Colorado’s quantum tech hub beats Illinois for coveted federal award | Business

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After President Joe Biden’s administration designated the Mountain West’s quantum industry as one of 31 tech hubs in October, Colorado state leaders hoped the region would get on the program’s shortlist for more funding — and more recognition.

The second phase of the new federal tech hub program was a key part in cementing Colorado as the center of the quantum computing industry. 

This week, state leaders got what they were hoping for.

The Economic Development Administration announced Tuesday that Colorado’s Elevate Quantum is among 12 tech hubs to receive funding for the U.S.’s most critical technologies – beating out Illinois’ quantum tech hub.

Elevate Quantum is a nonprofit based in Denver representing the Mountain West tech hub covering Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. It won an extra $40.5 million grant from the Biden administration.

“This decision shows that America is serious about being a global leader in quantum technology, the future of computing,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a the news release.

Quantum computing is a growing field of technology developing super-fast computers designed to solve problems most classical computers would take years to compute.

The CEO of Elevate Quantum explained the difference as going through a maze. Classical computers would find their way through by either going left or right before turning back to find the way out, while quantum computers go both ways at the same time and explore the different possibilities at every turn of every path instantaneously.

Some companies developed out of University of Colorado Boulder used quantum tech for methane detection or a breathalyzer spotting viruses in real time.

The technology is still in early adoption, but some of the biggest companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft have opted into the Colorado hub collaborative.

Colorado was competing against Illinois — the only other federally designated quantum region — to make the Biden administration’s tech hub program’s shortlist for the second phase of funding.

Illinois still won a federal grant, but for its fermentation and biomanufacturing tech hub.

The investment aims to “solidify” Colorado’s quantum computing technology role in advancing artificial intelligence, climate tech and healthcare, the EDA said.

The grant is also a “down payment” on the next 50 years of America’s quantum technology, according to a statement from the University of Colorado Boulder, and expected to attract more private capital to the state.

The state could see an influx of $2 billion in private investment as a result of this announcement, university officials said.







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A research adjusts a laser-based device in an imaging lab on campus. (Photo by Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado)






The Mountain West’s roots in quantum date back to the 1940s and 1950s when Los Alamos was established in New Mexico and Boulder’s National Institute of Standards and Technology were built in remote locations away from Nazi or Soviet Union reach.

The quantum physics science that brought the nuclear bomb and a precise atomic clock set a strong foundation for the area to become a quantum computing hub.

Then there’s the region’s access to military infrastructure and leading research universities that helped shape the ecosystem.

The Elevate Quantum region is home to four Nobel laureates, three national labs and more than 40 research labs, according to the university.

The second-phase of Biden’s tech hub program also unlocked $74 million in state funding into the quantum industry that was conditional on the federal award.

“We were always looking to get the most bang for our buck with our limited dollars. And so when we can leverage them and have a multiplier effect, we always seek to do that,” Polis told The Denver Gazette about tying the state dollars to the federal grant.

The governor said the state had done the groundwork to be a leader in the industry and “this is, in many ways, an acknowledgement that America’s bet on quantum technology is on Colorado.”

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Colorado aims to be the “Silicon Valley” of quantum computing.

But the state also doesn’t want to be like Murray Hill, N.J, said Corban Tillemann-Dick, CEO of Denver-based Maybell Quantum Industries.

The New Jersey town is famous for being the birthplace of a computer building block, the transistor, but struggled to become a computing hub as California did. Investments like this are key to ensuring the Mountain West doesn’t lose its advantage, he said.

“The state is now in a position where we can capitalize on our early lead in this race and turn it into global leadership for decades and decades to come,” Tillemann-Dick said.

With both state and federal funding infusing more than $125 million into the region, he said, “this just supercharges everything we’re doing for the ecosystem.”

The Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC have been working with Elevate Quantum and that relationship will likely become more formal now that the grant has been awarded, said Jim Lovewell, chief operating officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC in an interview Tuesday.

 

“We are looking to unite the region and make this a quantum corridor of excellence,” he said.

 

Quantum computing allows information to be shared in a chain fashion, so that one piece of the chain can’t be separated by a hacker and put back into place, he said.

 

“It is exponentially more secure based on the physics,” he said.

 

The five military bases in town and combatant commands housed here, such as Space Command, are expected to be key customers for the technology, along with the large cyber security industry, Lovewell said. It will also have applications for industries such as finance and healthcare.







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Prof. Margaret Murnane, a JILA fellow, works with her research team. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)






“This Phase 2 Quantum Tech Hub award will provide unprecedented opportunities for CU Boulder and other Colorado research institutions and businesses to translate cutting-edge quantum research into real-world impact for Colorado’s people and economy,” CU Boulder Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation Massimo Ruzzene said in the release.

He later told The Denver Gazette that the funding will make it much easier to spin out more companies from the university’s labs.

Starting a quantum computing startup is extremely expensive due to the machines needed to power their ideas. It’s a steep barrier to entry and private investors take on higher risk by funding new ideas with little evidence the ideas work.

Starting from scratch would “increase tremendously the risk of them failing early on, rather than being able to to start with low investment and then slowly build up,” Ruzzene said.

But the extra funding coming in from government officials can go toward building open-access facilities for startups to use, Ruzzene said, lowering costs of entry and giving venture capital investors more concepts to back with less risk.

“We need to make sure that that pipeline is continuously being fed by the innovation ecosystem.” Ruzzene said. “This funding will really enable that pipeline to exist and so we’re going to be scaling up through this pipeline.”

The Gazette military reporter Mary Shinn contributed to this story.

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