or all the vast complexity of the quantum world, Peter Chapman can break things down pretty simply. Chapman is president and CEO of IonQ, the only publicly traded pure-play quantum computing company in the world. Headquartered in College Park, Maryland, it is among the most promising players in the emerging quantum computing space.
“We’re not talking about a small change in computational power here,” Chapman says. “We’re talking about solving problems in one second that would take 300 trillion years on the world’s largest supercomputer. That’s what the excitement’s all about.”
More prosaically: “If you have a credit card and five dollars,” Chapman tells Site Selection, “you could right now run your first application on a quantum computer. It’s really easy to get access to.”
It’s true. Those curious enough to take quantum out for a spin can run programs and perform calculations on IonQ’s “trapped ion” systems via Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. That signature offering has placed the growing business firmly within a conversation that skews toward technology giants like IBM, Google and Microsoft. Founded only in 2015 and based within the expanding Discovery District of the University of Maryland (UMD), IonQ went public in 2021 and is valued today at some $2 billion. It was named to Time’s 100 Most Influential Companies list last year.
UMD is a Magnet for Quantum
It is no coincidence, Chapman believes, that IonQ’s success has occurred in Maryland. Maryland has systematically built a foundation for just this quantum moment, leveraging as it does the state’s acknowledged leadership in technology and its proximity to federal research labs, government contractors and sources of funding. Anchoring the ecosystem is UMD, which played a large role in developing the science behind IonQ systems created by co-founders Prof. Chris Monroe and Prof. Jungsang Kim.
“Our startup would not likely have been possible at other universities,” says Monroe.
With nine quantum research centers and over 200 campus-based researchers, UMD is an international powerhouse in quantum research and applications. It leads the Mid-Atlantic Quantum Alliance, a regional hub for quantum R&D and educational collaborations that has dramatically expanded since its founding in 2020, in tandem with the nascent industry’s surge.
UMD’s close partnerships with the federal government include embedded collaborations on campus with the National Institute on Technology and Standards (NIST) and the Laboratory for Physical Sciences in the globally recognized Joint Quantum Institute. NIST also is a partner in UMD’s Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science and in the Army Research Laboratory in the university’s Quantum Technology Center.
UMD’s Discovery District is home to the $20 million National Quantum Lab (Q-Lab). Launched in 2021 in partnership with IonQ, Q-Lab offers researchers, students and startups access to the company’s quantum hardware. Recently, UMD and IonQ furthered their relationship by establishing an IonQ Professorship at UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.
“We have here in College Park probably 20% of the world’s quantum computing capacity,” says Chapman. “There is no better place for IonQ to continue to grow and thrive than in College Park. Our connection with the University of Maryland gives us access to a pipeline of stellar workforce talent as we bring quantum computing to scale.”
Moving First and Fast
The buzz that IonQ has generated within College Park and Maryland is hard to overstate. The company’s rock star status has served to cement the idea that opportunities abound for well-funded, well-supported startups during quantum’s crucial, “first mover” stage. That’s a big part of the inspiration behind UMD’s Quantum Startup Foundry (QSF). Launched in 2021 within the Discovery District, QSF is geared toward accelerating a virtuous cycle of innovation and economic development within the regional quantum ecosystem. The Foundry is uniquely focused on forging ties with startups commercializing quantum technologies.
“The global pool of quantum technology startups is about 350 companies today,” says Piotr Kulczakowicz, QSF’s director. “Our business objective is to attract some of the most promising new startups to Maryland’s Prince George’s County.”
Based within the Foundry, Error Corp. is one of some 35 companies with which QSF has had “meaningful interactions,” says Kulczakowicz, “from providing training and mentoring, connecting them to the right people and organizations in our network, all the way to signing a facility use license with UMD so that they can embed here at QSF.”
Error correction is a big thing in quantum computing, since deep within the mysterious and highly fragile quantum environment, things tend to spin consistently and confoundingly out of whack, influenced as they are by the vagaries of noise, temperature, light and other such disturbances. It’s a little like herding cats x 300 trillion. Hence, the name Error Corp.
“We’re building software that drives the quantum computer while suppressing noise,” says founder and CEO Dennis Lucarelli, also a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. “And we’re building architectures and software for performing error correction, which is something that must happen during the execution of a quantum algorithm.”
Error Corp. has been awarded seven-figure funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. His company’s relationship with QSF, Lucarelli says, “has been critical to our development. As a startup, you don’t want to be on an island all by yourself. Just having people around you, bridging gaps, helping to make introductions and keeping your eyes open to opportunities has been a huge thing.”
An Incomparable Advantage
Lucarelli’s perspective on the state of the quantum industry is instructive, especially as it applies to Maryland and the unique advantages inherent in the state’s links to the federal government.
“We are only at the very early stages of developing commercial quantum applications,” he tells Site Selection. “It’s been within just the last five years or so that private investments have entered.
Up to then, the U.S. government was the main funder of quantum science, which has helped to drive the emphasis on quantum in Maryland. The access to federal funding and the proximity to government customers and decision makers is a huge asset.”
IonQ’s Chapman agrees.
“Maryland’s advantage is the fact that we’re as close as we are to national labs and government agencies that are interested in quantum. Zoom is great, but it’s even greater to be able to get in your car and go lock yourself in a conference room and collaborate that way. Just about every government agency has an interest in quantum. And I don’t believe there’s a better place in the United States for doing quantum than Maryland.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the Maryland Department of Commerce. For more information, please visit open.maryland.gov/siteselection.