09 April 2024

Prof. Enrique Solano, Co-founder of Kipu Quantum, had a dream of living in Berlin. Now he is settling in Prenzlauer Berg and is tripling the office space after a successful seed round. Andreas Thoss spoke with him about Berlin and how Kipu wants to fight the quantum winter.

In your career, you have seen many places, obviously Latin America, then Spain, China, and Bavaria. What's so special about Berlin? Why did you choose it for the next few years?

Enrique Solano: Life took me to more or less every continent, but the deep truth is that my beloved wife is from Berlin, and I developed a love for the city, for the capital of Germany, with all its history. Top scientists and technologists have lived here, including Einstein.

We always had a dream of establishing ourselves in Berlin. When I founded Kipu Quantum in Munich and we got the first pre-seed round of three million, my co-founders were in Karlsruhe and they said, "Our families are here. What about you?" And I said, "It is time to move to Berlin," where we had already had an apartment for years. We are living our dream in Berlin. I love the city; I love its international aspects. It is also considered one of the top cities in Europe for start-ups.

One thing that attracted me to Berlin is the quantum ecosystem—it is not strong yet. In Munich, or London, things are more established. Those are not my places. I like to build things. That's where we are, and we're proud of contributing to the quantum ecosystem in Berlin.


Let's talk about Kipu Quantum. What's the story behind the name?

Enrique Solano: That goes back quite some time. I had a strong collaboration with the Google team of quantum computers years ago. Thus, I frequently visited Silicon Valley. The Museum of Computer History is in Mountain View, and when you enter, you see a Kipu—a set of strings and fabrics and codes using knots, colors, and length from the ancient Inca empire.

Because I was born in Peru, I knew from my education that these objects were used to encode information. I was deeply impressed that Silicon Valley considered this part of the history of computing. I promised myself that one day I would use the name Kipu Quantum, or something like it.

When I created the company, I used this old idea. In English and Spanish, Kipu is written Q-U-I-P-U. I thought it would be Quantum Information Processing Unit, which fits nicely, but then I studied the origin of the word. I learned that in Quechua, in the Inca language, it can be written with K, and I found that it's much compact: KIPU.

Today, there still is mystery around the Kipus, and I think it's nice to associate ancient Peru and South America with the challenges of today's quantum computers.


What do you want to sell at Kipu Quantum?

Enrique Solano: Some years ago, I became a quantum computing critic. It's my field of expertise as a professor and director of many international centers in quantum computing, quantum machine learning, AI, and so on. Back then, I was very critical of the trends in academia and industry.

I saw an abuse and an overhyping of concepts, such as, "In the far future, we will have millions of qubits, and we will have..." I declined to accept the direction in which the community was taking quantum computing, as something for the far future.

I thought that speaking about the future was a way of running from your responsibilities today, and at a certain point I said, "Time for me to stop criticizing everyone and show that it can be done now." Kipu was founded on the concept that quantum computers can be useful for industry use cases and for society now.

Of course, 'now' has a bandwidth of one, two, or three years. At Kipu, we are so advanced that it could literally be today. We are achieving the first approaches to what we call useful quantum computing.

Neither I nor my company like to speak too much about the future. We think that technologies, products, and businesses must happen quickly. Kipu is transforming quantum computing into something useful this year and next year, not in the far future. We got our investors with this goal, we promise our customers this goal, and we will be here this year and next year. So we cannot run from our responsibility.

I find this very fair, and I wanted to do it from Berlin—we have a fantastic team of people here. Two months ago, we got 10 million euros in the seed round from our investors, who truly trust in our capacity to deliver useful application- and hardware-specific quantum algorithms. This is not expected from all our competitors.


Can you show an example of a problem that you are going to solve right now?

Enrique Solano: Yes. Among the different classes of problems in which quantum computers can make a difference is, for example, combinatorial optimization or simply optimization. This is about optimizing routes for logistics or optimizing ways to compose medicines or chemical compounds.

