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Nation's first quantum accelerator, Duality, launches

4/7/2021 1:15:00 PM

Bill Bell

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign founding partner, bringing deep tech commercialization expertise

Duality, the first accelerator program in the nation that is exclusively dedicated to startup companies focused on quantum science and technology, launched today. The program is led by the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Chicago Quantum Exchange. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is a founding partner, along with Argonne National Laboratory and P33.

Duality’s purpose is to help quantum startups bridge the gap between the laboratory and the marketplace — a critical barrier to success for emerging technologies. Duality will soon begin taking applications through its website for the first cohort. Companies are invited to apply and will be considered on a rolling basis until May 14, 2021. Actively promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, the program is seeking a range of diverse applicants, in terms of race, gender and ethnicity.

With a minimum $20 million investment over the next 10 years from a broad ecosystem of corporate and academic partners, Duality will help up to 10 quantum startups per year grow their businesses in the Chicago area. 

“The emerging quantum ecosystem and market for quantum discovery makes this the perfect time to launch Duality,” said Professor Susan Martinis, the vice chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Illinois. “The capabilities of this group of partners – leading three of the eight federally funded quantum information science research centers and institutes – are unmatched globally. With that roster, it’s great to be the first quantum science and engineering accelerator in the United States. But it’s even better to be the quantum accelerator that is uniquely positioned to have tremendous impact quickly.”

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has a long history of discovery and innovation in deep tech, or technology that is based on fundamental discoveries in science and engineering. It also has an extensive record of bringing that technology to the marketplace. As one of the first sites in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps and partner in the MidWest Innovation Corps Node, the university has helped to transition hundreds of technologies developed under federally funded research into commercial use.

The launch of the quantum accelerator comes at a time when countries around the world are racing to unlock the potential of quantum technology. The Chicago area has emerged as a leading global quantum center, and the University of Illinois is home to the $25 million National Science Foundation Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks. 

“Quantum science and technology will transform entire industries and our economy as a whole. The opportunities in computing, simulation, security, and measurement are immense, and the potential economic development they will ignite is just as large,” said Professor Brian DeMarco, a member of UIUC’s physics faculty and director of the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute. “We’ve spent the last several years developing deep, broad connections and collaborations with teams throughout the Chicago area, and we’re now embracing those opportunities. We’re ready to be the center of the next tech revolution.”
The name Duality refers to a core principle of quantum mechanics, in which a single entity may act as both a particle and a wave. The name also evokes the accelerator’s unique role of bringing together the dual expertise from both leading quantum scientists and business partners to grow and scale quantum startups. Duality will provide entrepreneurs with support from leading quantum researchers, as well as business and entrepreneurial expertise from Chicago Booth, Chicago Quantum Exchange’s corporate partners, the Polsky Center’s broad network, and the networks, facilities, and programming from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Argonne National Laboratory, and P33. Students and researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will have the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from experts in this expanding quantum technology development ecosystem. 

The 12-month accelerator program will focus on supporting and advancing companies that are building quantum technologies, products and applications, and related enabling technologies. Starting virtually in July and continuing in person when COVID-19 restrictions lift, each cohort of companies will have the opportunity to access state-of-the-art facilities, office and lab space, and each startup will receive $50,000 in unrestricted funds.