Lisa Lambert, CEO of Quantum Industry Canada

Lisa Lambert, CEO of Quantum Industry Canada, is interviewed by Yuval Boger. Lisa discusses QIC’s role as Canada’s national consortium of quantum companies and its commitment to advancing the quantum technology sector. She describes common challenges such as funding, policy, and market access. Lisa highlights Canada’s strong quantum ecosystem, strategic investments, and global collaborations with partners like the US and UK. She provides a compelling sales pitch for companies considering Canada as their home, and much more.

Full Transcript

Yuval: Hello Lisa, and thank you for joining me today.

Lisa: Thanks so much for having me, Yuval.

Yuval: So who are you and what do you do?

Lisa: My name is Lisa Lambert and I am the CEO of Quantum Industry Canada, or QIC for short. QIC is Canada’s national consortium of quantum companies and allied organizations that’s really committed to advancing the quantum technology sector here in Canada.

QIC was actually founded back in 2019 by industry leaders who were seeing the need as the sector was emerging rather quickly to come together and look at what are some common interests or some challenges around that as well. But I’m actually fairly new on the scene, even though I’m the inaugural CEO coming in. I started back in October, 2023, and that has to do with back in 2023 as Canada launched its national quantum strategy, they had given some seed money for QIC and really saw us as being a really key partner organization and driving forward the commercialization activity in the quantum sector in Canada.

Yuval: You mentioned common needs and requests or common issues. What are the common issues and needs?

Lisa: Yeah, I think there is, well, we’ve got a really vibrant ecosystem here in Canada and the UK will argue with me around this one. We’ll go back and forth around it, but we’re kind of very close with the UK. I think trade places around who has the second highest number of quantum SMEs in the world, second only to the US, of course.

But even among that group, there’s some competitors in that group, but there’s also a lot of common challenges as we’re looking at emerging a sector and what’s ahead on that. So we work along that and where we’re looking at common challenges, whether it’s around access to funding or some of the policy landscape and looking at where can we get more tailwinds than headwinds as we’re looking to develop this industry, where we’re looking at market access, where we’re looking at global collaboration, workforce development, a number of these other issues that are emerging or opportunities as we look forward to see a thriving quantum industry going forward.

Yuval: You mentioned the UK. One would think that the US would be the closest trading partner or collaborator. Is that the case or is there a particularly close relationship with the UK?

Lisa: There is with both, which is absolutely wonderful to see. So I think with the US being Canada’s neighbor, we’ve been really strong trading partners throughout the history of Canada. And that’s something that’s continued forward, really strong collaboration in the quantum sector, everything from the research training and the commercialization side as well.

And similarly with the UK as well. There’s been a really strong partnership there. I think with Canada being a Commonwealth country as well, there’s a strong tradition, a lot of shared culture between our two countries. So it’s a nice collaboration with both those nations and others as well.

Yuval: I think a lot of people are familiar with some of the European national quantum programs, UK and Germany and France. What can you tell us about the basics of the Canadian national strategy on Quantum?

Lisa: Yeah. The Canadian national strategy, I would say, builds on a long history here in Canada. And I would say Canada, we’re generally pretty modest. People are sometimes a little bit understated and not ones to necessarily fly our own flag or sing our own praises with this one. But that’s part of my job. I get to do that a little bit with what I do. But Canada has been quite involved with the quantum sector for a number of decades now. It’s really been a world leader in advancing the research and development side in the early days and also in translating that over to commercialization.

So our national quantum strategy, well, it was actually announced in 2021 and then implemented with 2023. We’ve been at this for a while. And the idea and the approach with Canada’s national quantum strategy is really to build on that early success. Those early strategic investments were made both in the private and public sector and has really rallied around three core pillars. One being research, the other training, and the third one being commercialization. And those work together as well as this is moving forward. But that’s the approach within that.