Optimization is an essential task in many places, but it may take weeks, sometimes years, in a supercomputing center. The timeline for obtaining that information is shorter.

Quantum computers can solve that in fractions of a second. This is why quantum computers have gained interest worldwide for solving problems that are not accessible today. Optimization is one such problem, but there are many others.

The most well-known is the security of the internet via the factorization of large numbers, which is what interests military and security agencies worldwide. If we can factorize the famous RSA 2048 coding, we will break the security of information across the planet. This is also why people are interested in these issues geopolitically.


What kind of quantum computers do you use now, and what do you anticipate for the next years?

Enrique Solano: This is a delicate and painful matter. Since Kipu's business model is geared toward achieving immediate benefits, we are forced to use the largest companies' hardware. We work every day with IBM, which has 133 qubits; D-Wave, which has chips for analog quantum computing of 5,000 qubits; and QuEra, PASQAL, IonQ, and Quantinuum. All of them are American or Canadian, except PASQAL, which is in Paris.

At Kipu, we are not conducting small tests to become useful in a remote future. We are committed to immediately delivering usefulness. Unfortunately, in Germany and other places in Europe, we don't find such sizes. The other country that provides large quantum computers is China. And for geopolitical reasons, you can imagine that it's more restricted and there is no distant future there.


I saw your wonderful young team in a recent press release. How did you manage to get such bright people on your team in such a short time?

Enrique Solano: Yes, I am the oldest here. We have brilliant PhD graduates and researchers. Some of them are professors or have already worked at IBM and elsewhere. This might be related to the fact that I have worked on almost all the continents, in the Americas, Europe, China, and Australia.

Essentially, we receive many applications from talented people who want to join us every day. They trust in what we have been doing during 25 years of research. They know that Kipu Quantum is about usefulness now.

And some ambitious young souls feel that they may miss history if they don't join us. So, we have a beautiful team of young people. It's true, they're quite young, but they are so motivated, so engaged, and I'm so excited to share my days with this kind of people.


That must be amazing. So, what's your plan for the next 12 months in Berlin?

Enrique Solano: We just got 10 million in seed funding, so we are now moving from a 350-square-meter office to another area with 1,000 square meters. And we are growing from being 20 now in Berlin to probably being 40 in a few months. We have a solid growing team with management, administration, operations, and HR, and even though we also have a small part of the team in Karlsruhe, Berlin is the place where we host and hire all our people. Our team is international, and they are all happy to come to Berlin for its history and for what it represents.


Come on; they want to party…

Enrique Solano: (laughing) That's the secret part….


Some people say that the times in quantum technology will get rough soon. What do you think about the situation in, let's say, two years, when all the governmental funding for projects runs out and the industry is not yet spending enough?

Enrique Solano: I created the concept of Kipu in Munich two years ago, and when my co-founders from Karlsruhe came in, I told them clearly that I had designed Kipu as the company that fights the quantum winter. Of course, this is easier said than done, but the question is whether we have the talent and the ideas, and it looks like we do.

We have designed our plans and investments to overcome the quantum winter. At the same time, we don't want to base our business model and growth on public grants. We truly believe in private money and private initiative because, as you said, the quantum winter is coming. It's not a joke. AI has gone twice already, and quantum computers may see a quantum winter if we don't accept the challenge to make it useful now. That's what Kipu is about, making it useful now. We are delivering; we have no fears. We live our vision.


This interview was conducted by: Dr. Andreas Thoss, Thoss Media GmbH

More about Kipu Quantum can be found here.

Um unsere Webseite für Sie optimal zu gestalten und fortlaufend verbessern zu können, verwenden wir Cookies. Durch die weitere Nutzung der Webseite stimmen Sie der Verwendung von Cookies zu. Weitere Infomationen zu Cookies erhalten Sie in unserer Datenschutzerklärung.