financial models or improve solvency scores”

Another financial player on the circuit: BPI. “Quantum is a deep technology ecosystem, with high capital intensity and extremely long cycles, which counts on the world of fundamental research to start its transition to commercial applications. BPI France’s role is to enable and accelerate this transition”, explains Adrien Muller, Investment Director at BPI France. With the ambition to create a quantum simulator for industrialists, C12 is one of the start-ups in which Bpifrance has invested. “BPI entered our capital from the start-up phase and since then we have been able to benefit from its support, namely in terms of communication and marketing”, summarizes Juliette Ginies.

Government support is also expressed in the form of the Quantum Plan, a €1.8bn investment program launched by Emmanuel Macron in January 2021. “It is a great signal for the entire sector,” says Jean-Gabriel Boinot, director from Quantonation. “However, that money should go to the labs to fund risky projects, not replace resources that would have been invested by big companies anyway.”

Apps that are already making money

Investing in quantum is a risky, long-term gamble, as the technology requires large investments and is not yet mature. However, monetizable apps designed in France are already starting to appear. “pascal can already use matrices of neutral atoms to solve complex graph problems. This makes it possible to find local optima, with direct applications in finance to evaluate financial models or improve solvency ratios”, argues Jean-Gabriel Boinot. The company is also collaborating with BASF, a German chemical company, to improve the accuracy of its climate. simulations.

In Quandela, quantum computing finds its first uses in engineering and industry. “We support EDF in the modeling of physical systems, mainly in terms of mechanical, electromagnetic or thermal structure”, explains Valérian Gies. “We are also collaborating with Onera, which devotes a lot of computational time to modeling the interior of rocket combustion fields. The goal is to study how the quantum computer can help improve the accuracy of these calculations.”

As for post-quantum cryptography, it is already of interest to many large groups. “The objective is to propose a solution before a quantum computer emerges that is powerful enough and compromises traditional encryption systems”, underlines Florent Grosmaitre, CEO of Cryptonext. “We have a turnkey solution that is based on a suite of post-quantum cryptography software tools. It allows organizations to migrate their infrastructures to quantum-resistant hybrid solutions. Our solutions are already deployed in pilot projects in the defense and banking industries. , both in Europe and the United States.” It is easy to understand that the matter is strategic for these actors.

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