Vancouver’s quantum computing industry is on the rise
Digital, B.C.’s supercluster, is offering $30 million in total investments thanks to a new partnership with NGen, which will likely help accelerate Lower Mainland companies.
Quantum computing in Canada is getting a boost, thanks to a new partnership between B.C.’s Digital (formerly the Digital Technology Supercluster), and NGen: an industry-led organization that leads Canada’s global innovation cluster for advanced manufacturing.
Together, the two organizations will receive $14 million to drive the commercialization of quantum technologies, with the aim that they will leverage that funding to attract more than $30 million in total investments. The federal government, which is the source of the money, hopes that the clusters will use their cross-country networks to help Canada become a leader in the emerging field, in line with its National Quantum Strategy.
Not much has been announced about the details of the program, nor has there been a formal call for proposals or timeline for applications. However, the organizations have revealed that the funding will focus on three main areas: quantum sensors (including photonics and transducers), quantum networks (such as quantum communications and a quantum internet), and quantum computing (think: quantum software, cryptography, algorithms, and more).
"Digital is advancing human health, improving environmental health, and building a more inclusive and prosperous Canada through the development and deployment of digital technologies,” said Sue Paish, CEO of Digital, B.C.’s government-funded supercluster. “We are excited to partner with NGen and leverage the expertise and experience of our two organizations to maximize economic opportunities for Canadian industry and real benefits to Canadians."
Why the government is focusing on quantum
Digital’s new foray into quantum is a first for the organization. The supercluster has previously focused on traditional industries, with many of its projects covering mining and environmentalism, education and talent-building, and healthcare. Recently, however, it’s begun to explore projects in areas such as data commons and digital twins.
Quantum computing has the potential to aid in all of those industries. The tech uses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems that are too complex for classical computers — including supercomputers, which are limited by the fact that they share the same underlying method of processing data as classical computers. The kind of problems that stump classical computers and supercomputers are those that have lots of variables interacting in complicated ways, like sorting out the best routes for several hundred tankers in a global shipping network, or uncovering the molecular structures of folded proteins.
A classical computer uses bits to perform its operations. A quantum computer, however, uses qubits. These qubits draw on quantum mechanics, which is an area of physics that studies how particles behave at a microscopic level. At subatomic levels, particles behave differently to how they are observed in the macroscopic world. While the value of classical bits can be either one or zero (on or off), qubits can exist in a superposition of states. This allows qubits to have a parallelism, allowing them to process millions of operations simultaneously.
That extra power can provide a speed boost that could help areas such as machine learning, optimization, and simulating systems. Eventually, quantum computers could be used to run portfolios in finance, create new drugs, and solve a varied collection of other problems unattainable by the world’s current supercomputing technologies.
Quantum computing in Vancouver
Perhaps more than other regions across Canada, Vancouver stands to benefit from the new quantum funding. The city is the home of pioneer D-Wave, which, upon its founding in 1999, was the first quantum computing company in the world. Vancouver also houses 1QBit, a leader in general-purpose algorithms for quantum computing hardware, which has an impressive funding record.
More recent local standout companies include Abaqus — which is building a research platform to enable financial organizations to explore and deploy quantum computing for risk management and pricing — and Good Chemistry Company, a spinoff from 1QBit which hopes to accelerate new materials design. Vancouver’s international presence in the space has also encouraged global brands like Fujitsu to set up its quantum centres in the city, and the region is home to a number of first-rate research hubs, such as UBC’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL), Quantum Information Science, and Quantum Matter Institute, and SFU’s offerings of Silicon Quantum Technology Labs and Quantum Algorithms Institute.
But despite its strong presence, the local industry has not been immune to recent economic headwinds. D-Wave is a good example. In 2022, the stalwart company raised close to $50 million in its IPO (factoring in SPAC redemption rates). In its fourth quarter last year, it reported a net loss of USD $12.5 million on USD $2.4 million in revenue. To help with its struggling finances, in April it landed a USD $50 million loan from PSP investments to aid its slower-than-expected commercialization. The loan was required because D-Wave was no longer able to access a $15.7 million equity line of credit after its stock price fell below $1 on February 14, the minimum required to be able to take advantage of the loan.
Things are now on the upswing for the company, though. Today it was announced that its share price has risen above $1 again, meaning it has regained compliance with the New York Stock Exchange and will continue to be traded on the platform.
Canada remains one of the leading countries when it comes to the research and commercial aspects of quantum computing. According to a McKinsey report, it hopes to stay that way. Canada currently ranks among the top 10 countries worldwide in planned public funding for quantum, at more than $600 million: a number that is growing, but still behind China’s $15 billion, the E.U.’s $7.2 billion, and the U.S.’s $1.3 billion.