Unlocking Canada’s quantum potential: Q&A with Lisa Lambert, CEO, Quantum Industry Canada

Mark Lowey
April 10, 2024

Quantum Industry Canada (QIC) is a non-profit consortium committed to advancing Canada’s quantum technology sector. In October 2023, QIC appointed Lisa Lambert (photo at right) as its first-ever chief executive officer. Lambert’s past experiences include managing external relations and public affairs at the Waterloo-based Perimeter Institute, a theoretical physics research centre from 2010 to 2015, following which she led strategic communications and educational outreach at Vancouver-based TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator research facility, until 2019. After that, she was a business coach for various organizations while also working as the head of learning at Toronto-headquartered education technology platform Disco, before leaving that position in May 2023.

A 2020 study, commissioned by the National Research Council of Canada, projected that Canada’s quantum industry would be an estimated $139 billion industry and account for 209,200 jobs by 2045. Earlier this year, the federal government invested $1.4 million in QIC as part of Ottawa’s $360-million National Quantum Strategy to support the growth of Canada’s quantum science and technology ecosystem.

According to a statement by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the main role of QIC is to facilitate opportunities for representatives from key Canadian industries to meet with quantum companies to explore technological solutions to customer problems, while strengthening the relationship between the federal government and the quantum industry. ISED said QIC will also connect Canadian businesses with international strategic partners – focusing on quantum computing and software, quantum communications and cryptography, and quantum sensing – to attract investments and deploy quantum technologies, as well as to develop international standards.

Mark Lowey, Research Money’s Managing Editor, talked with Lambert about QIC’s activities, who supports the organization, Canada’s strengths and obstacles in commercializing quantum technologies, and her vision for QIC.

R$: What is Quantum Industry Canada’s purpose and goals, what sorts of activities does it engage in, who belongs to and supports Quantum Industry Canada?

Lisa Lambert: Quantum Industry Canada – QIC – is the national, industry-driven consortium that unites quantum technology companies and allied organizations right across the country. Our mission is ultimately to translate Canada’s quantum capabilities and strengths into business success and economic prosperity.

Today, QIC unites and connects nearly 50 of the leading quantum entities and supportive organizations across the country, all dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, across a broad spectrum of quantum technologies and post-quantum cryptography. So more than just quantum computing. There are a lot of different technologies within quantum.

What we do is work with our members to identify opportunities, gaps and challenges on the paths of successfully commercializing this technology and really building a thriving ecosystem in Canada for both its development and its adoption. Both those pieces are really key for successful commercialization. Together as a consortium we can move a lot faster towards this goal with really working to create a quantum-enabled future that benefits Canada and ultimately the world.

[As for activities], our Affiliate Program is something I’m really excited about. We’re an industry-driven consortium and that’s really important. But to stand up an industry takes more than just the industry players that are here developing the technology. It takes a broader ecosystem. And Canada has a pretty incredible ecosystem in the space we’re working in. Our Affiliate Program is a way to unite the sector with all the players – not just those that are developing the technology, but those that play really key roles in supporting its development. Whether that be research infrastructure, funders, investors and government agencies that are doing really incredible work in this space.

R$: Canada has impressive strengths in quantum science and research, but experts have noted that we’re lagging in developing and deploying commercial quantum technologies. How can we change this picture, and what is Quantum Industry Canada doing to improve it?

LL: It’s important to recognize that we also have important strengths in the commercialization aspect. Canada is home to the second-highest number of quantum small and medium-sized enterprises globally, second only to the U.S. We’re home also to many world-renowned companies in all aspects of quantum technology which is pretty incredible.

The technology is getting commercialized faster and faster, and other countries are catching up really quickly and they’re putting substantial resources behind the commercialization of quantum – really recognizing that it’s a critical and it’s a disruptive technology. It has the potential to transform many, many industries and economies as well.

I think Canada’s National Quantum Strategy was a good starting point, but it’s clear that more investment is needed, especially to support development and growth of the quantum industry and the great companies we have here in Canada. Something that’s also important to recognize is that this industry is moving quickly and this investment is needed sooner rather than later if we want to advance Canada’s position as a quantum leader globally.