And then looking at missions which are similar, I would say, with some of the other countries that we’re seeing, but really looking around quantum computing, hardware and software, quantum communications and networking. And with that also post-quantum cryptography, Canada has some incredible post-quantum cryptography companies as well. So that’s looped in with that. And the third being quantum sensing for those missions.

Yuval: Some countries are worried that they provide the education and research, but then the manufacturing actually happens elsewhere. Is that a concern for Canada as well?

Lisa: Yeah, I think it’s one that’s definitely on the mind of a number of companies here. And I think especially in the context of Canada as well is in a number of other sectors we can look at AI, for example. Canada was a real pioneer in AI as well, but a lot of that value creation has gone on to other places. So I think this is an opportunity for Canada to look at what role do we want to play in the sector. We’ve been very successful early on with the research and also with training with institutes like the Institute for Quantum Computing, Perimeter Institute, Institute Quantique over in Sherbrooke with what we’re seeing over at the University of Calgary as well over at UBC.

But looking at that commercialization piece and where this is being manufactured and developing, I think for Canada being a mid-sized economy, we really need to look at how are we integral into the global supply chain. And this very much is a collaborative endeavor globally right now. But I think going forward as we’re looking to be strategic in this, we need to have some consideration around that, especially with looking at some of the capital that’s required, particularly in the hardware space for this and looking at where are we working with trusted partners in moving the sector forward together.

Yuval: Is there a particular quantum modality or modalities that’s very popular in Canada?

Lisa: What I think is pretty exciting in Canada, and I think this may have to do with some of the early start here in Canada, is we have strengths across all verticals of quantum technologies. So there’s a number of really great quantum computing hardware companies here, for example, who are exploring different architectures. We’ve also got quite a few players in the software space. Same thing with sensing, same thing with communications networking we’ve got across the board. And as I mentioned before, quantum-safe cryptography.

And I also think part of why Canada has been so strong in the quantum sector is we have a really incredible enabling technology ecosystem here as well. Canada traditionally has had incredible strengths in the photonics sector and with telecommunications, same thing with nanofabrication, cryogenics, and a number of those that have really helped to bolster our standing in the quantum sector as well.

Yuval: How much money is invested as part of the national strategy?

Lisa: The national strategy itself is around $360 million or so Canadian, and that’s building on other investments though. So that’s looking at the federal level with this most recent bucket of funding. Prior to that, I think in the last decade or so, there’s been about a billion dollars of investment coming into that in the lead up. And there’s also different initiatives that are happening at the provincial level in Canada that are quite substantial as well. So if you look at Quebec, for example, I think they’re over $400 million of investment in recent years on this front. We’re seeing considerable investment recently over in the province of Alberta as well to support this. And there’s some other efforts going along the way.

Yuval: Different national programs have sort of different adherence to being nationalistic, meaning some are more open than others to technologies from outside the country where some prefer to invest only in local companies. Where does Canada stand on that spectrum?

Lisa: I think with this one, it’s important to look more broadly at the Canadian innovation policy tools that are out there and different pieces of it. So I’d say it’s a little bit of both here in Canada. Canada is traditionally, we’ve had a long history of working with foreign companies that have roots here in Canada and are partners with R&D and also with other places. So you’re definitely seeing a big presence with those in the sector. We also have a number of those companies who are members of QIC and work closely with our community, which we’re very happy to see.

And then we have some programs also that are dedicated towards Canadian companies and hopefully to see some more of those going forward, especially in the commercialization side as the sector continues to emerge as well.

Yuval: In the US, there’s talk about export restrictions because quantum being dual use technology could be used for good as well as for not so good purposes. Where does export licensing and export restrictions stand on the Canadian front?

Lisa: I think it’s one with, I’ve had some conversations recently and a lot of it’s actually very much in close collaboration with the US being a key trading partner on this front. I’d say it’s early days for this technology and we really need to be thoughtful with these export controls as we’re rolling them out that we’re looking at, ensuring we’ve got the security mechanisms in place, but that we’re not stifling innovation at the same time. So it’s a conversation that’s going, I know things are ramping up a little bit more on the US side and with that, Canada’s coming along on that. And I think we’ll see a lot of harmony is my guess as we continue to move forward on this front.

