Chicago: Quantum tech’s great migration to the ‘Silicon Prairie’

By Sandra Helsel posted 16 May 2022

(StartupBeat) The Windy City of Chicago is winding up to become a national hub for quantum technology With a slew of regional resources, large-scale investments, a devoted accelerator, and a bustling community of startups. IQT-News summarizes a recent article from 

The largest victory for Chicago quantum comes from the National Quantum Initiative. Signed by President Trump in 2018, it created five national quantum research centers across the country, two of which are now in the Chicagoland region. Located a short drive from the city center at the Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories, each institution received $115 million in federal funding. In 2021, the University of Chicago’s QuBBE center was also granted a $25 million investment by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
According to Brian Henderson, CEO of P33, the Chicago tech sector is famously overlooked, even with its recent astronomical growth. Henderson refers to winning two of the five quantum sector grants as “a coup”. “It was a huge deal. Chicago has great science. We always have. But we’ve not been great about turning science into jobs and companies,” he said. “Quantum is a massive future opportunity, and we’ve got the pieces to succeed. But if the past is our guide, we’ll miss our opportunity. The government, industry, venture, and professors all need to work together on a big scale.”
With this in mind, P33 helped create Duality, the nation’s first startup incubator devoted exclusively to quantum tech. Led by the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Chicago Quantum Exchange, the incubator’s founding partners also include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Argonne National Laboratory

P33 defines Chicago’s quantum sector as a regional priority, and Henderson has collaborated with the Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE), a quantum research organization, to successfully compete for federal funding — “the lifeblood” of building the region’s quantum sector.
Dr. Preeti Chalsani, deputy director of Duality and joint director of partnerships at the Polsky Center and CQE, said that the region’s established quantum ecosystem made Chicago the most logical place to found Duality. “We’re leveraging that ecosystem to nourish and grow these startups,” she said. “We have a base of some really world class research here, and we’re helping these entrepreneurs to bridge this research with applications that real customers can use.”
The six quantum startups in Duality’s first cohort, announced last year, each received $50,000 in non-dilutive funding. The startups also relocated to Chicago for the duration of the 12-month program, allowing them to take advantage of structured entrepreneurial education and a sprawling network of business and research professionals.
In stark contrast to just $977 million from three venture capital funds in 2016, Chicago is now home to 17 venture capital funds, who raised a combined total of $7.42 billion in 2021.
Vocal supporters of the region’s quantum sector include Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, and aforementioned P33 Penny Pritzker, who was appointed to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last year. In 2019, Gov. Pritzker devoted $200 million in state funding to establish Chicago “as a leading quantum hub.”
Gov. Pritzker said, “The sheer potential of quantum to transform the way so many sectors operate has been matched at only a few points in human history, and Illinois’ advantages in the quantum revolution have already centered our state as a leader. Illinois has the world’s foremost quantum scientists, experts, and leaders as well as a diverse and formidable network of some of the world’s best educational institutions. As a leader in technology and innovation, it is no surprise that the nation’s first quantum incubator-accelerator is opening here.”

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