Published 9/9/21 in Forbes

The relationship between higher education and the tech companies I cover as an analyst is close and mutually beneficial. The private sector often provides technology resources, capital, expertise, and knowledge of industry needs and challenges to research institutions, the sandbox of tomorrow’s tech innovators and leaders.

Quantum technology is at an exciting crossroads now, where it is beginning to migrate out of the realm of research and academia to seek out early commercialization opportunities. Much quicker and more powerful than traditional computing, quantum technology promises to revolutionize everything from medicine to climate science. It could very well change the world as we know it within our lifetimes.  

So naturally, I immediately perked up at this week’s news of the University of Maryland (UMD)’s $20 million, 3-year “investment” in quantum computing, the majority of which will go to IonQ, to co-develop a groundbreaking quantum laboratory at the College Park campus of the University.

The “National Quantum Lab at Maryland,” or Q-Lab for short, looks to be an ambitious project that could pay significant dividends in the efforts to advance and commercialize quantum technology. While I had initially viewed the word “investment” as a balance sheet impact, versus revenue, IonQ announced today it has tripled its bookings forecast for 2021, suggesting the UMD deal is very much a revenue event. To be clear, the tripling of bookings isn’t only UMD, but includes other customers, too.

Let’s look at the players, the deal and what it includes.

Something is happening in College Park

Based in College Park, MD, IonQ was founded in 2015 by Christopher Monroe, a professor at the University of Maryland and Jungsang Kim, a professor at Duke University (a great example of higher ed’s interconnectivity with the private sector). Built on its founders’ 25 years of academic quantum research, IonQ’s bread and butter is a subcategory of quantum computing known as “trapped ion” quantum computing. While a full explanation of trapped ion computing is well beyond the scope of this blog and more in Moor Insights & Strategy’s Quantum principal analyst Paul Smith-Goodson, know that it is one of the more promising proposed approaches to achieving a large-scale quantum computer.

UMD College Park, for its part, is known as a leading public research university—particularly in the field of quantum computing. Maryland’s flagship university has invested approximately $300 million into the field of quantum science over the last 30-plus years and currently hosts over 200 quantum researchers and seven quantum facilities. The campus is already home to the Quantum Startup Foundry and the Mid-Atlantic Quantum Alliance, two organizations committed to advancing the nascent quantum ecosystem.

Q-lab promises to be the world’s first on-campus, commercial-grade quantum user facility. The stated goal of the Q-lab is to “significantly democratize” access to IonQ’s state-of-the-art technology, giving students, faculty and researchers hands-on experience with technology such as the company’s 32-qubit trapped-ion quantum computer (the most performant quantum computer in operation). Lab users also stand to benefit from the opportunity to collaborate with IonQ’s quantum scientists and engineering experts, who will co-locate within the lab (which will be located next door to IonQ’s College Park headquarters).

IonQ’s market momentum

The announcement of the Q-lab comes along with a flurry of other exciting activity at IonQ. Last month, the company demonstrated its 4X16 Reconfigurable Multicore Quantum Architecture (RMQA), an industry first. IonQ says this breakthrough could enable it to boost its qubit count up to the triple digits on a single chip, also laying the groundwork for theoretical future Parallel Multicore Quantum Processing Units.

Another significant recent announcement from IonQ was that it will now offer its quantum systems on Google Cloud (the first quantum player to do so). For that matter, it is now the only quantum provider available via all three of the major cloud platforms (Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and AWS) and through direct API access. I see this as another crucial way in which IonQ is democratizing access to quantum computers.

Additionally, the company recently announced a strategic integration with IBM Qiskit. This quantum software development kit will make it easier for quantum programmers to get up and running with IonQ’s systems. Rounding out the new developments was the announcement of a partnership with SoftBank Investment Advisors to facilitate enterprise deployment of quantum solutions worldwide.

All of these developments, including the Q-lab, considered, it’s no wonder today IonQ recently tripled its expectations for its 2021 contract bookings, from an original goal of $5 million to an ambitious $15 million. To be clear, the tripling of bookings isn’t only UMD, but includes other customers, too. All of this must look good to investors, who will soon get a crack at the Quantum company when it goes public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) later this month (a merger with dMY Technology Group, Inc) under $DMYI.

Wrapping up

With both a preeminent quantum research school and a private sector quantum leader located in College Park, the Maryland city could soon be a (if not the) veritable epicenter of quantum technology in the United States. The Q-lab has the potential to produce the next generation of quantum innovators, generate new quantum IP and draw even more quantum startups and scientific and engineering talent to College Park.

We’re likely a bit away from recognizing quantum computing’s full potential as a paradigm shift. However, IonQ‘s moves this summer demonstrate that the technology is entering a new, exciting phase of commercialization, which should only accelerate the process of innovation at research locations such as the new Q-lab. I’ll be watching with interest.

From the business point of view, it is great to see IonQ drive orders and subsequently revenue. I hear from some of the uninformed that “there’s no money in quantum”. I think the doubters are wrong and when we all get a closer look at IonQ’s financials, I believe there will be some surprises.