SemiQon: Shaping the Future of Silicon-Based Quantum Processors

The hype around quantum computing has been fueled by the promise that quantum computers can solve certain computational problems much faster than classical supercomputers. Problems that a classical supercomputer couldn’t solve on a practical timescale. 

Yet, to date, there is no such quantum computer. Simply put, current quantum computers are just not good enough to show their advantage. They feature too much noise, which leads to errors in computation and prevents getting meaningful results. 

SemiQon was spun off from the Finish research institute VTT in spring 2023 with the ambition to build the best possible quantum processor and make error-corrected quantum computing a reality. Founded by Himadri MajumdarJanne LehtinenMarkku Kainlauri, and Mika Prunnila, SemiQon raised a pre-seed round by Voima VenturesLunar VenturesTiny Supercomputer Investment CompanyAmar ShahVishal ChatrathMehdi Ghissassi, and Charlie Songhurst

Learn more about the future of silicon-based quantum processors from our interview with the co-founder and CEO, Himadri Majumdar: 

Why Did You Start SemiQon?

SemiQon was our brainchild during my previous role as program manager for quantum technologies at VTT. During my two and a half years in that role, I realized that we had lots of promising technologies ready to be spun off, but the research teams lacked the drive to take action—partly because of a lack of leadership, partly because research institutes are a fairly comfortable place. 

I decided to take the lead, and we began brainstorming about how to build SemiQon and what the business model and the roadmap could look like. Everything came together within four to five months, and then we started approaching investors.

VTT does research on various quantum technologies, most of which focus on superconductors. However, more than a decade of research has also been dedicated to the semiconductor platform for our quantum processors. This platform allows the development of not only quantum dots but also classical control electronics—cryogenic CMOS—on the same silicon chip, which made this approach particularly interesting for us. We had sufficient confidence that it would give us an advantage over other approaches, so we took a leap of faith and founded SemiQon. 

How Do Silicon-Based Quantum Processors Work?

Quantum computers currently involve lots of peripheral equipment, such as large fridges and a separate rack for room-temperature electronics. Quantum computers based on superconducting qubits, ion traps, or photons show good potential, but they require all this additional equipment, which poses challenges to scalability, especially when it comes to wiring and connecting the qubits and reading out signals. Thus, to make quantum computers scalable, we need to make them a lot more compact and usable. 

We intend to integrate the control electronics and the qubits on the same chip through monolithic integration. As we’re working with silicon spin qubits, which are already on a silicon chip, our innovation will also bring the classical electronics for control and readout of the qubits on the same chip and make it work at cryogenic temperatures, thereby saving a lot of space and wiring complexity. 

There’s a race to build the best possible qubits where all errors are mitigated, which would allow for universal, fault-tolerant quantum computing. There’s a parallel race to build quantum computers with not-so-perfect qubits, so-called NISQ computers, that outperform classical supercomputers just on one metric and provide some quantum utility. And our goal is to win the first race: to build the best possible quantum processors with as many qubits as possible. 

While other quantum computing platforms might be good for up to thousands or hundreds of thousands of qubits, we aim to build millions of qubits on a chip, including error correction, to achieve an actual quantum advantage. Everyone knows about the hype around quantum computing, but end-users have been waiting, and might still be waiting for quite some time, to see quantum computers have an actual advantage in practical applications. Our goal is to build a processor that will have a realistic shot at achieving an actual quantum advantage for use cases around quantum chemistry, quantum simulations, and modeling pharmaceuticals or materials. 

How Did You Evaluate Your Startup Idea?

After doing some market research, we figured that scalable quantum processors are really the biggest bottleneck to building scalable quantum computers. So our goal became to build the best possible quantum processors to solve real-life and not just toy problems. 

The first generation of quantum computing startups has been full-stack players, building entire quantum computers on their own. They are the pioneers who ventured into the unknown and demonstrated the potential of quantum computing. Going forward, it will be very challenging for one entity to do everything, and we foresee it becoming more like a team effort, where we provide the best possible quantum processors and system integrators assemble and install entire quantum computers. 

Our first processors will demonstrate the scalable process and target researchers and universities, which will be the first users to try them out and validate their properties. Based on their feedback, we’ll continue to develop the subsequent generation of our quantum processors and, at the same time, engage with system integrators to build the first quantum computers based on our processors. Our core focus will always be to develop the best possible chips and products. 

What Advice Would You Give Fellow Deep Tech Founders?

When developing a product-oriented business plan, it’s important to focus on the value it brings to the market rather than its valuation. Identifying that value is key to determining whether there is a viable business opportunity. 

Generating ideas may come easily, but not all ideas are good business ideas, and it can take several months to determine the starting point. It’s important to ask yourself the same tough questions an investor would ask and conduct a SWOT analysis to identify potential weaknesses and opportunities. Only when you’re fully convinced of the product’s value and potential can you be ready to move forward with developing a successful business.