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First U.S. Quantum Tech Incubator Underway

Quantum physics

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay.

8 Apr. 2021. The first incubator program in the U.S. for start-up enterprises developing quantum technologies is now accepting applicants in Chicago. Duality, as the program is known, is a joint undertaking of University of Chicago’s entrepreneurship center, affiliated with its business school, and the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a research center in the university’s molecular engineering school.

Quantum technology handles information in terms of probabilities, which describes infinite information components called quantum bits, or qubits, between values of 1 and 0. Conventional digital technologies, on the other hand, assign values of 1 or 0 to bits as the basis for nearly all of today’s systems. Quantum technology is based on quantum mechanics, a branch of physics for describing the behavior of matter and energy at atomic and sub-atomic levels. This behavior varies widely from deterministic forms of physics, allowing for matter and energy to exist in multiple simultaneous states and interact while interconnected.

Translated into information technologies, quantum properties open up opportunities to tackle difficult and complex challenges with simultaneous operations that would break most digital systems. Many of those challenges are complex scientific issues, such as discovering new drugs or addressing climate change. This increased power and sophistication can also focus on encryption, making quantum technology both a threat and a defense against hostile actors.

Duality — the name reflects the principle of quantum mechanics in which an entity can simultaneously occupy two states, as a particle and wave — offers founders of start-up businesses in quantum technology initial training, seed funding, and mentorship to get their companies off the ground. The program offers entrepreneurs a 12-month incubation period, with training courses, mentorship and business expertise, and a one-time $50,000 award. Duality also plans to provide participants with advanced labs and technical facilities, once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

One-on-one feedback from Corporate Collision

Duality’s courses are given during the first three months of the incubation program, covering principles of business strategy, finance, intellectual property, and managing human resources, as well as instruction in specific tasks like preparing Small Business Innovation Research proposals. The program also offers a a two-day session called Corporate Collision, where new company founders get one-on-one feedback from executives. However, Duality says the program offers opportunities to engage with industry leaders throughout the incubation period.

Taking part in Duality with University of Chicago are University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Argonne National Laboratory affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy, and P33, a not-for-profit organization promoting economic development in the Chicago region based on technology. The partners committed $20 million for the program over the next 10 years.

Duality plans to support 10 quantum technology start-ups a year in the Chicago region. Applications for the first class of start-ups are now open, and close on Friday, 21 May, although applications are considered on a rolling basis until then. A virtual information session for prospects is scheduled for 15 April.

“We are building the future of technology right here in Chicago,” says the city’s mayor Lori Lightfoot in a university statement. “This program taps the extraordinary talent in the city across fields from science and innovation to entrepreneurship, manufacturing and development, and is a testament to the strengths of this incredible city and its residents.”

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