© Munich Quantum Instruments

Munich Quantum Instruments: Quantum hardware made in Munich

Quantum technologies are on everyone's lips and quantum computing is considered the technology of the future. And this future is also being developed and, above all, built in Munich - for example in the form of sensors. The startup Munich Quantum Instruments, for example, develops single photon detectors. In this interview, two of the founders reveal what their technology can do and how Munich is becoming Silicon Valley in the field of quantum.

Munich Startup: What does your startup do? What problem do you solve?

Sven Ernst, Munich Quantum Instruments: We are Munich Quantum Instruments, MQI for short, and we build measuring instruments for the detection of light particles (photons). Our single photon detectors can be used in many different fields, but especially in quantum technology. It also includes optical quantum computing, where our sensors are used to read out information as accurately as possible. But our sensors are also used in areas such as deep space optical communication, i.e. communication with satellites that are very far away from Earth. Here, together with ESA, we want to develop a special sensor that can significantly increase the data rates and also the distance.

Another area we are looking at is quantum key distribution. This technology can enable tap-proof communication. For this, the sensor needs to be specialised in other directions, which we are currently testing in a project with various partners to develop a prototype.

“We are building a universal sensor for light”

In the long term, however, we also want to supply other areas with our sensors. For example, we can build very precise measuring equipment to examine pharmaceutical products. In spectroscopy, too, when it comes to the constellation of different chemicals, such as CO2 in the atmosphere, you can determine that much better with our sensors. We are building a universal sensor for light, and there are many areas of application.

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

Rasmus Flaschmann, Munich Quantum Instruments: The great advantage of our type of sensors is that they are sensitive to individual light particles. And we achieve almost 100 percent efficiency depending on the wavelength. That means you can tell very precisely whether there was a single light particle or not. And this with a very high time resolution, approximately in the range of 20 picoseconds. For certain communication protocols, for example, where you say “information: yes/no”, this would mean that a single light particle is sufficient to transmit the information.

What we also want to do differently from other companies is that we want to make sensors with our highly efficient single photon detectors accessible to a broader market. This means that in addition to the quality of the individual sensors, scalability is of central importance to us. Munich Quantum Instruments thus enables new applications of quantum technology in various fields.

The foundation of Munich Quantum Instruments

Munich Startup: What is your founding story?

Rasmus Fleischmann: I started my doctoral thesis almost five years ago. And relatively early on, talking to my professor the idea came up to turn it into a company in the end, which was of course still very far away at the time. Then, over time, my co-founders Lucio, Chris and Sven joined me. Especially when you are tackling such a big project, a strong team is of central importance, and I think we are all very happy that we found each other and can rely on each other 100 percent. This is how our common vision has developed bit by bit, that we want to bring quantum technology to the markets and shape this further development together.

That’s what we’ve been doing for the last few years, and over time we’ve also applied to various programmes, for example UnternehmerTUM‘s Xplore. There we learned how to bring a product to the market or how to develop a business model. And we also met our fifth co-founder there, Andreas. He also originally studied physics and later went more into the business side of things. Now he is essential for us, so that we can make much better progress on the business side, for example. As engineers and physicists, we don’t necessarily have a lot of training.

At the beginning of last year, we applied for the EXIST Transfer of Research programme. The application process took several months, and we received our acceptance letter around the middle of last year. We have now been officially funded by EXIST Transfer of Research since November 2022. At the end of last year, we founded the GmbH. And as Sven already said, we have now started our first pilot projects and have more in the pipeline.

“You just have to do it”

Munich Startup: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Rasmus Flaschmann: What I personally found most difficult was finding the best moment for the next step. Because, especially as a physicist and engineer, you are always focused on the problem and on making it even better here or there. But there is no such thing as the perfect moment; you always have to take a bit of a chance and just do it. And of course you also have to work on the business side. After all, what good is the best product if you can’t sell it because you’re not on the market? That’s exactly why I find it very helpful that Andreas is now at our side.

In addition, there is the uncertainty of which of all these quantum markets will really work in the end and when they will work. We will have to deal with that for the next few years. What helps us is that there are possibilities to rely on our quantum sensors in hybrid systems for certain applications.

Munich Quantum Instruments wants to build quantum chips in Munich

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

Sven Ernst: In one year, we want to have completed our pilot project in an industrial market, namely quantum computing. At the same time, the MVP for our niche market of research and development should also be ready. We then want to have developed and sold a complete system for our sensor with cryostat and electronics.

In five years, we want to have scaled up in the research and development market with our standard sensors, so that we have many customers there and also enable many new disruptive applications. In addition, we want to have gained a foothold in the industrial market and then scale up further. This also includes that we have then established our own fabrication for our chips. This will enable us to position Munich Quantum Instruments very strongly in international competition and also strengthen Munich as a location with a Quantum chip fabrication facility.

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

Sven Ernst: InMunich there are many offers that support startups very well – we are also involved in some of them ourselves, such as UnternehmerTUM, for example. We are also in close contact with the Venture Quantum Labs and exchange ideas.

With Munich Quantum Valley and the Munich Quantum Center for Science and Technology (MCQST), several institutions have set themselves the goal of making Munich a key player in quantum technologies: the Silicon Valley in the field of quantum. Munich has always been very good at quantum research, physics research and technology research in general. Now the goal is to bring this to startups and companies as well.

Munich as Silicon Valley in the field of Quantum

What is still missing here, however, is that the startup scene in the quantum field organises events on its own. Of course, you know the other startups – there aren’t that many yet – but there are still no central events organised by the founders because they want to exchange ideas. Everything is still being pushed by the institutions, so I would like to see a bit more activity.

Rasmus Flaschmann: What is definitely also an important point here is the next generation of potential developers, physicists and engineers, especially in quantum technologies. And what Munich is already doing really well here is offering courses of study, for example at the Munich Quantum Center for Science and Technology (MCQST), that go in precisely this direction. And Munich Quantum Valley promotes research institutions and integrates companies into lighthouse projects. Here, on the one hand, the brains of the country are being further promoted, so to speak, and on the other hand, more startups are being supported and companies are being integrated into the projects. And that will become very important. I can well imagine that in ten years quantum and Munich will be inextricably linked.

Munich Startup: Hidden Champion or Shooting Star?

Rasmus Flaschmann: Our offer is a B2B and not a B2C business. In this respect, I would say we are more of a hidden champion. We are the ones who work with Telekom, with ESA, with whoever else. But in the field of quantum, we are also a shooting star, because we are one of the first hardware startups to offer quantum hardware out of Munich. We definitely believe that in the future the industrial markets in Germany and Europe will be equipped with quantum hardware made in Munich.