Yuval: Let’s assume I represent a European company that wants to have a presence in North America. What would be your pitch to do it in Canada or to put the first foothold in Canada as opposed to south of the border?

Lisa: Now you’re putting me on the spot for this one. Maybe I’ll share a little bit with what some of our European companies who have done so have shared with me and maybe I’ll give a couple of examples on that one. Maybe helpful. I don’t think they’ll mind if I do so either. The one company that actually set up its first international headquarters in Canada was Multiverse Computing. So they actually, their first touch point over with Canada was being part of the Creative Destruction Lab out of Toronto and through their quantum stream, which I think actually about half of quantum SMEs globally have had a connection point with CDL, with the Creative Destruction Lab, which is pretty incredible here.

But Multiverse was looking at where to set up next within Canada and they’re over in the Toronto area. They found it was a really great ecosystem for them. The one culturally with Europe, there were a lot of similarities, which made it an easier landing space within that. There’s a great quantum community in that area as well. They had a lot of like-mindedness with that. They were looking around financial end users, which there was a really good close proximity to the market in Toronto with that and also really easy access over to the US and to the market that way where Canada’s got a nice stable government and really favorable immigration policies as well that help with recruitment and retention, really good education ecosystem and a little bit more favorable financially as well for setting up a company here. So that’d be one example with Multiverse.

We also have Pasqal who has set up their manufacturing facility over in Sherbrooke, Canada as well. So it’s one with a French company coming over to Quebec. There’s a similarity with language, culture being close to that as well, access to talent. The Sherbrooke ecosystem is a really vibrant ecosystem. They’ve got a lot of access to that, like-minded companies as well, and it’s been a good place for them to set up again their manufacturing facility here, but with that close access to the US market.

Yuval: If I ask the same question for a US company, I mean, if I’m a US company, I could fly to Toronto with ease, right? It doesn’t take a lot of time, no or very little time zone difference. Why would a US company want to set up shop in Canada?

Lisa: I think some of it’s actually very similar, and I think this is where Canada kind of, someone described it once to me as Canada being a hinge country, and I think it’s one where we end up being kind of culturally close with both the US and also with Europeans as well. I’d say similarly with Australia and New Zealand, some other countries that way. So it’s kind of a nice friendly landing place that I think is less culture shock perhaps than some other areas in that. Canada also has an incredible roster of trade agreements with key countries internationally. So it’s also a really great one for US or European either way to come in with Canada and then have access to global markets quite easily on that side as well.

Another one right now, it is the case, it’s been the flip before, but for an American coming into here, the American dollar is higher than the Canadian dollar as well. That is a consideration from a business perspective coming in. But again, you’re coming somewhere with an open economy, really great access to talent, to people, opportunity to bring people in from all over the world, and then that access to global markets as well.

Yuval: You mentioned that you’re on the job for about six months, something like that?

Lisa: Yeah, about six months now.

Yuval: So what do you know about quantum or quantum in Canada that you didn’t know six months ago? What’s sort of new in quantum Canada?

Lisa: I think what’s really surprised me is just how quickly things are moving. So for me, it’s been really nice because I feel like I’ve been coming back to the sector. My first exposure with quantum was years ago, I was working at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, which is a close partner research center with the Institute for Quantum Computing, also in Waterloo. And I remember being given a tour of the Institute for Quantum Computing, which was the first time I saw a quantum computer. And I think we were talking about 12 qubits or so at the time. And just seeing how quickly things have progressed.

And even just in the last six, seven months, seeing the pace of development, there’s been a lot of exciting things. Last six, seven months alone with error correction and in some other modalities right now that really excited about the sensing space and what’s happening. And then also we’ve got standards coming out inevitably for post-quantum cryptography. So just seeing the pace of movement right now, I think it’s been really astonishing.

