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Quantum commercialisation: A review of the UK funding landscape

Guest blog from Roger Mckinlay at UKRI as part of our #UnleashInnovation campaign week 2024.

The excellent techUK report, “Quantum commercialisation: Positioning the UK for success” is now two years old. Much has happened since its publication, not least the launch of the UK Quantum Strategy in March 2023 and the announcement of £2.5B to continue with the next ten-year phase of the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme.

In her Ministerial Foreword in the National Quantum Strategy, the Secretary of State, The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, noted that the UK was already in a position of strength and, “…we are determined to build on these strengths with vision and long-term funding certainty.”

Work is now underway to define the definition of and plan the delivery of the five Quantum Missions announced by the government in December 2023.

We are clearly building on our strengths but what evidence do we have of past success? We have many metrics. The Quantum Challenge in Innovate UK has now funded 207 projects with £227M and in doing so supported 157 businesses. These businesses have in turn raised over £610M of private investment. The details mask the real success: an industrial sector has been established.

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Now, we need to start thinking “sector” not just “technology.”   It is right that we should enthuse and want to “leverage the UK's strengths across emerging technologies to push forward the application and commercialisation, highlighting best practice on industry and government collaboration that is enabling success.”   The words are from techUK’s “Unleashing Innovation 2024: Call for contributions” and they are good words. Infant technologies – be they critical, emerging, deep or “quantum” – need the watchful eyes of our universities, government, trade associations, learned societies and professional institutions. They are critical component parts of the ecosystem.

The needs of established companies can seem rather dull in comparison. Of course, they still need skills, talent and friendly regulations. They also need money.

We, rightly, look upon the £610M of private investment raised by this emerging sector as a success but it also reflects an urgent need. What was needed over the past six years will be needed once again over the next three! That is what growth means. Bigger sectors need more funding.

This is not easy. There is a breakpoint here. Raising £50M is a vastly different beast from raising £5M. If the UK is to be the go-to place for quantum companies we need to create new mechanisms to ensure that the financial needs of our companies can be met. The story spreads wider than grant funding. Long-term patient capital is needed. If we get this right, we will see Innovate UK, the British Business Bank and British Patient Capital (to give some examples) working more closely and in innovative ways.

Most importantly, our companies are growing because they are finding new market opportunities as well growing existing ones. They will find the skills they need, the friendly business climate they need, the suppliers they need and the investment they need. If they cannot find what they need in the UK, they will go elsewhere.

Confidence is growing. Sentences which used to start “if quantum” now start “when quantum.”  The question now is “where quantum?”


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