Helsinki region is home to a complete quantum ecosystem of academics, scientists, entrepreneurs and public organisations. This ecosystem and its prospects were explored at a recent webinar organised by Helsinki Business Hub and VTT.
Quantum computing sounds like science fiction, but its benefits are very real. Quantum computers have the potential to revolutionise entire industries with radically improved accuracy, speed, and cost-efficiency. Finnish companies and scientists are among the front-runners making this happen.
“We have an exceptionally strong academic and applied research community, including Aalto University and VTT [Technical Research Centre of Finland], and now the industrial effort has been ramping up quickly,” explains Mikko Möttönen, Professor of Quantum Technology at Aalto and VTT. “We have a full-scale quantum ecosystem, which makes it easier for newcomers to start here.”
At the heart of this ecosystem is the Otanano infrastructure in Otaniemi, Espoo. Run by Aalto University and VTT, Otanano is purpose-built for micro- and nanotechnology research. It binds together all quantum research topics and groups in Finland and houses, for example, a cutting-edge cleanroom. Crucially, these facilities are open both to academics and private companies.
“We have a lot of researchers and companies [across Finland] using Otanano. It is an amazing place for collaboration,” Möttönen says.
Such collaboration applies to the Finnish quantum ecosystem as a whole. In the greater Helsinki region alone, you can find the complete supply chain of study, development and commercialisation of software and hardware for quantum computers. Furthermore, the system is supported by organisations like Helsinki Business Hub which helps foreign investors and companies learn about the industry and find the right partners and opportunities.
“The Greater Helsinki region offers world-leading skills and capabilities in quantum computing with affordable costs,” says Marko Tamminen, Senior Business Advisor at Helsinki Business Hub. “It’s a great place to pilot and test new quantum computing innovations that lead to globally scalable business solutions.”
The quantum advantage
Finland’s quantum computing expertise is based on decades of dedicated work. The country’s renowned Low-Temperature Laboratory, also located in Otaniemi, was opened back in 1965. It has helped to cultivate Finland’s strong tradition in low-temperature research and the development of superconducting circuits and devices. These fields are integral to harnessing qubits – the basic units of quantum data processing – for complex problem-solving.
But academic work is only one side of the coin. Today quantum research is being applied to numerous commercial endeavours. A prime example is Espoo-based IQM Finland Oy. It was founded in 2018 as a spinout from Aalto University and VTT and a year later received the largest seed funding round in Finnish history, 11.45 million euros. The company’s mission is to develop the world’s first scalable quantum computing devices.
“There are many problems out there that are too difficult for classical supercomputers to solve,” says Jan Goetz, CEO and Co-Founder at IQM. “Our motivation is to build a quantum computer that solves these problems to create value for the business world and the society at large.“
Like many others, IQM is after ‘quantum advantage’. This is the point when quantum computers will exceed the capabilities of even the largest current supercomputers in solving useful computational problems. But unlike most projects, IQM aims to achieve this by developing quantum processors tailored for different purposes, such as those in chemistry, finance and material science.
“Our quantum computers are built and assembled in our headquarters in Finland while the processor architecture is optimised for certain applications by our team in Munich,” Goetz explains. “With this co-design approach, we will be able to reach quantum advantage faster, leading to commercial traction much earlier than with the conventional approach to build general-purpose machines.”
IQM’s approach will be market tested soon. The company expects to deliver its first commercial machines in 2021. They will be deployed with smaller quantum processors and upgraded as IQM’s development work progresses.
Colder than cold
A key challenge in quantum computing is the sensitivity of qubits. Their quantum effects can be harvested only in a very stable environment. In some instances, this means cooling the quantum system close to cryogenic temperatures. Doing just this is the expertise of another Aalto spinout, Bluefors Oy. The company was founded in 2008, stemming from research done at Aalto’s low-temperature laboratory, and today employs over 190 people made up of 28 nationalities.
When Bluefors talks about cold, it means colder than anything natural in the known universe:
“Our core product is the dilution refrigerator. Its operating temperature is a few thousands of a degree above absolute zero (−273.15 °C),” explains David Gunnarsson, CSO. “Our systems are used for R&D in universities and research facilities. The most known field they are used in at the moment is quantum computing.”
Bluefors has already delivered over 500 refrigerator systems worldwide. In addition to coolers, the company offers an entire infrastructure for cryogenic measurement, tools for fabrication statistics and tailored systems for different applications. But it isn’t only Bluefors’ products that set the company apart. It has succeeded in creating a scalable production process which means it can currently react to market demand faster than any competitor.
“We are currently piloting our new digital twin system in Vantaa. It offers our clients a mirror image of their own production facilities and lighting solution and enables the virtual planning and optimization of lighting with minimal energy consumption, standard compliance, and maximal quality. Customers can adjust their systems in real time.”
Small population, global talent
IQM and Bluefors are just two examples of how Finnish quantum research is being commercialised, but they share similar backgrounds. Both Goetz and Gunnarsson initially came to Finland to pursue their academic careers. They were convinced to stay by the opportunities and infrastructure available in the country.
“Even if Finland is a relatively small country with respect to population size, the local quantum ecosystem can definitely compete on a global scale,” explains Goetz. “We have approximately 200 quantum scientists working in academia, state research centres, and industry. This mix is crucial because one needs all three parts for sustainable growth of the ecosystem.”
Expertise across fields will be needed also going forward. Goetz, Gunnarsson and Möttönen all agree that any future quantum computer will be the fruit of collaborative efforts. This applies to everything from small research projects to work done by multinational companies.
“We don’t want to be isolated, but work with the best research groups in the world,” Möttönen stresses. “We look for close collaboration with tool providers and with companies who make business out of this field. We can license our technology to them.”
Similarly, companies like Bluefors and IQM are always on a lookout for potential partners from academia, end-users and from companies with interesting technology in infringing fields. And it is this combination of history, skills and partnering which has the potential to put Finland in the driving seat.
“The tradition of quantum technology is already more than 20 years old in Finland,” says Gunnarsson. “The accumulated expertise this has created is a perfect atmosphere to start quantum computing.”
Business opportunities in Finland
Helsinki Business Hub (HBH) can help you connect into the Finnish ecosystem in quantum technology: research and development, companies, startups and local investment partners and opportunities.
HBH can link you to technology licensing, intellectual property (IP) licensing, applied research, development and Innovation (R&D&I, partnerships), academic research (university collaboration), talent and skills, investment opportunities and startup deal flow.
Contact us and read about Quantum Computing business opportunities HERE >>
Writer: Eeva Haaramo
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