Yuval: Help us place the quantum centers in Canada geographically. In what regions, what cities are the main quantum activities?

Lisa: Yeah, there’s a really good group over in Quebec around this. So there’s some group, there’s a fantastic company named SBQuantum over in Sherbrooke that’s doing some really, really interesting work in this space. There’s another great company over in Montreal called that’s working with superconducting sensors that are also doing some fantastic work as well.

We’ve also got a group in Waterloo that’s working in this. So Quantum Valley Ideas Lab, and there’s a number of others in this space that… So I would say those are some of the leaders in this space. And we’re seeing some other work also happening a little bit over in Alberta as another hub around this work.

Yuval: As a CEO of the organization, what keeps you up at night professionally?

Lisa: I think my curiosity, to be quite honest, is this is such a fun space to be in where it’s like drinking from a fire hose with all the things that you get to learn. I think with just the technology alone and all the different modalities of Quantum, I think it’s easy to come from the outside and think this is a monolithic technology. It really is that there’s so many different applications that are being developed and ways of looking at this.

And there’s also just so much to be learning as well as to what are some of the challenges and opportunities as you stand up a new industry and really look at disruptive technology and what some of the possibilities are. So I think sometimes I’m up at night just thinking about what’s possible and what the potential is. And it’s really exciting on that front.

Yuval: What are some of the activities that your team is engaged with?

Lisa: There’s a number of fronts with this and we’re really bringing our community involved to tackle some of these issues. But a lot of what we look at is, as I talked about before, some of the common interests, but also some of the common challenges or some of the gaps that are happening in the ecosystem as well. So for example, we’ve got a number of working groups that are working together and trying to tackle some of these issues.

One of them just done a submission for a tool here in Canada, an innovation policy tool called SHRED. It’s one of Canada’s biggest innovation funding mechanisms actually that’s done through tax credits to the tune of about $4 billion per year. So they provided some input on this from the perspective of the emerging sector and looking at how do we modernize this program going forward. And that group will go on and other members they’re interested to tackle some of the policy issues or policy opportunities around standing up the sector that need to be considered would be an example from one of that.

We’re also doing some work together around standards as JTC3 is kicking off. There’s a number of groups around the world that are looking at this. So we are also taking a look at this as well and looking at where can we be supporting the sector going forward. Some of the considerations as we engage in this activity going forward is another area on that.

We’re also looking at where there’s some challenges around access to different markets globally, around promoting the sector as well. And really just ultimately how are we fostering an ecosystem right across Canada or an environment that not only nurtures Canada’s quantum industry but really looks at how do we propel its global success going forward.

Yuval: So speaking about global, we touched on the UK a little bit and the US, but what other countries do you have collaborations with?

Lisa: QIC is actually one of the founding members of the International Council of Quantum Industry Associations or ICQIA. So there’s four member consortiums with that that have collectively worked together to set that up. And that’s Q-STAR over in Japan and QEDC that’s based out of the US and QuIC based out of Europe as well. So we’ve been working together and doing some joint projects where we’re looking at some of the international challenges or opportunities as well around that and really looking at how do we foster more collaboration between our countries.

One of our first projects together was actually to work on the first global quantum computing supply chain map. So we actually shared that back at the Quantum West conference over at Photonics West in January and now we’re working on expanding that project to include more entities and also looking at extending that project to quantum communications and later we’ll look at quantum sensing as well.

Yuval: And last, a hypothetical: if you could have dinner with one of the Quantum greats dead or alive, who would that be?

Lisa: I think actually we pick a computing great. And I think she probably would have really been interested in Quantum as well. But I am just absolutely fascinated by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who is just an incredible mathematician and computer scientist. And I think as she was coming up through the ranks in her career, she’d just be an incredible person to get to have dinner with and have a conversation with.

Yuval: Wonderful. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me today.

Lisa: Thanks so much, Yuval.