Posted on Jan 24, 2023, 6:08 am
When he defended his doctoral thesis in 2002, Georges-Olivier Reymond didn’t think he would see quantum computers in his lifetime. Today everything has changed. The Pasqal boss not only developed the first machines, but also raised €100m – a record for a quantum start-up in Europe – to make them more efficient.
The Finnish IQM certainly raised €128 million in 2022. But this envelope notably included a loan from the European Investment Bank. On the other hand, Pasqal certifies that its financing is “100% equity”. “To this we will add debts and subsidies later on and we will easily reach 130-140 million euros”, projects Georges-Olivier Reymond, who co-founded this company with four partners including Alain Aspect, the recent Nobel Prize in Physics.
Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, led the round alongside the European Innovation Council (EIC), Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund. Pasqal’s historic investors (Quantonation, Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next) also got back in the pot. “The capital of Pasqal remains largely French and European”, insists the leader. The company does not communicate about its evaluation.
In a chilled venture capital market, raising that amount is quite a feat. Pasqal is reaping the rewards of his early gamble. While there are several possible paths to invent a quantum computer capable of one day offering unrivaled computing power, the start-up chose to develop a machine based on neutral atoms. A technology that has several advantages.
“We don’t need to make qubits [l’unité élémentaire dans la physique quantique, NDLR]. We use rubidium atoms that we extract from nature and that are the same in Paris or Tokyo”, explains Georges-Olivier Reymond. “These atoms are quantum in nature. Result: we don’t need to cool them. Everything happens at room temperature. In addition, optical technologies allow us to scale”, continues the CNRS gold medal winner.
“It is not the most used model in quantum computing worldwide. The advantage is that it is more viable at the moment and allows dealing with concrete problems in a shorter period of time than what can be done with programmable models”, says Olivier Ezratty, author of the book “Understanding Quantum Technologies 2022”. In the United States, QuEra , AtomComputing, Planqc and Infleqtion are also exploring this path.Pasqal has a head start on them, investor Russ Fein recently estimated in a briefing note.
The course of the qubits
“The first generation of our machines operates between 100 and 200 qubits. The second will have 1,000”, says Georges-Olivier Reymond. The start-up claims to be able to reach this symbolic milestone this year and provide a quantum computer capable of unlocking commercial advantages for its customers in 2024.
At this stage, Pasqal has already made four prototypes. “Two for internal use and another two that were sold in high-performance computing centers in Jülich in Germany and in Genci in France”, specifies the founder.
The nugget born in the Saclay plateau also signed its first contracts with large groups, such as Crédit Agricole CIB, to help them solve complex problems. “We have to find use cases, show that the quantum computer is effective, train users to learn how to use it”, lists the businessman.
With his war chest, Pasqal wants to industrialize his manufacturing process, which will involve recruiting a hundred employees, buying equipment, building factories, maintaining the technological path. Eventually, the cloud is intended to become its main distribution channel (“quantum-as-a-service” model). A first experience with OVHCloud was launched. Pasqal also signed a partnership with Microsoft Azure.
Develop the software part
In addition to hardware, Pasqal also manufactures software. “You need good technology, but also good apps on top of that,” says Georges-Olivier Reymond. That’s why the company merged with Dutch start-up Qu & Co in 2022, which specializes in quantum algorithms.
“Everyone is focused on the number of qubits because that’s the race for every hardware manufacturer. But we see that there is also a lot of progress in software and quantum algorithms. If we manage to have an algorithm that is 1,000 times more efficient, we may need 1,000 or 100 times less needs”, analyzes Olivier Tonneau, an investor at Quantonation.
If the start-up manages to stick to its ambitious roadmap, it will have to knock on investors’ doors again. “We’ve managed to take a snare like Pasqal to a pretty extraordinary level. Now we will have to help him for the C series or for the D series. These towers will have to earn 200 or 300 million euros, even a billion if Pasqal wants to take his technology to the market and take the lead”, anticipates Christophe Jurczak, co-founder de Pasqal and an investor in Quantonation. The essence of a record is to be broken.
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