Stuart Woods is the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Quantum exponential. He has more than 30 years of experience leading technology companies, ranging from startups to multi-million pound publicly traded businesses. Previously Managing Director at Oxford Instruments NanoScienceStuart explains why he is excited to move from an operational commercial role in the quantum industry to investing in quantum startups.
When you sit on the steep technology curve we are experiencing now, the only way we can see change is to look back. I basically believe that’s where we are with quantum. We climbed the mountain face.
Where we are on the curve
Having lived through the telecommunications boom – and having left my advanced degree studies in organic chemistry, in what is now called computational chemistry, to work in telecommunications – I can see clear parallels with today’s quantum technology. We now take it for granted that we have high-speed internet, broadband, and wifi, but at the height of the telecommunications boom in the early 2020s, they weren’t there. In the same way, with quantum, I don’t see why in the next ten years we won’t be living with the quantum technologies that are inconceivable now.
In fact, there is a fundamental difference between what happened in the telecommunications boom and what will happen with the quantum that makes it all the more interesting. Never before in human history have we been able to take advanced technology and immediately share it with millions of people – through cloud access. The broad democratization element and availability of the technology means we can question and refine our developments more quickly and thoroughly than ever before – while also exploring channel-to-market and product configurations for specific applications at lower costs. It gives us much better protection against default and I truly believe that for investors, the time is now for quantum – this is an asset class that all portfolios need.
Although quantum computing gets most of the media attention, quantum technology includes sensing, networking, encryption, and infrastructure. Each is at a different stage of development. I believe we will see success in quantum sensing much earlier than complete and total success for computing. There’s an element of maturity that we haven’t seen with quantum computing. However, we may have the ability to use quantum sensors to understand geographic phenomena such as subsidence and sinkholes as soon as the next year. Just as autonomous vehicles are driving professional mapping to consumers – leading to easier travel – quantum sensors will generate planetary insights that will enhance and focus the immediate climate change.
Applying commercial experience for investment
Progress in any quantum field can only be achieved with the right investments. My career so far has been on the product and commercial side of the technology business, so moving to the finance side was an opportunity to make a difference with an outsider’s perspective and understanding of what is commercializable and what business models work for different technology products. I know that finance can be made more efficient and that different companies at different maturity levels can benefit from a more positive and constructive financial environment with venture capital.
I think that’s one of the strengths of the team at Quantum Exponential, there’s a balance between commercial, technical and operational understanding. When you put that together, I believe you can then provide a truly complete venture capital funding service – and this is exactly what quantum needs. We can provide the right investment for startups in such a way that they are synergistic, and work well together in a shared ecosystem; we can create a market on a scale that provides a return on investment.
What makes a successful quantum startup
Businesses need great products, customers and channels. For businesses in the quantum computing space, cloud access to quantum is critical in developing markets. For almost any business, owning a quantum computer will be out of reach, so accessing quantum computing power via the cloud from IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, or your own cloud will become the standard route to market. Even sensor solutions can be enabled via the cloud – most large scale mines or even the London Tube network are monitored remotely as a service. Never forget that selling a product through a service comes with more costs and limits your short term roadmap options.
In any field of quantum technology, assuming that the business is working on a viable idea, team dynamics are the biggest indicator of whether a startup will succeed or fail. The importance of teamwork cannot be overstated. In a fast-paced, high-risk business, the founder’s first job is to build a positive team. Then nurturing that team with a shared vision, good communication, and a high level of trust. Your team will be tested for stress every day and you will have to deal with failure more often than success. If you need to guess your team then you lose.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what company you are or what you do, it’s the potential of your people and team that will lead to your success. Through acquisitions and financial investments, you are investing in people. And that’s why I’m so excited to join the team at Quantum Exponential.