While we’ve been a world leader in the quantum science and research, it’s crucial that we don’t rest on our laurels in this space. I think the most interesting opportunities for innovation and value creation are really ahead of us, not behind us. The National Research Council of Canada projected that the country’s quantum industry could contribute up to three per cent of GDP and over 200,000 jobs within 20 years. That’s massive and that could be transformational for Canada. But it requires bold vision today if we want to realize that 20 years from now.

We ultimately will unlock Canada’s quantum potential through the commercialization piece of this. It’s going to take long-term vision, it’s going to take some really clear commitment, and really meaningful support for true commercialization activities that can grow and adapt with the needs of this emerging industry.

At QIC we’re really working to shine a light on the opportunity that here’s for Canada, the opportunity of unlocking our quantum potential. We’re working to identify the needs of the industry. There are some unique factors in this space, that quantum is a disruptive technology, and we’re trying to identify those to be able to address some of the gaps and blockers that are in the way right now. We’re really working with partners to ensure that the next chapter of Canada’s quantum journey is even more impactful and successful than its trailblazing beginnings.

R$: Can you point to an example of those blockers you mentioned.

LL: Funding for early-stage companies is really tough, and this isn’t only in the quantum sector. We’ve seen this identified in other areas in Canada as well. So we’re looking at programs that take into account the long R&D cycles in quantum, that a lot of these companies are sitting pre-revenue for a little while and where we could be giving them non-dilutive capital and getting that to them at the speed of business, and they’re not waiting a year or so for contracting or the [revenue] to come.

Just from a policy perspective, where do we have really sound innovation industrial policy that’s supporting the IP development of these companies as well – supporting them and putting that together?

Access to markets is another big one. No one is going to own the full supply chain on this. Canadian companies need to think globally from the outset, which can be challenging to do when you’re a small enterprise. So where can we be supporting them in that.

R$: Where do you see Canada’s strengths and advantages when it comes to commercializing and deploying quantum technologies?

LL: I think a really key one that may often be overlooked is that Canada is really trusted. We’ve been a trusted collaborator in this space. Looking at a landscape where there are a lot of geopolitics involved, and where we’re going to have to be working together with trusted partners, Canada is often looked to. I think that can help position us as a really integral player in the global supply chain.

Canada has a history of playing a role in that space. When it comes to innovation, I think that’s actually one of our greatest assets across the board, but especially in a sector where you’re dealing with dual-use technology [both civilian and military applications], with geopolitics there are real national security considerations that come into play with this technology. And just the economic potential in this – being a trusted partner [is crucial].

Canada also has a lot of really interesting trade agreements with a wide variety of nations. So it makes us a really [attractive] country to be able to partner with and work together on co-developing some of this technology.

Also, Canada has really been a hub for talent development. We have incredible post-secondary institutions here, from universities to colleges, and looking at what the sector is going to need. There’s a talent shortage right now that’s only going to grow. We could become one of the world’s leaders in developing the talent for this space, which is I think it really exciting for Canada. Our immigration policies are aligned with that as well.

I think another really huge strength for Canada is we’ve got very resourceful and visionary entrepreneurs. In a lot of our client companies, there’s been a real passion by the founders to try to build this [industry] here in Canada – a lot of good will. I think where we can be supporting them to do that, and not just to start their companies but to scale them here in Canada, it’s a really key strength.

R$: If you could change one thing to make Canada more international competitive in quantum, what would it be?

LL: I would look to ensure our companies have more tailwinds than headwinds. Building a successful quantum company, or any kind of company, is more than about just the technology. In the quantum space, we know this technology is really high, it’s at the most cutting edge. So where we could be looking at beyond the technology, of where we could be looking at policies or the business climate – supporting [technology] adoption and those other pieces – to really give tailwinds to our companies to help them compete in this international landscape. Policy, regulation, funding – all the pieces where we can look to support them and make it easier for them to grow and grow here in Canada. I think that would do a lot of good for the Canadian industry.

R$: Quantum Industry Canada in March 2023 received a federal government investment of $1.4 million. What are Quantum Industry’s Canada priorities for this funding – how is the organization spending the money?

