Once in a generation, there's a technology change that changes society. One looming technology is called quantum computing. It's something that's so massively powerful that it will completely change today's traditional computing. In this episode of Techopia Live, OBJ talks to an Ottawa founder who is looking to counteract the downside of quantum. This is a regular podcast from OBJ that features next-generation executives from the local technology industry in the National Capital Region and shines a spotlight on the up-and-comers. Techopia also keeps viewers updated on established players in the tech sector, all with a goal of creating and bonding the tech sector, keeping them informed and connected. On this episode, OBJ publisher Michael Curran explores a concept that can be hard to grasp and that makes him think of Star Trek – quantum computing. But, there are key players in Ottawa’s tech industry working on quantum computing. And, more specifically, they're working on how to counter something called the quantum threat. This is an edited transcript of the conversation with co-founder and CEO of Quantropi, James Nguyen.
OBJ: I think we need to delve into this problem, you know, you explain it as the quantum threat. And just as we experienced kind of a Y2K, you are suggesting there could be a Y2Q and Q stands for quantum. What is this quantum threat?
JN: The consensus is it's going to happen in as near as two years. The whole digital economy operates on the internet. The internet relies on two pillars, trust and truth, to be able to continue because without trust you have no business. We're here to protect that as a company. Classical computers operate in binary numbers, but quantum computers work with qubits based on quantum mechanics and they're able to do certain calculations faster and better than classical computers. I like to use the example of looking for Waldo. He walks into a hotel with 10,000 rooms and a classical computer would have to check each room at a time. That takes a long time. A quantum computer would check all rooms simultaneously and find Waldo right away. That just gives you an example. So we're looking for cures to cancer and diseases. At the molecular level, it gets very, very complex, so complex that classical computers haven't been able to find these cures. We believe quantum computers will. But that same power that's going to cure cancer is also going to break today's encryption, break that trust and manipulate the truth. So it was founded to preserve trust and truth not only today, but forever. It protects you forever because it's derived from quantum mechanics.
OBJ: So I like that last part because I think you're helping us wrap our heads around this concept. So, it’s that they're so powerful, they're just going to break traditional computer security, cyber security, digital security. And you've developed a solution to this. Tell us a little bit before we get into the solution though, about your company. When was it founded? How many people are working for you? Tell us about Quantropi.
JN: Well, I won't take any of the credit around the invention. It was invented by my co-founder, Dr. Randy Kuang, who's a quantum physicist who was working for a couple of decades at Nortel Networks of both Northern Research in the Advanced Technologies Division. He's also a cybersecurity expert and holds one of the first patents to two-factor authentication. He actually has been in the auto tech scene before with a company that he co-founded, InBay Technologies. Dr. Randy Kuang is a very unique individual, a genius that I've never seen before. So when he entrusted me with his invention to help him bring it to market and scale it, I went all in with this opportunity. Since then, we've added 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 gracious enough to come here in the middle of winter. He was the co-founder and managing director of Accenture Ventures. We've also brought in Randy's previous boss, Marco Pagani, who was the previous president of Nortel Networks' optical networks. Marco has been a mentor to me, helping us really build a global company based on his experience. And, of course, we brought many other individuals to the table in all types of roles. We are at a headcount of close to 25 now, we're growing fast, we've successfully raised over $7 million in seed financing now and over $1.4 million in other funding. And we're about to raise another very big round that will close this year.
OBJ: I'd love for our viewers and listeners to get to know you a little bit better. So you and I know each other from the Forty Under 40, you were a recipient in 2021, but give us the bio facts on James.
JN: Well, my life is not that exciting. I'll use this opportunity to recognize a few people that have had a big impact on my life, such as Marco Pagani. I like to say that, in Ottawa, entrepreneurs breed entrepreneurs. I wouldn't have this opportunity if it wasn't for another mentor of mine, but also an investor, Jeffrey York. He's been a great sounding board for me and he's been supporting me. I jumped with him into a kind of new material science and some mining and graphene and since then I really became an entrepreneur. I always thought of myself as a corporate person, but he really opened that gate for me.
OBJ: You caught the entrepreneurial bug James, and now you're ruined for life. So James, we talked about quantum threat, we talked about Quantropi, let's dig into the weeds here and get to know how the heck are you going to protect people against this quantum threat? What's the solution?
JN: Our solution, you know, is, of course, a new approach, a new solution. There are two solutions right now in the market: we have a kind of quantum key distribution that focuses on their photonic QKT, and we also have post-quantum cryptography, which focuses on stronger encryption or basically external math problems. But each one of those have limitations, either cost, a lot of sight distance limitations, or too high latency, whatever it may be. That's what really pushed my co-founder, Dr. Randy Kuang. He actually came from QKT at Nortel to come up with a better solution and he has. We also continue to innovate and came up with a platform that we call Keyspace. Keyspace takes all the advantages of those two other approaches, minus all the disadvantages plus more. We created a B2B SaaS platform where the software and keyspace operates kind of like a Microsoft Office 365; we have three of our flagship products under there, kind of like a Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, but we call them secure keep in masse, like security communication channel with certain security key struggle to keep from entropy. It will keep your data secure forever with laws using our key symmetric encryption and you have asymmetric encryption mass, we're seeing your master identity towards criminals. So this platform has enabled a whole new ecosystem of quantum secure applications using quantum algorithms that were not possible for the other two approaches. We have on board a few customers, already early adopters, and we're looking to add more of those this year and then really scale out these customers over the next few years.
OBJ: What makes you so confident that Quantropi has the solution to this? You know, there must be other competitors out there and other solutions? What makes yours likely the right product?
JN: Our product is very elegant. When you're going to be asking organizations to shift to new security fundamentals, they really have to look at these three criteria to really provide a whole solution. Because you need to get the trust with who you're doing business with, you need to be able to leverage lots of uncertainty, encrypted data forever. No other company out there that I know of, or that we know of, is offering all of those things. We're not saying that there never will be anything better. But we're always very ready to make sure that if there is, that's okay. So our platform was made as an easy management tool for organizations to quickly upgrade, but also we will work with the other top algorithms for symmetric or asymmetric encryption, or other entropy sources. The purpose of creating this platform was to protect the world as soon as possible and protect our digital economy so that we can continue to evolve and continue to do business and preserve the mobile operations so that we don't have to be living 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, which we think will be a cyber one.
OBJ: Wow, that gives us a lot to think about and certainly sounds like a promising company. As we wrap up here, James, we're early into 2022. I think you've got some big things coming this year. Give us a sense of what's ahead in 2022 for Quantropi?
JN: First things first, we have got to go out there to close financing that we've been working on. We're actually engaged with institutional investors hoping to close that sometime soon. And basically outside of that, of course, we're going to be hiring, creating jobs, making Ottawa the best tech scene ever. And, of course, we’ve got to start targeting kind of different markets, geography markets, as well as sectors.