Inside the Accelerator — Quantum Bridge Technologies
The Catalyst Cyber Accelerator is the first cybersecurity-focused commercial accelerator in Canada. Headquartered at the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst at Toronto Metropolitan University, the Accelerator offers technical, strategic advice, mentorship and business resources to cybersecurity businesses that are ready to become national and international competitors.
In August, the Accelerator launched its third cohort with five innovative Canadian cybersecurity businesses. In this series of articles, we’ll be talking to the entrepreneurs behind each business about the Accelerator experience.
Quantum Bridge Technologies (QBT) is developing proprietary hardware and software to build quantum repeaters to enable quantum communications. They seek to build the quantum internet from both conventional and quantum technologies, tackling cutting-edge engineering and theoretical problems related to the generation and manipulation of quantum entanglement. The company is also developing core proprietary technologies to make current networks quantum resilient.
We spoke with Mattia Montagna, CEO of Quantum Bridge, about the future of the business, the challenges of marketing technology for the future, and the Accelerator experience.
What is Quantum Bridge Technologies?
Quantum Bridge Technologies comes out of the University of Toronto’s research in the field of quantum communications and quantum technologies. The goal of the company is to eventually bring to life the quantum internet. The quantum internet is, we believe, the next generation of IT infrastructure that allows for many new applications that are simply not possible in the classical way we exchange data today.
The path to the quantum internet is a long one, and we are working on developing its major components– specifically quantum repeaters, quantum protocols, and everything around that. In the meantime, the company is also commercializing cryptographic modules, which are provably secure against computational attacks, specifically quantum computer attacks. The new quantum technologies that are coming along bring innovation in many different directions, and a lot of benefits will be provided by those technologies. However one of the things that a quantum computer can do is actually break a great deal of encryption used in the current systems and current internet. The idea of Quantum Bridge Technologies is to start commercializing solutions that solve this problem — protecting networks and internet traffic against quantum computer attacks, and start to pave the way for the future quantum internet that will be developed over the next years.
How will the quantum internet be different from the current internet?
On the current internet, you exchange classical data that can be read and written on classical computers. What can be exchanged on the quantum internet is another type of resource, which is not classical in nature — it’s “entanglement.” Entanglement is a peculiar property that we see on a microscopic level of nature. In quantum mechanical terms, let’s say you have two photons, and the two photons are entangled with each other, what happens to the first photon is correlated to what happens to the second — even if those two systems are separated by very long distances. Because of this property of entanglement, you can develop a new, very wide range of applications that are not possible in the classical world.
The quantum internet will be a way to deliver entanglement on demand among users separated geographically from each other. It is relatively easy to generate entanglement locally; what is difficult is to share this entanglement between two people who are very far from each other. So, the quantum internet fills this gap of delivering entanglement between users far away, and once these people share entanglement, there is a wide range of new applications that can be implemented over this infrastructure.
Could you walk us through the evolution of Quantum Bridge Technologies?
My business partner, Hoi-Kwong Lo, and I wanted to set up a company since 2017. We knew that the quantum technologies developed in our group at UoT were not mature yet, so it was not ready for commercialization at that time. It took us some time to design a business model that allowed us to go to market before the maturity of the quantum technologies, and at the same time, not lose focus in bringing the quantum internet alive. We spent probably a good year designing the bridging technologies between the classical internet and classical types of encryption we have today, and the future quantum internet. That’s why the company is called Quantum Bridge. We think the kind of technology we’re developing right now will bridge classical networks to the future quantum internet.
In 2017, we started designing the technology and the business. We decided in 2018 we were ready to introduce it to the outside world. We incorporated by end of 2019 and then our journey started. I left U of T and started to work full-time on the company. The first step was to start to get validation on whether or not technology for quantum-safe encryption could be commercialized now. Is there a market? Could we extract value from that market? It took us some time to arrive at those conclusions. Eventually, we got the first fundraising at the beginning of 2021. Since then, we’ve been growing the team and growing our collaborations with industry and national labs, both to build the core technology of the quantum internet and to commercialize quantum-safe encryption.
What do the next five years look like for the business?
There are two main sides to the company that have been working in parallel and will eventually merge into one single final product. The next five years for the quantum-safe encryption is to penetrate the market to bridge the current network to the future quantum internet. We want to grasp a great deal of the market for critical infrastructure protection, government communication, defense, and finance. Everything that is relevant, we want to penetrate those markets and show that our technology provides important value in securing communication networks against a future quantum computer, that we cannot predict in terms of power and timeline, or any other classical supercomputer.
On the other side, we expect in the next five years to have made enough progress on the quantum repeater side to start deploying quantum networks, to prototype those quantum networks, and to show concrete applications of the quantum internet. In five years, those two technologies will eventually be merged together, and this is what we look forward to achieving.
What brought you to the Catalyst Cyber Accelerator?
The Catalyst had been recommended to us by another company that had passed through it and had a very, very positive review. We were looking for help in commercializing our cybersecurity solutions, and because we come from academia, we didn’t have a commercial background in cybersecurity. We were looking for a team that could help us connect our technology to the market and develop a market strategy. When I looked into this, I thought it was an amazing fit between where the company started back then, and where the company wants to be in the next one to two years.
What are some ways the Accelerator has helped you?
It’s been an amazing experience we’ve had at the Accelerator. The interaction we’ve had with the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and Corporates-in-Residence has been great. They contributed to many different sides of our business. For example, we’re working on product-market fits and customer discovery, so there was a lot of work to be done in terms of shaping the deck and marketing materials to reach out to customers, who sometimes aren’t fully aware of quantum technologies. The Entrepreneurs-in-Residence did a massive job in shaping our marketing materials and developing strategies for reaching out to the customers. There was huge value there.
There are a lot of connections to investors. We will start fundraising soon, and the Catalyst is giving us a lot of opportunities to interact with different investors — not to fundraise, but really to understand the process of fundraising. And in general, it’s an amazing place for networking. We’re benefitting a lot from the Catalyst because of the possibility of connecting with people to pitch our solution, understand the value proposition of what we sell, and what is most relevant in which sector. We can do all of this quickly and more efficiently because of the Catalyst.