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How the IOP’s qBIG Prize is helping quantum businesses achieve their vision

22 August 2023

The IOP sat down with Andrei Dragomir, Founder and CEO of Aquark Technologies, to discuss what involvement in the quantum Business Innovation and Growth (qBIG) Prize has meant for his innovative company.


What does it mean to Aquark Technologies to have been recognised by the 2023 qBIG Prize?

It’s an honour to be recognised by the qBIG Prize and it truly took us by surprise. Beyond validating our efforts to commercialise quantum technology sensors, being considered alongside companies such as Cerca Magnetics and Quantopticon gives us the confidence and conviction that we are on the right path to achieving our vision.

How will the mentoring package from Quantum Exponential drive growth for Aquark Technologies?

We built a very close relationship with [award sponsor] Quantum Exponential (QE) during the qBIG Prize. Having access to their mentorship is especially significant considering the place we are at as a company. Now, as we are growing, the mentoring of QE will be integral. How we prepare the company for future funding rounds and scalability, and how we position ourselves in the quantum supply chain is exceptionally important for our development and QE’s role in this will be crucial. They’re an exceptional team with a lot of knowledge. We need more people like that.

How will you make use of the IOP’s Accelerator workspace and associated benefits?

The space is significant for us as we are not located in London. Having a base there is therefore going to be of great value, from using it as a working space, to networking, to investor meetings. We also intend to continue to be involved with the IOP’s Accelerator programme and activities after the qBIG benefits end. Everyone in the team is a scientist and we hold the IOP in the highest regard.

Can you tell us more about how Aquark Technologies started and how the technology works?

While doing our PhDs at Southampton, Aquark’s co-founder, Alex, and I started working together using similar platforms for our studies. From there, we expanded our collaboration into teaching and outreach, and while I took a postdoc role and set up the intellectual property to spin out Aquark from the university, Alex gained experience in a different company, where he got first-hand knowledge of how to scale a start-up. So, when it came to launching Aquark, there was no better team to do it. We’re now based in Romsey, outside of Southampton.

Our technology aims to miniaturise a quantum engine based on cold matter, ultimately accelerating the development of quantum technologies for sensing and communications. Miniaturisation and increasing the usability and robustness of this technology to be applied outside of the lab is the central objective of Aquark. We are taking technology that has been around for 20-plus years, so we know it works well in laboratory environments, but not necessarily outside of the lab. We’re using specific innovations to make something very small and accessible not only in size and power but in cost as well.

How does your technology compare to what is currently available on the market?

First, there is a difference to how we approach the core technology: the creation of the cold matter. We don’t need the magnetic field that other solutions use. Most use magnetic and optical fields to suspend a cloud of atoms in the middle of a vacuum chamber, which can then be used as a ruler for different environmental parameters. But in our case, we use laser beams. By default, that gives us a technical advantage when it comes to miniaturisation and simplicity of use, simplifying it overall and allowing us to prototype faster.

We also have a different approach to quantum sensors themselves. There is a push to maximise the performance of sensors, while we are focusing more on the size, weight, power and cost that will allow the technology to leave the lab. The technology behind the sensors is already very well developed, so we don’t necessarily need to spend time fine-tuning performance when the systems perform orders of magnitude better than what the state of the art can already offer.

“Sensing is catching up in interest and people are realising that it can have an almost immediate impact.”

What challenge(s) are you looking to solve?

Overall, creating and miniaturising the magnetic field component in quantum sensors is a big challenge. But ultimately, the problem is that we do not yet have the capabilities to apply quantum sensors commercially, which is the biggest challenge we are trying to solve so that real people will be able to benefit from the real world applications of this tech.

How do you expect the industry will innovate in the next five years?

We are now moving into an interesting phase in which people are expecting to see quantum technology have an impact on the day-to-day, and sensors are going to be a huge part of that.

We’re also expecting to see in the next five years or so a wider attitude change regarding quantum sensing. There is still a fair amount of hype around quantum computing at the moment. There has been some amazing progress in this field, and we need to understand that a lot of patience is required here. But sensing is catching up in interest and people are realising that it can have an almost immediate impact. We are excited to see the maturation of sensing companies and to welcome lots of new key players to this fast-emerging sector.

Which brands/leaders in the field inspire you and the team?

We are grateful to everyone who came before us. There are companies out there who have been in the quantum field for 15-plus years who are doing amazing things and those companies who took the first steps in this field took a lot of courage. We’re grateful to the community for reaching this point, which in turn has allowed us to exist. It’s the entire community which has grown so close and strong and which can do so much more in the coming years that inspires us.

What’s next for Aquark Technologies?

Next, we are looking to scale the company, to step into different markets and ultimately to send the message that our door is open for collaborations, with similar companies or with early adopters of the technology. We’re at the point where we have significantly de-risked the company, so now it is a matter of increasing the team so that we can do more and grow closer with the entire community, both with collaborators and potential end users.

The qBIG Prize is the group prize of the IOP quantum Business Innovation and Growth Group