'Support for startups at UT is rock solid'

| Jelle Posthuma

The Enschede-located QuiX Quantum received an order of 14 million euros this week for the construction of a photonic quantum computer. A first in Europe, and maybe even the world. According to co-founder and CTO Jelmer Renema, who is also an assistant professor at the UT, the Twente campus is essential for the success of the startup.

CTO Jelmer Renema (photo by Bits&Chips)

When Renema wanted to found QuiX Quantum together with his colleagues in 2019, he sent an email to former rector Thom Palstra. Five minutes later I got an email back. “Very nice, I would love to come and take a visit”, Palstra wrote.’ According to Renema, it says a lot about the UT’s ‘positive basic attitude’ towards students or scientists who want to start a company. ‘I also worked at Oxford University as a researcher. You do not want to try to send such an email to the rector there.’

Almost three years after its founding, QuiX Quantum is the first company in Europe, and perhaps even the world, to sell a photonic quantum computer. The order, worth 14 million euros, comes from the German aerospace institute DLR. Earlier on, an amount of 5.5 euros was raised in an investment round. The company from Twente is building a quantum computer based on photons (light particles). This technology has enormous computing power and, according to QuiX, is highly scalable.

Pressure cooker
The Twente campus played a crucial role in the development, says Renema. He is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of QuiX and is an assistant professor at the UT research group Adaptive Quantum Optics of professor Pepijn Pinkse. ‘Thanks to the university, we at QuiX can use test equipment on campus. You can compare it with companies that work in the cleanroom of the UT. At the same time, QuiX provides the UT with facilities to conduct research. My students and PhD students can therefore use the most advanced quantum processors, which makes beautiful science possible.

According to Renema, the campus infrastructure in the field of photonics is also among the best in the world. This infrastructure is indispensable for QuiX. ‘Many of our suppliers use the cleanroom on campus. Everything is centred around here. My office at the UT is a five-minute walk from my office at QuiX. The lines of communication are very short and that is essential for success.’ The cluster of companies on the campus resembles the American Silicon Valley, says the assistant professor. ‘You start to see the same kind of pressure cooker effect in Twente.’

Not unimportant is the ‘positive attitude’ of the UT when setting up new companies, continues Renema. The reaction of former rector Palstra speaks volumes, but the S&T faculty also generously contributed to his plans, according to the assistant professor. ‘Everything that has to do with intellectual property had to be properly arranged, and the university has a lot of experience with that. The support here is rock solid.' According to Renema, that is by no means the case at all universities. ‘But at the UT, they think constructively along with you and there is an enormous amount of knowledge and expertise.’

Needless to say, thanks in part to the Twente campus, the champagne could be uncorked at QuiX Quantum's office this week. The new photonic quantum computer is to be located in Ulm, Germany. ‘Part of the development will take place in Ulm, which is one of the wishes of the German government. This is not one of the technologies you buy in the supermarket. But we will also stay in Enschede as QuiX. Therefore, the UT remains an important collaboration partner for us. With the university, we are working on exciting and difficult issues that require scientific research.’

Scientific developments in the field of quantum technology and photonics are moving at lightning speed, Renema knows. In addition, a large amount of money has been reserved from the National Growth Fund for future research. ‘Our remarkable ‘sale’ may make the news, but the scientific craftwork is the basis of its success. In this field, very nice things are happening in Twente. We have the wind in our sails in our field of work.’

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