Government & Politics  January 24, 2024

Colorado’s quantum community makes pitch for billions of dollars in federal support

DENVER — It’s Chicago versus Colorado — and, no, I’m not talking about the game last October when the Broncos narrowly edged out the Bears for Denver’s first win of the season. Rather than a battle for touchdowns, this competition between the Windy City and the Centennial State is for billions of dollars in federal support for quantum technology and business development. 

Colorado — along with partners in Wyoming and New Mexico — is contending with Illinois to move into the second phase of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Tech Hub” program for the advancement of quantum technologies. Local quantum research luminaries gathered with tech-businesses gurus and government officials Wednesday in Denver to make their pitch for the Mountain West at the Elevate Quantum Summit.

“Colorado leads the world in quantum companies, quantum jobs and quantum innovation,” Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade executive director Eve Lieberman said. “We are at the forefront of developing this transformative field, which will change the way that we live, diversify our economy and create good paying jobs.”

Quantum theory attempts to explain the behavior of matter at atomic and subatomic levels. Quantum computers take advantage of special properties of quantum systems such as superposition that allow them to “operate exponentially faster than traditional computers,” Boston Consulting Group quantum lead Matt Langione said.

Applications of quantum science could revolutionize the way humans discover new drug therapies, map the cosmos, protect sensitive data, combat climate change and maybe even discover new forms of life.

Quantum theory and the technologies and businesses that grow from it “represent an entire ecosystem and the opportunity of a lifetime,” Elevate Quantum chief executive Zachary Yerushalmi said. 

The effort to establish the state as a quantum technology hub was led by Elevate Quantum, a consortium of about 70 stakeholders in the quantum space who represent industry, academia, capital and laboratories.

“The consortium grew out of TechHubNow!, a public-private partnership established by Gov. Jared Polis in April 2023 to respond to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow the nation’s advanced and emerging technology industries,” Polis’ office said. “Under the CHIPS and Science Act, the U.S. Economic Development Administration oversaw a competitive process to select 31 federally designated Tech Hubs across the country, with $500 million in appropriated funding available in 2023 and $10 billion over five years.”

If Colorado tops Illinois in the federal government’s selection process for the second phase of the Tech Hub program, the state will have access to a larger chunk of funding. The current application is due in February with a decision expected from President Joe Biden’s administration by early summer. 

“We see this as a way of leveraging federal resources” to help boost Colorado’s quantum businesses and research institutions, of which there are many, Polis said.

The Boulder Valley — with the world-class University of Colorado Boulder physics department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and JILA (formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) — has become, over the past three decades or so, the epicenter of quantum research. 

“While the rest of the world was waking up, Colorado’s quantum revolution was already in full swing,” Polis said. 

The region, a leader in evolving quantum discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace, is home to operations from major corporate players in the still-nascent industry such as Quantinuum, a Broomfield company spun out of Honeywell International Inc. (Nasdaq: HON);  California-headquartered Atom Computing Inc., which opened a Boulder R&D center last year; and ColdQuanta Inc., a Boulder-born firm that does business as Infleqtion that has grown into a worldwide operator with offices as far flung as Austin, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Many of the Boulder Valley players are involved in the Elevate Quantum initiative, which is chaired by Dan Caruso, founder of Boulder-based Zayo Group and of Caruso Ventures, a major investor in local quantum companies. 

Because of its sustained commitment to the quantum field over a period of decades, Colorado “can punch at global levels,” Yerushalmi said, and “compete on a level on par with nation states.”

Despite its prominence in the field, the Front Range isn’t synonymous with quantum technology in the way that California’s Silicon Valley is with software development.

“Colorado is very quiet about it, but it’s secretly the driving force in the quantum revolution,” NIST quantum physicist Marlou Slot said, because of the Centennial State’s strength in the quantum hardware and applications development space. For example, Atom Computing Inc. recently built the first commercial quantum computer to exceed 1,000 qubits in its Boulder facility.

To help foster that space, Colorado officials announced Wednesday that quantum-industry supporters in the U.S. Congress are putting forth “new bipartisan legislation to maximize Colorado’s competitiveness as a tech hub and strengthen the state’s economy.”

While the specifics of this proposed legislation remain fuzzy, Polis’ office said that the bill will set the stage for “meaningful investments through a multi-year refundable tax credit program to develop” laboratory and fabrication space for quantum businesses and a quantum industry loan loss reserve “to create greater access to capital for small and medium Colorado quantum computing companies that would otherwise have limited access to capital.”

DENVER — It’s Chicago versus Colorado — and, no, I’m not talking about the game last October when the Broncos narrowly edged out the Bears for Denver’s first win of the season. Rather than a battle for touchdowns, this competition between the Windy City and the Centennial State is for billions of dollars in federal support for quantum technology and business development. 

Colorado — along with partners in Wyoming and New Mexico — is contending with Illinois to move into the second phase of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Tech Hub” program for the advancement of quantum technologies. Local quantum…

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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