IIT Madras

[Innovator Series] How QNu Labs is ushering in a quantum revolution in India

With quantum cryptography, QNu Labs is making security unconditional. The CEO, Sunil Gupta talks in detail about the quantum momentum, Indian deep tech ecosystem and breaking barriers.

It was 2016. India had demonetized Rs 500 and Rs 1000. There were hopes that this was a watershed moment for the cashless digital economy. But Sunil Gupta and his team took a bird’s eye view of the ecosystem. If the world’s second largest population were to finally start digital banking was the security sufficient? As they had this thought another wave of emerging technologies—5G, Blockchain, etc.—started hitting mainstream adoption, which meant a new trust platform had to be in works.

“We did a quantum jump, and went to a new paradigm called quantum cryptography. We knew that with quantum cryptography we will be able to provide the promise that the world would need,” Gupta says.

Quantum principles to protect the encryption:

Gupta says that at QNu Labs “we are using the same quantum principles to protect the current encryption making sure that even with the advent of quantum computers, they wouldn’t be able to break the encryption.”

The portfolio has Quantum Random Number Generator, Quantum Key Distribution, Entropy as a Service, Post-Quantum Cryptography. First, quantum random number generator, Tropos, generates random numbers from quantum source and not from mathematical algorithms, thereby decreasing the predictability.

Armos, the key distribution system, uses a series of photons, generated randomly, to transmit keys over distance over a fibre cable. Photons are used to exchange quantum information to have same secret key at both ends, which collapses in case of an attempt to read.

Reaching the market:

Like any other novel tech there are early adopters. Gupta states that the team identified advanced banks, telecom, data centers and now sell them directly.

But to reach a larger set, QNu relies on three set of go-to market partners: System Integrators, consulting organizations, OEMs and a set of distributors, who are in the business of security products with partners in Middle East, US, India.

Competing with the mindset:

Gupta states that unlike conventional competitors, the quantum cryptography company is competing with the mindset that the current encryption is good. With the threat landscape evolving rapidly “all the enterprises need to implement the tech today. But (fail to do so) just because they are complex and not aware of the danger. That is the competition. That is why our mission states: Help the world accelerate toward quantum state security,” he says.

But the challenges don’t end here. Being a deep tech company and possibly the first of its kind in India there is a clear lack of ecosystem. “There are no examples to learn from. Everything has to be thought through from scratch.

Second, there isn’t enough talent pool. We have to prove that quantum physics works, convert that into prototype, then into a product and then start selling it. The challenge is finding the right people and energy to experiment,” says Gupta.

QNu Labs therefore partnered with academia to conduct scientific experiments. Setting up initial core team with a keen zeal toward scientific experiment was important to QNu. Also, the challenge extends to the unavailability of the requisite hardware component which led to the import some of the components and paying of duty on it.

But Gupta isn’t deterred. “In fact, I am proud of the fact that QNu Labs has built an ecosystem of product, academia, outsourcing, certifications, manufacturing. We have created the whole supply chain and educated everybody. We understood that this is a responsibility that we have to do it. We are proud of creating ecosystem that 10 more quantum security companies will come up and they wouldn’t have to face the same problem,” Gupta says.

Why accelerators and angel funds are important

Gupta doesn’t fall short on the praise for his angel fund. “They are patient and know that it will take time,” he says. And in the current situation he says that VCs aren’t able to value the company as the story doesn’t fit into their template. “Everybody wants to follow. In the next 2 years, as more companies come up, people will see the credibility come in. But unfortunately, we don’t have those who are ready to identify Uber like opportunity,” Gupta says. But he is confident “in 2-3 years we will be one of the most sought-after company in the world.”

QNu Labs found support in startup accelerators. “When we did our prototype, we wanted somebody to validate it. Cisco Launchpad helped integrate our product into theirs, Cisco encryptors. It was a good validation. Then, NETAPP gave cloud use case.

As we were taking our product to the market we realized the story was too complex. NASSCOM Deep Tech helped articulate the story to the customer in an easy way. Intel helped us complete our suite. We are glad such ecosystem exists in India. Without them there wouldn’t be enough clarity and support,” he says.

The whole quantum momentum is not like another tech but a revolution to Gupta. “We wanted to solve future problems. Second, it had to be in deep tech. We wanted to prove that deep tech can happen from India. Third this should transform India and put the country onto the quantum map of the world,” he concludes.

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