LL.: We’re really grateful for the support from the Government of Canada and the recognition of the role that Quantum Industry Canada plays in advancing the National Quantum Strategy (NQS), in particular the commercialization pillar.

Our priorities for the funding are to support the NQS, and again that commercialization pillar in particular is where we’re working on this. We’re working on increasing Canadian capacity in this space, improving knowledge transfer between different key groups. Our Affiliate Program hopes to play into that as well, in really uniting the sector. We’re one of the few organizations that actually unites the quantum sector at the national level. Really working to enable more investment in the Canadian economy that’s going to carry Canada into the future.

Some of the ways that we’re doing this is we’re serving as the voice of the industry, really working to identify some of their common interests, where the blockers, gaps and challenges are, what’s going to be needed to stand up this emerging sector. We’re working to promote the Canadian industry globally and working with our international partners as well on advancing some common interests. We’re also engaging a lot of work that’s needed to stand up a new industry. So everything from standardization to policies to regulations to supply chain mapping, to engaging and educating potential [quantum technology] adopters.

We’ve really got our head up to the horizon as to what the next steps are, and really listening to our members as well, in what’s needed from them as we’re moving forward.  

[Quantum Industry Canada doesn’t invest directly in or provide capital support for quantum companies].

R$: You became Quantum Industry Canada’s first CEO last October. What have your first six months on the job been like? What’s the biggest challenge and greatest satisfaction? Have there been any surprises?

LL.: It’s been a lot of fun. The greatest satisfaction – there’s been a couple. One is just seeing our member companies make progress. Whether they’re shipping their first product, or in a new partnership, or making some breakthrough. Every step forward feels like a shared success and it’s really exciting to see that. The other thing that’s really been delightful is seeing the sense of community among the quantum sector and supporters. It’s been a real sense that people see this as an incredible opportunity for Canada. There’s a lot of good will that’s coming towards that and is going to be needed – bringing all of Canada to be engaged in this to really unlock our quantum potential.

The biggest challenge within that is it’s such an immense opportunity for Canada. And really looking at where we’re a small team and looking at where we can be strategic to really prioritize what can we do now that’s going to make the next piece easier for our members, the next piece easier for commercialization. It’s navigating a dynamic landscape. It’s challenging but it’s also really, really interesting.

I’ve been on the periphery of this sector throughout my career and other [disruptive] sectors like AI. I had a lot of conviction in quantum coming into this. But coming in and seeing how quickly some things are progressing – the ingenuity that’s happening in this space – it’s absolutely awe-inspiring and it’s really humbling to work with this community day in and day out to try to help them move forward.

R$: What about those people who say Canada should forget about developing the quantum sector and a quantum industry, that we don’t have deep enough pockets compared with other countries to do that? Does Canada really have a chance to be a global player in quantum?

LL.: I think we do. We have so far. As I said, the real opportunity is ahead of us, not behind us. It’s such a disruptive sector and there’s so much potential that we can’t even imagine at this stage of the game. I think there is a real opportunity here for Canada. Because of Canada’s trusted brand internationally, we most certainly can [be a global player].

I think what’s really key is that we don’t look to try to necessarily duplicate what the U.S. is doing or other [countries’] sectors. But we really look at identifying Canada’s strengths and capabilities, and defining our own course for this for what’s possible. It takes vision and imagination and we can draw some inspiration from these other groups. But it’s not to be a cookie-cutter approach I think is what’s going to lead to our success.

R$: What is your vision for Quantum Industry Canada, say 10 years down the road?

I don’t have a crystal ball and it’s a really fast-moving sector. I think if you asked anyone for timelines in the sector you’ll get a different perspective on it. My vision is that we’ll see some really incredible Canadian success stories come out of the QIC community that Canadians are going to be really proud of.

Quantum is a small sector right now, but in 10 years we’ll start seeing the disproportional impact of the sector in the real world. I think QIC will evolve along with the sector, but I suspect we’ll still be working on identifying some of those gaps and blockers and opportunities as well, so that we can continue to propel this forward and have that long-term vision. Semiconductors [development and commercialization] has been 80 years in the making and look at the prosperity that’s come from that now. This is an opportunity akin to that. Right now Canada has got two feet in the race here, and we just want to see it continue onwards.


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