Quantum Brilliance: Shaping the Future of Room-Temperature Quantum Computing

Quantum computers promise to perform certain computations much more efficiently than classical computers, and the global race to build and harness their powers has just begun.

However, approaches like superconducting or ion trap quantum computers need extreme cooling or advanced laster systems to operate, making these machines inaccessible and restricted to high-performance computing centers. 

The Australian-German startup Quantum Brilliance (QB) follows a different approach: Using nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond as qubits at room temperature, QB’s goal is to enable quantum computing everywhere, also for edge devices. Spun out of the Australian National University Canberra by the founders Andrew HorsleyMarcus Doherty, and Mark Luo in 2019, Quantum Brilliance raised a $9.3M seed round in August 2021. 

It was co-led by the founders of QxBranch and Main Sequence. In addition, CP VenturesInvestibleJelix VenturesMA Financial’s (formerly Moelis Australia) Growth Ventures Fund, R3I Ventures, and Ultratech Capital Partners participated in the round.

Learn more about the future of room-temperature quantum computing from our interview with the COO, Mark Luo, and the General Manager Europe, Mark Mattingley-Scott:

Why Did You Start Quantum Brilliance? (Mark Luo)

Helping previously more than 60 companies bring scientific breakthroughs to market, I learned the patterns of what it takes: an ambitious founding team with commercial insight, a clear roadmap, and unique technology. 

Based on their research, my two co-founders, Andrew and Marcus, shared a clear vision for diamond quantum computers—combined with a decent commercial understanding. I was impressed, so I decided to join as a co-founder. 

It is inevitable quantum computers will be mass-industrialized, and as a result, innovators will bring quantum computers to the edge. Amongst all qubit computers, synthetic diamonds offer the most promising platform because they can operate entirely at room temperature and be miniaturized to the size of a graphics card. 

Framework to evaluate strong science-based startups: The three C’s. 

  • Capital: To execute successfully, a startup requires access to different forms of capital, not just cash but also high CapEx facilities, experienced human capital, and intangible know-how.
  • Customers: This includes people paying for your product but also partnerships and actual customer discovery. 
  • Credibility: You need to demonstrate clear units of commercial and technical progress to reach meaningful value inflection milestones. 

How Do Your Diamond Accelerators Work? (Mark Mattingley-Scott)

Removing two carbon atoms from a diamond’s lattice and inserting only one nitrogen atom back creates a so-called nitrogen-vacancy (NV) center: a structural defect that can be used to build a qubit—the fundamental processing unit of a quantum computer. 

The magic about these qubits is that they feature decent coherence even at room temperature. Whereas other approaches like superconducting or ion trap quantum computers need lots of surrounding infrastructure—cryogenic equipment for cooling or strong laser systems to keep ions or atoms in place—to maintain coherence, this comes for free when using diamonds. 

NV-centers are traditionally created by ion implantation, shooting nitrogen atoms at a diamond, hoping that a handful of vacancies will be usable as qubits. Everyone thought this wouldn’t scale, and previous quantum computing players dismissed diamond quantum computers. However, QB found an atom-scale fabrication technique to precisely position NV centers inside a diamond matrix—much like arranging transistors on a chip. It’s a game-changer for scaling to a larger number of qubits. 

Yet, our goal is not to compete with supercomputers. The question here really is: What’s the minimal number of qubits you need to achieve quantum utility? To build a quantum processing unit (QPU) that outperforms a GPU of the same size, weight, or power for particular tasks? 

Like a GPU outperforms a CPU only for specific tasks, our goal is to build a QPU that performs specific tasks, e.g., in machine learning or molecular dynamics simulation, faster or more accurately than comparable GPUs or CPUs. Like a GPU accelerates graphics, our QPUs accelerate certain quantum computations—that’s why we call them quantum accelerators. 

On a personal note, I first got into quantum computing at IBM because it was exciting. I then switched to QB as I saw it could have a far more immediate and far-reaching impact. 

Thinking about deep tech: Look for a technology that gives a massive benefit at scale, and that relates to something you’ve already done before or where you could leverage past experiences from other areas.

How Did You Evaluate Your Startup Idea? (Mark Luo)

With the technology straight out of the lab, we had the first proof of performance and a proof of concept to scale to many qubits—going from technology readiness level 4 to 5. 

But the question was also whether customers would be interested. So we conducted more than 130 customer interviews, connecting with potential users to determine where our technology could be most useful. 

What’s a Hack for Customer Discovery? (Mark Luo)

Know your hypothesis. Then use these interviews to prove or disprove your hypothesis—benchmarked against facts and data. It will help you adjust your hypothesis and understand requirements and whether there is actual demand.

As we got proof of customer interest, we considered productization early on. We have already performed a paid field trial with the Pawsey Supercomputer Centre in Australia.