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Interview with Impulse 2018 alumnus Dr Carmen Palacios Berraquero, Nu Quantum
 

In this interview Carmen provides us with an insight into her exciting entrepreneurial journey and the opportunities the Impulse Programme has provided. Her business, Nu Quantum, is focused on providing cyber security for the quantum age.

 

You were selected as one of the six finalists of The Cambridge University Post Doc Business Plan Competition with project Nu Quantum. How did this feel?

I was delighted to be one of the 6 finalists particularly as many of the other finalists were far more established. This competition gave me the impetus to focus on my idea and ensure I put together a more detailed and comprehensive business plan.
 

What led you into the field of Quantum Science?

Since a teenager in Madrid I found that I had an aptitude for science and physics which I really liked. My father is a doctor involved in cancer research which I found fascinating.

During my undergraduate studies I became more intrigued about general relativity and atomic physics. Although I enjoyed general relativity, I felt that I had a better grasp of quantum physics and could see myself becoming a quantum physicist.
 

Tell me about Nu Quantum and what are the next steps?

Nu Quantum aims to be the platform technology for the Quantum Internet. Our key is that we have technology that can generate quantum light: this means single particles of light (single photons) that will carry single quantum bits of information, and this will be the medium through which links are established between the nodes of a quantum network. This network, the so-called Quantum Internet / Quantum Cloud, is the predicted parallel network of the future, where super secure and super powerful computations will be done.

Currently, we are focusing on the more near-term application of quantum technology: quantum cybersecurity.

We will create two products:

The first one is called a Quantum Random Number Generator (QNRG), which generates the most uncrackable encryption keys physically possible. The second is a system that provides quantum-secure communication via satellite: we envisage a constellation of satellites selling encryption keys around the world (the fact that we use satellites is our connection with Space Technology, and hence why we are involved with Seraphim Capital). This is called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).

All of this - the concept of Quantum CyberSecurity - comes from the fact that current encryption methods are under threat, because Quantum Computers are powerful enough to crack them in seconds. Quantum Computers are machines being built at the moment by big corporations like IBM and Google, and will be out in the next 5 years or so. However, there is an alternative way of communicating that is entirely secure and un-hackable by a quantum computer, and this is Quantum CyberSecurity: by generating super-secure keys using a QNRG, and by sending (distributing them) encoded in single photons of light (QKD).

I gave a presentation at the QTEC Quantum Investor Showcase event and, as a result, I was invited as a Fellow to join the Space Technology Incubator in London. Out of the 1100 applications eight were selected and two were invited. It provides world-class science innovation support for entrepreneurs and small businesses to help grow the UK space industry. It concludes at the end of November 2018 and culminates with Space Day where the participants pitch to over 150 investors.

I am excited to have been offered from December 2018 a QTEC Fellowship for a year to develop my business plan and take it to the next stage, carrying out detailed feasibility studies for two parallel cryptography products.

I am going to be looking for people interested in cyber security, quantum technologies, systems engineering and product engineering.
 

Did participation in the Impulse Programme help you to formulate your business ideas?

I hadn’t really considered the opportunities of making a business from science technological developments. Now, as a result of the Impulse Programme, I have literally gone from zero to working full-time on my business.

When I joined the Impulse Programme, I didn’t have any idea of how businesses operated, or even the language and terminology used for example a “MVP” (minimal viable product). The Impulse programme gave me time to contemplate and think about an application and develop this into a business idea. I also met so many people who have really helped me clarify my thoughts.
 

What do you think were the three key benefits from your participation in the Impulse Programme?

At the top of the list has to be “People” - I have met so many people who genuinely want to help me to successfully develop my ideas. This is from putting together an initial business plan, carrying out market research, understanding the product development process through to gaining an insight into the business angel community and their investment requirements.

“Knowledge” – of business and the commercialisation process.

“Time” – to concentrate solely upon development of your idea.
 

As there is an active Impulse Community of extraordinary people from various backgrounds; successful entrepreneurs, potential funders, partners and business professionals, has this been advantageous to you?

The Impulse Community provides so many opportunities. I am now taking up a QTEC Fellowship, which is a direct result of the Impulse Programme as QTEC is an Impulse Programme Partner. I was invited to the QTEC Investor Showcase and consequently I am now at the Space Technology Incubator.
 

Have you always wanted to become an entrepreneur?

Initially, I became interested in entrepreneurship in the third year at university with a renewable energy product which gave me a flavour of being able to work for myself. But I did not pursue it at that time. My mother is an entrepreneur, with her own business, so I come from an entrepreneurial background.
 

What insights from your journey so far would you like to you pass on to others?

Trust yourself.

Talk to people as most people just want to help. Keep in mind that your success is also other people’s success.

In business, the more contacts that you have the more successful your business.
 

The remaining finalists of The Cambridge University Post Doc Business Plan Competition were men. Do you think it is easier now for women to succeed in the field of Science and Engineering and have you experienced any barriers along your path?

I can’t really compare with the past but, I am very often in situations where I am the only female entrepreneur. I haven’t come across any actual barriers, but it is more subtle: a question of perception. In order to make progress we do need to push to get the numbers up.
 

Are there any other big challenges that you would like to achieve in your life?

Apart from ensuring Nu Quantum is a success, I would like to be an inspiration to other women to go into Science and Technology. I would like to ensure greater diversity and drive up the number of women involved with Quantum Cyber Security.

 

Interviewed by Sue Higgins
November 2018

 

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