Once in every generation there is a technological shift that transforms society. One emerging technology is called quantum computing. It’s something so enormously powerful that it will completely change how traditional computing is done today. On this episode of Techopia Live, OBJ speaks to an Ottawa founder trying to counter the downside of quantum. This is a regular OBJ podcast featuring next-generation leaders from the local technology industry in the National Capital Region and spotlighting the emerging companies. Techopia also keeps viewers updated with established players in the tech sector, all with the goal of creating and engaging the tech sector, keeping them informed and staying connected. In this episode, OBJ Editor Michael Curran examines a hard-to-understand concept that makes him think of Star Trek – quantum computers. But there are key players in Ottawa’s tech industry working on quantum computing. More specifically, they are working to counter the so-called quantum threat. This is an edited transcript of the conversation with Quantropi Co-Founder and CEO, Mr. James Nguyen.
OBJ: I think we need to address this issue, you know, you explain it as the quantum threat. And just like we’ve experienced some kind of Y2K, you suggest there might be a Y2Q and Q stands for quantum. What is this quantum threat?
JN: The consensus is that it will happen in just two years. The entire digital economy operates on the Internet. The internet relies on two pillars, trust and truth, to continue to exist because without trust there is no business. We’re here to protect that as a company. Classical computers work with binary numbers, but quantum computers work with qubits based on quantum mechanics and can perform certain calculations faster and better than classical computers. I like to use the example of finding Waldo. He enters a hotel with 10,000 rooms and a classic computer would have to check each room individually. That takes a long time. A quantum computer would check all the rooms at once and find Waldo instantly. That just gives you an example. So we look for cures for cancer and diseases. At the molecular level, it becomes very, very complex, so complex that classical computers couldn’t find these cures. We believe quantum computers will do this. But the same power that will cure cancer will also break today’s encryption, breaking that trust and manipulating the truth. So it was founded to uphold trust and truth not just today but forever. It protects you forever because it is derived from quantum mechanics.
OBJ: Well I like that last part because I think you help us get used to this concept. So, they are so powerful that they will easily break through traditional computer security, cyber security and digital security. And you have developed a solution for this. Before we dive into the solution, tell us a little about your business. When was it founded? How many people work for you? Tell us about Quantropi.
JN: Well, I’m not going to credit the invention. It was created by my co-founder Dr. Randy Kuang, a quantum physicist who worked for a few decades at Northern Research‘s Nortel Networks in the Advanced Technologies Division. He is also a cybersecurity expert and holds one of the first patents for two-factor authentication. He was previously involved in the auto tech scene with a company he co-founded, InBay Technologies. dr Randy Kuang is a very unique individual, a genius that I have never seen before. So when he trusted me with his invention to help him get it to market and scale it, I went all out on that occasion. Since then we’ve brought over 50 investors to the table and we’ve also done a reverse brain drain. We brought in a Chief Technology Officer from Napa, California, and he was kind enough to come here in the middle of winter. He was co-founder and CEO of Accenture Ventures. We also brought in Randy’s former boss, Marco Pagani, who was the former president of Nortel Networks optical networks. Marco has been a mentor to me and helped us build a truly global company based on his experience. And of course we brought many other people to the table in all sorts of roles. We now have nearly 25 employees, we are growing rapidly, we have now successfully raised over $7M in seed funding and over $1.4M in other funding. And we’re about to set up another very big round that will wrap up this year.
OBJ: I’d love for our viewers and listeners to get to know you a little better. So you and I know each other from the Forty Under 40, you were recipients in 2021 but give us the bio facts on James.
JN: Well, my life isn’t that exciting. I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to a few people who have had a huge impact on my life, such as Marco Pagani. I like to say that entrepreneurs breed entrepreneurs in Ottawa. I wouldn’t have this opportunity if it weren’t for another mentor of mine, but also an investor, Jeffrey York. He was a great sounding board for me and he supported me. I jumped into some sort of new materials science and some mining and graphene with him and I’ve really become an entrepreneur ever since. I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but he really opened that door for me.
OBJ: You caught the entrepreneurial bug, James, and now you’re ruined for life. So James we’ve been talking about quantum threat, we’ve been talking about quantropi, let’s dig in the weeds here and how the heck are you going to protect people from this quantum threat? What is the solution?
JN: Our solution is of course a new approach, a new solution. There are currently two solutions on the market: we have some sort of quantum key distribution that focuses on their photonic QKT, and we also have post-quantum cryptography that focuses on stronger encryption or essentially external math problems. But each of them has limitations, either cost, lots of view range limitations or too high latency, whatever it may be. That’s what my co-founder Dr. Randy Kuang really driven. He actually came from QKT at Nortel to find a better solution and he succeeded. We continue to innovate and have developed a platform we call Keyspace. Keyspace has all the advantages of these other two approaches, minus all the disadvantages and more. We have created a B2B SaaS platform where the software and key space works like Microsoft Office 365; Below that we have three of our flagship products, similar to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, but we call them bulk secure storage, like secure communication channel with specific security keys fighting to avoid entropy. It will protect your data forever with laws using our key symmetric encryption and you have asymmetric encryption mass, we see your master identity against criminals. So this platform has enabled a whole new ecosystem of quantum-safe applications using quantum algorithms that were not possible for the other two approaches. We have some customers on board who are already early adopters and we want to add more of those this year and then really scale those customers over the next few years.
OBJ: What makes you so confident that Quantropi has the solution for this? You know there must be other competitors out there and other solutions? What makes yours likely to be the right product?
JN: Our product is very elegant. When asking organizations to move to new security foundations, they really need to consider these three criteria to deliver a truly complete solution. Since you need to gain the trust of your business partners, you need to be able to use a lot of uncertainties and encrypted data forever. No other company out there that I know of or that we know of offers all of these things. We’re not saying there will never be anything better. But we are always very willing to make sure it’s ok if there is one. Therefore, our platform was developed as a simple management tool for organizations to upgrade quickly, but we will also work with the other top algorithms for symmetric or asymmetric encryption or other sources of entropy. The purpose of creating this platform was to protect the world as quickly as possible and protect our digital economy so that we can continue to evolve and do business and keep mobile so we don’t have to live in fear. I think the whole world has been living in fear for the past few years, for other reasons, that we want to prevent another epidemic that we believe will be a cyber epidemic.
OBJ: Wow, that gives us a lot to think about and certainly sounds like a promising company. Finally, James, it’s early 2022. I think you have some big things coming up this year. Give us a glimpse of what lies ahead for Quantropi in 2022?
JN: First things first, we need to get out there to close the funding we’ve been working on. We are actually working with institutional investors who are hoping to close this soon. Aside from that, of course, we’re going to hire people, create jobs, and make Ottawa the best tech scene ever. And of course we need to start targeting different markets, geographic markets and sectors.