Marta Estarellas: Developing a Full-Stack Approach to Analog Quantum Computing with Qilimanjaro*

Marta Estarellas: Developing a Full-Stack Approach to Analog Quantum Computing with Qilimanjaro*

As the number of qubits in quantum computers increases, one crucial question remains: when will they be commercially viable?

One way forward may be analog quantum computing. Unlike digital quantum computers, which fight errors in every step of a quantum computation, analog quantum computers evolve a quantum state continuously. The challenge, then, is to achieve a quantum state that encodes the solution to a computational problem, which could be feasible even for solving quantum chemistry or optimization problems that are not classically solvable.

Since its inception in 2019, Qilimanjaro Quantum Tech has been at the forefront of analog quantum computing. Following our last interview with the co-founder and then-CEO Victor Canivell, the company delivered Spain’s first quantum computer, transitioned to a new leadership team, and went through the Intel Ignite startup program.

Intel Ignite came at a pivotal time for Qilimanjaro, when Marta Estarellas became its new CEO, and it helped the company accelerate its journey toward building a full-stack quantum computing company. We’re super excited that Marta took the time to share that story:

Why Did You Initially Join Qilimanjaro?

At the beginning of my career, I explored different research areas and moved from chemistry to quantum chemistry and computational modeling for the simulation of new drugs. That’s when I first got in touch with high-performance computing and realized that I liked working with supercomputers even more than chemistry. 

One of the constant frustrations in research is how limited computation still is. Despite great advancements in computing power over the years, you have to make plenty of approximations for computational modeling to get by with what supercomputers can handle currently. I thought there had to be a better way of doing things, and decided to pursue a PhD in quantum computing. It allowed me to combine my interest in computer architecture and computational modeling.

After my PhD, I accepted a research position in Japan and was working on the theoretical foundations of quantum computers when Arthur Garcia came to visit for a one-month research stay. He and a few others were founding a quantum startup back in Spain, and one year later, they asked me whether I would like to join Qilimanjaro. I was thrilled and took the opportunity to move back to Spain and become part of the emerging quantum hub in Barcelona.

What’s Your Vision for Qilimanjaro as CEO?

Coming from research, I joined Qilimanjaro initially as a senior quantum application engineer. However, I quickly took on responsibility for a whole team of quantum engineers and grew into a management role. We worked on both the theoretical foundations underlying Qilimanjaro’s quantum chips and the quantum algorithms for end applications that they would run. At the same time, I spent a lot of time on the business side with the then-CEO, Victor, and investors.

At the end of 2022, Victor asked me if I wanted to take on the responsibility of Chief Product Officer (CPO) as they wanted someone technical with a product vision. After careful consideration, I moved from research to the role of CPO, and shortly after, Victor stepped down from Qilimanjaro for personal reasons, and I became CEO.

We had grown a lot over the summer, and I was lucky to start with a strong team and Victor as a mentor. In partnership with GMV, we have delivered Spain’s first quantum computer to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, and as we speak, we’ve started giving users access to our quantum cloud so they can test it. 

In the past, we have deployed quantum computers on-site for customers to cover the costs of R&D and capital expenditure. Back then, we focused on one type of service crucial to customer success: consultancy for quantum algorithms and hardware development. This helped and continues to help our customers get started smoothly and allows us to understand better their needs and where quantum algorithms could meet those. We’re actively engaging with multinationals, e.g., from the logistics, finance, chemistry, or energy sector.

Our main focus will be providing a scalable quantum cloud, with our first public MVP being about to be released in mid-2024, bringing quantum computing to end customers. We’re quite ambitious in that we want to be full-stack, covering everything from the quantum chip to the control software and the frameworks and applications end users interact with. Developers shouldn’t worry about the quirks of quantum physics and designing a Hamiltonian. Instead, we bring an extra layer of abstraction, allowing classical software developers to use our portfolio of ready-made quantum algorithms.

We know there is a lot of potential from the theoretical side, but quantum computing has yet to show value for practical applications. We maximize the current capabilities of quantum computers with application-specific quantum chips (QASICs – Quantum ASICs), and our integrated software-hardware approach allows us to bring quantum chips and quantum software together to address specific problems and demonstrate value for real applications over the next years.

How Did Intel Ignite Accelerate Your Journey?

Intel Ignite came right at the perfect time for me. I was at the beginning of my journey as a CEO, and the program helped me a lot to structure all my thoughts. That was the biggest benefit for me of participating in the program: putting it all in perspective.

For example, I wanted to change many things at once, and the Intel Ignite mentors helped me organize and prioritize those changes so we can now implement them thoughtfully, see their effects one by one, and adjust accordingly.

The program included three weeks on-site in Munich, where all the participants from all startups in the batch met, and we had very intense sessions, starting at around 9 am and lasting until 9 pm. These were intense sessions, addressing particular aspects of company building like IP strategy, sales, or marketing, for which they brought in external experts to address our specific questions, challenges, and doubts.

Intel Ignite can be a great opportunity and resource to bring our company up to speed, and to make the most out of it, you have to prepare upfront. I know startup life can be busy, but to benefit from Intel Ignite, you really need to put in the time – prepare upfront, come on-site, and be present. 

Unlike other accelerator programs, the mentors were engaged during the program and even beyond – their level of commitment was just stellar! As they said at the end of the 12-week program, this is the end of the beginning, but the program hasn’t finished. I would definitely do it again, and I am still profiting from the program through its network and occasional coaching sessions with the Intel Ignite team. 

The program is a huge win not only for pre-seed- and seed- but also for Series A-stage and more mature companies. The main question is how open you are as a founder to learning new things and getting a different perspective. If you are open-minded and committed, the program can greatly help you.

What Is One of Your Key Learnings from Intel Ignite?

I learned a lot about the importance of a company’s cap table and the need to manage it actively. Now, I better understand the dynamics of investments around venture capitalists and founders and how this is reflected in the cap table by dilution and ESOPs. I am much more comfortable speaking with investors – this knowledge has greatly helped me shape and prepare for our next funding round. 

*Sponsored post – we greatly appreciate the support from Intel Ignite

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