This guest blog was produced by Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre (QTIC) Director Mustafa Rampuri as part of Quantum Month. In response to the government’s National Quantum Strategy, Mustafa outlines his thoughts on how this new strategy can facilitate collaborations with underserved and underrepresented communities.

Quantum is a niche yet highly integral sub-sector within tech. Further investment in R&D into the subject will prove instrumental in how the tech industry innovates over the next ten years; this is something that the UK Government has thankfully taken note of. 

Earlier this year, a further £2.5 billion of funding was announced for the National Quantum Strategy to be spread over ten years, starting in 2024. This more than doubles the £1bn already committed. The motivation behind this is to solidify the UK’s position as one of the top three countries in national quantum investment

“This level of investment is remarkable given the sector’s humble beginnings not so long ago.”

The announcement aligns with the Government’s plan to attract significant additional private investment. Through illustrating its commitment to long term funding certainty to support the R&D of new technologies, training the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers, and the commercialisation of quantum tech, the UK is determined to be a world leader in the sector.

Bristol & deep tech

I began working in quantum technologies at the University of Bristol back in 2011. 12 years ago quantum tech was known to only a handful of scientists, and most conversations involved the phrase “in theory”. Pioneering work in Bristol was at the forefront of redefining this. From the invention of the world’s first integrated quantum photonic chip to the creation of a thriving cluster of quantum startups, the university was foundational in lighting the blue touch paper on a geopolitical and scientific race in quantum technologies. 

It’s encouraging to see such a keen interest in the vast potential quantum harbours. It presents a major opportunity for Bristol to become a global centre for quantum research and commercialisation. Already renowned for being a leader in deep tech (just take a look at Beahurst’s breakdown), Bristol has the right foundations to take a front seat in the next steps. 

Impressively, the city is responsible for creating a third of all quantum startups in the UK and is home to trailblazing companies such as Phasecraft, QLM, KETS, and Fluoretiq. Most importantly these quantum startups have been given space to grow.

The University of Bristol’s world-renowned quantum science research groups, including the Quantum Information Institute and QET Labs, and our innovation incubators, QTEC and SETsquared Bristol. Lab spaces including QTIC and Science Creates have created critical infrastructure. The University of Bristol’s new £500m Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, and private investors such as Mission Street and BentallGreenOak are set to add further scale to future proof this emerging deep tech cluster.

Shaking up the status quo

Now is the time for some disruption. It’s ironic perhaps, but the existing innovation model is itself in need of innovation to challenge us to think in new, more collaborative ways.

To level up we need to be thinking in line with the international market. This isn’t shaped by national-level investment alone. Large, predominantly US-based, tech companies who are investing at similar rates, but with a commercial mindset and shareholder value at the forefront of their thinking, will influence how the sector progresses.

As these multi-national companies know, it’s not enough to have the best ideas, the best network, the knowledge or access to investment. The key driver of success is workforce talent and they, rightly, go to great lengths to acquire and retain it.

The best way emerging startups can diversify their talent pool is to engage with underserved and underrepresented communities – those who bring fresh insights and new relationships with the wider world. Our classically trained Queensbury rules innovators are no match for the self-taught street fighters found globally, but how do you recruit them? And if you do, how will you cherish their differences and avoid assimilation? To connect with them and harness their talent will require more imagination.

Bristol’s approach to innovation 

At Bristol, we believe a new model for innovation should include projects that focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. I say this because we’ve seen the positive impact of pilot programmes we’ve run at SETsquared Bristol where, for example, 45% of our founders are now women. With extra funding we could do so much more. Here’s where I’d start:

  • Quantum Diversity and Inclusion Charter: A voluntary charter setting out a commitment to promoting EDI in the quantum technology and commercial research sector.
  • Quantum Technology Enterprise Zone: Funding for training and development programmes designed to increase the participation of women and underrepresented groups in the sector – delivered by community organisations.
  • Quantum Technology Skills Programme: Designed to train a new generation of quantum professionals focussing on accessibility to people from all backgrounds and with a curriculum that reflects the diversity of the population.

These are just a handful of approaches that we could take. The future of quantum technology is still to be written. A new tactic that puts people at the centre of innovation, therefore creating access for previously excluded or underrepresented communities will hopefully inspire and catalyse a pull for more talent, investment and business. It’s a winning formula we’re piloting in Bristol that we’re calling Quantum Frontier. It’s where forward-thinking organisations and individuals will collaborate to bring quantum technology out of the lab and into the world – for the benefit of all.

Feeling inspired? Join us at the Frontier. 

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