The Chicago region has been named an official U.S. Regional and Innovation Technology Hub for quantum technologies by the Biden-Harris administration, a designation that opens the door to new federal funding and recognizes the growing strength of an ecosystem poised to become the heart of the nation’s quantum economy.
The Bloch Tech Hub, a coalition of industry, academic, government, and nonprofit stakeholders led by the Chicago Quantum Exchange, was one of 31 designees from nearly 400 applications across the country.
The selection, announced Oct. 23 by the White House and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, is the first phase of a federal initiative designed to “supercharge” innovation economies that have the potential to become global leaders in a critical technology within a decade. As a recipient of the U.S. Tech Hubs designation, The Bloch is now eligible to apply for the program’s second phase, which could include millions of dollars in funding to implement the hub’s activities. It was one of two U.S. Tech Hubs designated in Illinois; the other is focused on biomanufacturing.
“Home to world-class institutions and first-rate research centers, Illinois is transforming technology, biomanufacturing, and innovation at every turn,” said Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. “I couldn’t be prouder that the Biden Administration has selected the Chicago Quantum Exchange’s The Bloch and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s iFAB Hub as two of just 31 inaugural tech hubs — opening the door for even more investment, advancement, and discovery. There’s no doubt that the rest of the nation have caught on to our great state’s status as an innovation powerhouse — and our future couldn’t be brighter.”
The EDA Tech Hubs program — aimed at creating jobs, spurring inclusive economic growth, and ensuring advances essential to US economic and national security — was authorized by the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. Quantum information science and technology, which has the potential to revolutionize a range of sectors from finance to medicine to national security, is one of the program’s 10 key areas of focus.
“The Chicago region is a major player driving U.S. leadership in quantum, in part because of the deep partnerships we have fostered among leading research institutions and industry partners — and in part because of strong federal and state government support,” said David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering in the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and the director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, an intellectual hub founded in 2017. “This designation speaks not only to our promising future but to the collaborative, cross-sector work we are already doing to advance research, build a future quantum workforce, and drive the quantum economy, efforts that have been catalyzed by the CQE and its members and partners.”
Leveraging region's strengths
The CQE, along with a coalition that includes companies, colleges and universities, state and local governments, economic and workforce development organizations, and national labs, proposed The Bloch — a quantum tech hub that will use the region’s strengths, talent and existing economy to speed the adoption of quantum technologies across a broad range of industries, employ a diverse workforce representative of the region as a whole, and invest in underserved communities. (The name comes from Bloch sphere, which is a geometric representation of the state that a quantum system is in.) In Phase 2 of this program, the EDA expects to award approximately $40 million to $70 million each to a small number of implementation grant awardees. Only Phase 1 designees are eligible to apply.
“Two important aspects of the U.S. Tech Hubs program are the focus on developing a strong, inclusive quantum workforce and the emphasis on strengthening local communities,” said Chicago State University Chemistry Professor Valerie Goss, a workforce development leader in the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes for Quantum sensing for Biophysics and Bioengineering and a member of The Bloch Tech Hub coalition. “Building and sustaining a robust quantum economy means investing in people, workers, and communities, and that is what makes both this designation and the work that we are doing, and will do as The Bloch, so vital.”
Michael Fassnacht, president and CEO of World Business Chicago, called the designation “a milestone in our mission to cement Chicagoland as a top-tier tech and innovation hub."
“Under Mayor Brandon Johnson's leadership, we consistently work to support and highlight our city and region's wealth of resources and transformative potential,” Fassnacht said. “The EDA's Tech Hub program will turbocharge our tech capabilities, generating abundant jobs and significant inclusive economic development prospects.”
The Tech Hubs designation is one of two major efforts spearheaded this year by the CQE. A separate coalition of regional stakeholders, including the University of Chicago, is one of 16 finalists — and the only quantum finalist — in the first-ever National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines competition, which will award up to $160 million over 10 years to a handful of winners to be announced later this year.
Both the Tech Hubs and NSF Engines efforts sought to leverage the regional quantum ecosystem’s growing strength and built-in advantages to advance a collaborative mission to become the central driver of U.S. leadership in quantum technologies. The greater Chicago area is home to some of the world’s leaders in quantum information science and engineering research, including CQE members the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Northwestern University, as well as academic institutions like the University of Illinois Chicago and Chicago State University, both minority-serving institutions (MSI) that are leaders in quantum science education.
In addition, Chicagoland has attracted millions of dollars in corporate and state government investment, as well as a growing number of quantum businesses and startups, including EeroQ, qBraid, and memQ, which all have headquarters in Chicago, and Infleqtion, QuantCAD, and Great Lakes Crystal Technologies, which have offices in the region. Since 2017, Illinois quantum startups have raised at least $33.2 million through 27 deals — the second-highest number of deals by quantum startups after California, according to a report released by World Business Chicago this summer.
Quantum science research centers
The region was a leading recipient of funds from the 2018 National Quantum Initiative Act, bringing in $280 million to build four of the Act’s 10 quantum science research centers and institutes. It is also home to a 124-mile quantum network that is one of the longest in the nation and Duality, the first accelerator program in the US exclusively focused on supporting innovative quantum startups.
“This official designation by the EDA reinforces the region’s position as a national leader in quantum technologies and will bolster our efforts to build an inclusive workforce, drive the quantum economy, and help bring transformative technologies to market,” said Kate Timmerman, CEO of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. “We especially appreciate that this funding is aimed at building equitable economies that serve all communities.”
This story was adapted from the Chicago Quantum Exchange website.