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Quantum computing goes mainstream? New VC fund debuts

The Quantum Wave Fund, which aims to raise $100 million, plans to give funding to early stage private companies with breakthrough technology for secure communications, new measurement devices, and new materials.

Quantum computing tends to sounds like something out of a science fiction novel or at least The Big Bang Theory. But a new venture capital fund, launching today, is trying to take it mainstream.

The Quantum Wave Fund, which will set up shop in Boston, plans to invest solely in early stage, private companies working on breakthroughs in quantum technology. It won't be providing funding for early research but instead will seek out companies who already have viable and promising products related to quantum computing.

"Too many people take quantum computing as hypothetical," Serguei Kouzmine, managing partner of the fund, told CNET. "We want to make a statement that it's serious and it's today. Yes, the really bright future may be around the corner, but today, there's enough to pay attention to."

Essentially, the fund will focus on three different areas, Kouzmine said: Security, new measurement devices, and new materials.

Harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics -- which deals with the behavior of atoms, photons, electrons, and other particles -- would mean the development of computers much faster and more powerful than today's supercomputers. It's particularly important for encryption and secure communications, but it could be used to enable new types of simulations or, in the shorter term, sophisticated measurement devices, such as magnetic resonance imaging.

In October, a couple of scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their work on quantum optics, manipulating single particles of light or matter. The two researchers independently developed ways to measure and manipulate individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature.

The Quantum Wave Fund noted that among the potential results of the research it plans to fund are safe data transmission networks, new materials with superior properties, optical sub-micron transistors, high-frequency optical electronics, new systems for ultrasensitive imaging of the brain, and compact and accurate clocks for navigation systems. It also expects new innovations based on cutting-edge quantum technology to dominate many industries such as IT and security.

"A lot of people like to talk today about how the Internet changed everything. Somehow it goes without saying, the development of the Internet relies on hardware. ... And the hardware relies on Moore's Law. It has worked so nicely for the last 30 years that people forgot you can't continue it forever without some revolutionary changes. This is the time that change is about to come," Kouzmine said.

Kouzmine, who has a PhD in physics, noted that he and his fellow partners started the fund in part to draw attention to the area. He said that unlike some other areas of tech, companies focused on hardware and areas like quantum computing receive less funding.

In recent time, the hottest companies for venture funding have tended to be in social networking, healthcare, or mobile instead of hardware-related fields. According to research firm CB Insights, which provides quarterly data on VC investments, only 4 percent of deals in the third quarter were made in the computer hardware and services sector.

Internet, healthcare, and mobile companies have received the most interest from VCs over the past several quarters. CB Insights

The Quantum Wave Fund currently has raised about $30 million in funding but is aiming for $100 million. The fund plans to invest in 10 to 15 companies, giving them about $2 million to $10 million apiece.

Along with providing funding, the fund will help these companies "improve processes in engineering, production, marketing, and sales when ready to supply these devices to the global market."

The fund was founded by scientists who have now become entrepreneurs, and its scientific advisory board includes professors and scientists from Harvard, Purdue, and quantum centers around the world.

Vladimir M. Shalaev, scientific director of nanophotonics and professor of biomedical engineering and physics at Purdue University, noted that he and other advisors will help analyze companies to see if they're worth investing in, from a scientific point of view.

"I've been involved in research with meta materials and [have been] asked when is a good time to invest. My reply is 'still early to invest though tomorrow could be late.' You can apply this here, and quantum has a huge potential impact. Quantum, I believe, will be the next technology evolution to impact our society. It addresses societal needs of processing information faster and making computers faster by all running on quantum science. Science is now moving there. The Nobel Prize this year was an example of what is possible. The science is there, the technology is getting there. The fund has great timing now to launch. Science that can make a big impact in the world, it will change our lives," Shalaev told CNET in an email.