Earlier this year, a Boston-based startup spun out of a quantum computing lab at Harvard University with the goal of making this new technology more easily available to developers.
This startup, called Aliro Technologies, was cofounded by Prineha Narang, a Harvard assistant professor who also started Harvard’s Quantum Information Sciences Lab. Narang had been doing research in quantum computing, a new, powerful way to build computers that are exponentially more powerful than those we have today.
Today, quantum computers are still in their early stages and not yet more capable than the most powerful traditional computers. Eventually, however, they could be used to solve complex problems around evaluating new drugs, calculating efficient routes, or analyzing new materials for building — problems that modern computers can’t efficiently solve.
As for Aliro, it works to create quantum computing tools for software developers. With Aliro, developers can write code to build software for quantum computers without worrying about setting up or configuring the underlying hardware. The software then runs on a quantum computer, like those of IBM, which is a partner of Aliro.
This platform also includes tools that help developers squeeze the most efficiency out these quantum apps, including by helping pick the appropriate quantum computer for the task.
Aliro CEO Jim Ricotta told Business Insider that Narang had been “percolating on this idea of how can we make quantum computers mainstream, and how do we make them easier to use them right now.”
Investors apparently see the potential for this idea: On Wednesday, Aliro announced that it had closed a $2.7 million seed round led by Flybridge Capital Partners and including Crosslink Ventures and Samsung Next’s Q Fund.
“We’re going to provide wide access to quantum which doesn’t exist right now,” Ricotta said. “If we succeed, a lot of people will benefit from quantum computing.”
A ‘melding of computer science and quantum physics’
Many of today’s tech giants have their own quantum computing endeavors, including IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Intel. Aliro partners with other quantum companies as well, including IBM and Rigetti, which focus on building quantum hardware.
Ricotta says Aliro differentiates itself with its focus on making quantum software more accessible to developers.
“This is the fourth startup I’ve run as CEO,” Ricotta said. “It’s always important to create a lead over the competition. There’s competition from big companies to small. We run very, very fast and do things first and do things better.”
Ajay Singh, the cohead of Samsung Next’s Q Fund, says he has been looking into quantum computing for the past three years. He says today’s most powerful computers can only go so far, and Aliro piqued his interest with its approach to helping developers sign on with the technology.
“From big companies like Google, IBM, and Rigetti, you see that there are people who are tinkering with this and trying to do something,” Singh told Business Insider. “There are positive signs in terms of adoption.”
With the funding, Aliro plans to build out its technical staff as well as continue building out its software. Ricotta says Aliro plans to have two kinds of people: quantum computing experts led by Narang as well as people with classical software engineering skills.
“Aliro is the melding of computer science and quantum physics,” Ricotta said.
And sometime next year, Aliro plans to launch a beta program for businesses, aimed especially at pharmaceutical companies, to encourage would-be customers to try their hand at quantum computing.
‘You have to be in it to win it’
Ricotta had previously worked at IBM as an executive, and seeing his former employer’s efforts in quantum computing helped motivate him to eventually work in that area as well.
“Google does moon shots,” Ricotta said. “But IBM, they’re very practical. The fact they have an entire [quantum computing] unit called Q, that tells you there’s important things going on.”
Ricotta said he got into quantum computing only recently. He’s an electrical engineer by training and has worked in tech companies his entire career. Eventually, he wanted to work in a cutting-edge new industry like quantum computing.
“It’s probably going to explode on the scene,” Ricotta said. “All of a sudden, you’ll be able to use it. You have to be in it to win it, so that’s why Samsung invested and my other investors invested and that’s why Aliro is here. We want to participate in the beginning. We feel there’s going to be an inflection point pretty soon.”
Likewise, though experts say that quantum computing won’t become mainstream for at least another five to 10 years, Singh said he’s bullish it’d happen sooner rather than later.
“What is the timeline?” Singh said. “I don’t know. I can’t predict it, but it’s probably nearer than more people predict.”
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