TQD Exclusive: Interview with Chicago Quantum’s President & Founder Jeffrey Cohen

It is not only in the hardware and software spaces that companies are making their mark in quantum computing: consultancy firms are part of the game, too

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As quantum computing (QC) becomes more mainstream — or at least accepted by more people as a technological solution to today’s and tomorrow’s problems — there has been an increase in service providers appearing to facilitate the nascent ecosystem.

One such company is consultancy startup Chicago Quantum, founded in 2018 by Jeffrey Cohen. I caught up with the Chicago native to ask him a few questions about himself, the company and the wider QC industry in general.

His answers were both insightful and honest.

TQD: So, first of all, thanks for taking the time out to speak to us. Let’s start by you telling TQD something about yourself and Chicago Quantum?

Cohen: My background has been in IT Management Consulting and IT Professional Services since 1989. I bring a client focus, a strong IT and finance framework, industry knowledge, and technology strategy skills to help clients improve shareholder value. I was an IBM Executive as a Global Consulting Partner, a HPe Consulting Partner, McKinsey & Company Associate Partner, Siemens IT Solutions and Services Managing Vice President, & KPMG Senior Manager. I am an IT services innovator whose work helps grow IT Consulting and Project businesses. I help clients make more money from IT through improved capabilities and management. I have led progressively larger IT consulting practices, from 11 to 380 consultants and $3M to $447M annual sales.

Who are we as a firm? We are eight exceptional consultants… enough to solve your challenge.

We are one founder and seven associates. A highly experienced, senior team. Deeply talented with a strong interest in quantum computing. Two of us are Ph.D.s, most of us have highly technical/physics/math backgrounds, one focuses on eCommerce, and one is in the ‘business of IT’ management consultancy. We are located in Chicagoland, NY, Tennessee, Washington DC, and Canada.

We have access to deep academic talent related to advanced technologies and are building relationships into our Department of Energy National Lab network. I bring 30 years’ experience with top educational and professional credentials. We work with academia, where fees help fund studies.

Jeffrey Cohen at IBM France

US Advanced Computing Infrastructure was founded in 2010. Chicago Quantum (SM) was launched in 2018 to bring an innovation called Quantum Computing to market. Although the mass-market adoption of quantum computing is 5 to 20 years out…early adopters in business will leverage this new technology to build, and retain, shareholder value. If we can optimize something…we can make our clients money repeatedly.

We have recently joined the quantum economic development consortium (QED-C) created by NIST and managed by SRI while also collaborating with a number of firms on a formal basis. Other relationships are maturing based on client demand.

TQD: Can you give me your evaluation on how QC will have an impact on sectors like fintech, AI and the pharmaceutical industry in the coming years?

Cohen: We see things simply. Like the CPU and the GPU before it, the QPU will be another processing ‘chip’ that will allow companies to solve increasingly big data and computationally intensive problems with a much smaller energy footprint. We think that over time, many of our clients’ business processes can be improved, or optimized, through the application of quantum computing.

We see a second use case around materials and chemistry, a third around verification and validation, and others including financial optimization.

The test for us is not quantum supremacy, that a quantum computer is better than the most powerful supercomputer, but quantum advantage, an application that using quantum computing can do better than today’s best practices.

‘We are one founder and seven associates. A highly experienced, senior team. Deeply talented with strong interest in quantum computing. Two of us are Ph.D.s, most of us have highly technical/physics/math backgrounds, one focuses on eCommerce, and one is in the ‘business of IT’ management consultancy.’

We believe that it just has to be better than what we do today…and in many cases the competition between classical and quantum technologies will drive the improvement. In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats.

For specific examples of how clients are experimenting with quantum computing, we have written an eBook called Early Quantum Use Cases.

On the other side, quantum computing has the potential to improve the security of our communications. The incorporation of true, physical randomness, leveraging quantum effects, and increases in processing capability, will enable all nations and companies to improve their security posture.

There are also potential national security advantages that would result from quantum computing and quantum technologies more generally.

The quantum computing eco-system is centered around research universities, Department of Energy national labs, a few large technology firms, and dozens of smaller startups. In most cases, these firms are funded with venture capital, and VC is centered in Silicon Valley. We believe the Midwest takes a different approach with startups, where they should be profitable and sustainable as soon as possible, then look for the best source of funding.

In the case of Chicago Quantum, and most management consultancies, we are virtual firms with employees and associates spread around the nation, and even globally. We are usually self-funded or funded by bank loans, as VC firms do not value technology-enabled services firms highly enough to justify the investment.

TQD: Many people see Silicon Valley as the epicenter for QC in the United States. What is the startup/research scene like in QC in Chicago and the Midwest in general?

Cohen: So, we see the scene in Chicago as supportive but fairly expensive and unforgiving during early ramping periods. Most of our calls are via video, our meetings in person are in Starbucks or public libraries, and occasionally filling the chairs around my dining room table. Nobody has said to me that we should borrow and spend to scale. Instead, we hear that we should build our expertise and number of client discussions with something real, tangible and helpful for their business.

We are more down to earth and pragmatic, and also have a sense of mission.

From a physical perspective, we are close to Purdue University, U Chicago, Northwestern, University of Illinois, DePaul, University of Wisconsin, and dozens of other top research universities. We have both Argonne and Fermilab nearby. We have a large naval base, Federal government offices, and other supporting entities all within an hour’s drive of our main office.

‘We have recently joined the quantum economic development consortium (QED-C) created by NIST and managed by SRI while also collaborating with a number of firms on a formal basis.’

When we first started the firm we attended meetups and found an overwhelming response to our message and interest in our firm. As we grow the pipeline, we will start networking and recruiting again locally.

TQD: What part do you see Chicago Quantum playing in the future of QC?

Cohen: This last question is the most challenging.

Chicago Quantum wants to help clients gain business advantage through the application of quantum technologies. We want to help clients through the lifecycle of decision making, implementation, and attainment of business benefits. We will play a systems integrator role in cases where we understand and can control the implementation risks.

We also want our clients to benefit from the advantages of secure communications that quantum delivers.

Some of those clients may be quite large, meaning Fortune 500 companies, and others will be smaller but more technically focused. For example, we spoke with a university on their eSports program to help their students understand eSports generally and how quantum computing might help the leagues, players and platforms.

This all means that we do not have a favorite technology, application or industry at this point. However, if we find a ‘killer application’ with a client we are likely to jointly package and replicate that solution. Each application or solution stack could be its own startup.

TQD: Thank you for your time, Jeffrey.

Copyright 2019 US Advanced Computing Infrastructure, Inc. Chicago Quantum (SM) is a protected service mark, registration 113562, by the Secretary of State of Illinois.