Alexander Glätzle, Johannes Zeiher and Sebastian Blatt, three of the Planqc founders.
© Dirk Bruniecki

Planqc: Quantum Computers for Economically Relevant Applications

It’s not just international corporations like Google, IBM and Honeywell that are working on the development of quantum computers, but also numerous startups. One of them is Planqc in Munich. With support from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Munich Quantum Valley, the startup aims to scale quantum computers to thousands of qubits and beyond. Planqc explains just how it plans to make that happen in our interview.

Munich Startup: What does your startup do? What problem are you solving? 

Planqc: Planqc is developing highly scalable quantum computers based on atoms in optical lattices that can also be operated at room temperature. Our vision is to build quantum computers that can be used for economically relevant applications. 

Quantum computers are specialized computing machines that use the principles of quantum mechanics for their calculations. To put it simply, quantum bits – also called qubits – can represent both zero and one at the same time and thus parallelize computational processes. Quantum algorithms use these properties in a clever and highly specialized way, for example, to efficiently perform prime factorization. 

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box! 

Planqc: Planqc’s unique combination of quantum technologies is the most promising way to scale quantum computing to thousands of qubits and beyond. This is an important prerequisite for “useful” quantum computers. Our quantum computers store information in individual atoms – which are inherently the best qubits – and arrange them in highly scalable artificial crystals of light. Quantum gates based on precisely controlled laser pulses are used to process quantum information. In our quantum computers, we combine the world’s best atomic clocks, the world’s best quantum gas microscopes and extremely fast Rydberg gates. 

As soon as powerful, error-correcting hardware is available, common RSA encryption methods can be cracked. This is still going to take some time, but there are fortunately already methods that are immune to attacks from quantum computers. However, for many applications planned for the long term with product cycles of ten to twenty years, it’s important to start preparing now for the error-corrected quantum computer of the future. 

Planqc wants to “extract know-how from the research environment and make it accessible to a broader user base” 

Munich Startup: What’s your founding story? 

Planqc: Planqc was founded in April 2022 with the vision of utilizing the many years of successful basic research in the field of neutral atoms at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) and the resulting know-how and to extract it from the research environment and make it accessible to a broader user base. 

Planqc’s founding team includes Alexander Glätzle, Sebastian Blatt, Johannes Zeiher and Lukas Reichsöllner, who all have relevant international experience in the field of quantum computing and quantum metrology with neutral atoms. Already during his doctorate, Alexander Glätzle researched methods that can be used to realize novel computational architectures for quantum computers with the help of neutral atoms. After postdoc positions in Oxford and Singapore, he worked for several years at an international consulting firm in the field of applied blockchain, where he also acquired the necessary background knowledge in business in an MBA program to lead Planqc as its CEO. 

Sebastian Blatt received his doctorate from the University of Colorado Boulder, and it was after a postdoctoral position at Harvard University that he joined MPQ as a group leader in 2015. As a graduate student, he was instrumental in developing the first strontium atomic clocks, which are currently the most accurate clocks in the world. Since then, he has been developing technologies for scaling quantum simulators and quantum computers based on neutral atoms at MPQ. 

During his doctoral thesis at MPQ, Johannes Zeiher already conducted research on Rydberg atoms in optical lattices and thus on the conceptual foundations of the technology used at MQV and Planqc. After a postdoctoral position in Berkeley, he became a group leader at MPQ in 2020, where he develops new experimental platforms in the field of quantum computing with neutral atoms. Lukas Reichsöllner researched ultracold quantum gases in Innsbruck and Amsterdam and worked for a leading laser and photonics company in Germany in recent years. 

Strong support for the founding team 

The founding team is complemented by the multi-board member and financial expert Ann-Kristin Achleitner and serial entrepreneur Markus Wagner, founder of i5invest. Planqc is supported by the scientific advisors Immanuel Bloch and J. Ignacio Cirac. Both are directors at MPQ and are known for their pioneering work in quantum simulation and quantum information. In addition, quantum algorithm expert Dieter Jaksch, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and the University of Hamburg, was recruited as a scientific advisor. 

Munich Startup: What have been your greatest achievements so far? 

Planqc: One of Planqc’s greatest successes is certainly that the tech visionary Hermann Hauser has joined our board. Dr. Hauser is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and has a long history of starting companies in various technology sectors. That includes Acorn Computers, ARM – a global leader in micro-processing technology found in 95 percent of all mobile phones today – and Solexa (now Illumina), where he laid the foundation for revolutionizing synthetic biology with technologies to read human DNA. He is also a key member of Cambridge’s science and technology community, as well as a trusted innovation advisor to the UK Government and the European Union. 

Another important milestone for Planqc is DLR’s € 29 million contract for the construction and installation of a scalable neutral-atom quantum computer.  Planqc was selected by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to develop a digital quantum computing hardware and software platform based on neutral atoms that is scalable and can demonstrate quantum algorithms for real-world problems. This is the first sale of a digital quantum computer based on neutral atoms in Europe. 

“We stand for realistic statements about possible applications” 

Munich Startup: Where would you like to be in one year, and in five years? 

Planqc: We stand for realistic statements about possible applications, the performance of the hardware and the schedule on which quantum computing will develop substantial practical relevance. At the same time, we are pushing ahead with the development of our scalable hardware platform so we can fully exploit the potential of quantum computers as quickly as possible. We’re currently working with several partners to explore customer-specific applications for neutral-atom quantum computers. We’re also very interested in connecting with other companies around the world that are interested in quantum computing and quantum sensors and who could benefit from long-term collaboration. 

Munich Startup: How have you experienced Munich as a startup location so far? 

Planqc: Planqc was founded by a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and is the first spin-off from Munich Quantum Valley (MQV), one of the leading centers for quantum technology in Europe. The close ties to the research of these Munich institutions was an important locational advantage over our international competitors in the field of quantum computing, especially at the beginning. 

With our close ties to the globally unique interdisciplinary research at MQV and in particular our cooperation with MPQ, we as a company want to ensure that the results from basic research are used. The aim is to close the gap that often opens up in Germany between basic research and commercial exploitation in the field of quantum computing in order to keep up in this future field on an international level. 

Munich Startup: Quick exit or staying power? 

Planqc: At Planqc, our vision is to develop high-performance quantum computers that deliver value to customers. A task like that requires patience and continuous improvement of the underlying hardware.