At every turn, Kanav Setia’s entrepreneurial journey has been one of discovery.
From the workings of his graduate program at Dartmouth College to the constraints on a CEO’s time, from the charms of living in rural America to the fundamental nature of entrepreneurship, one of the founders of qBraid has onboarded far more than quantum computing expertise since he arrived in the U.S. in 2015.
“First, they paid for my education — I got a free Ph.D. out of it,” Setia said. “And then it turns out the idea of entrepreneurship, where people give you money based on your idea with no equity, that was bizarre to me.”
The skills Setia honed at Dartmouth earned him internships with IBM and employment offers from multiple companies. He had a future writing quantum simulation software if he wanted it. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was onto something — or the allure of launching his own company.
And now, with entrepreneurship assistance from the Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC) in Springfield, Vermont, he’s channeled his knowledge into an education and research platform he hopes can accelerate the quantum computing revolution.
“The growth you can have at a company and the impact your work could have is kind of limited if you’re working at a company for someone else,” said Setia, who hails from Jalandhar, India. “You don’t get to come up with a vision and execute it. That’s what drew me toward entrepreneurship.
“It seemed like I’ll be able to execute my vision and add a lot more value to the business world, scientific world, and to society if I were to do this myself.”
With qBraid, Setia isn’t trying to be one of the select few engaging in quantum computing, his aim is to create a launch pad for the entire industry.
What is quantum computing?
Setia explains his field in terms of modeling drug or protein molecules.
Despite the consistent evolution of traditional technology, this is a process that could take tens of thousands — or millions — of years to complete with computers as most people know them. The exercise requires resources to scale exponentially, something that quantum computing could bypass entirely due to the huge upgrades processing power achieved by tapping into the phenomena of quantum mechanics.
“Quantum computers could solve similar calculations in a matter of days, months, in some cases hours,” said Setia, who did his undergraduate work at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology.
How does qBraid fit in?
As he pursued his Ph.D. in Hanover, New Hampshire, writing software for quantum simulation, Setia keyed into the fact that one of the field’s main challenges wasn’t a lack of software but people who knew how to use it.
In 2018, a New York Times article estimated that less than 1,000 people in the world could claim to be doing cutting edge research in the field. And that number is at odds with the recent push from the public and private sector for quantum workforce development.
“That’s where the idea for qBraid came in,” he said. “We need to develop a platform where anybody can come in and start learning quantum computing in a matter of a few clicks, and then could spend a couple of months and go on to become reasonably well-skilled, use the software that we develop for research-grade applications.”
Setia compared the situation to the way people have learned how to use classic computers without knowing everything about the programs at their fingertips.
“A similar thing could happen in quantum as well,” he said.
Getting qBraid to startup status
An early version of the qBraid platform scored positive feedback from Setia’s friends. But he still wasn’t sure how far to take the project.
“What I was actually doing was solving my own problems,” he said.
A pitch competition at Dartmouth’s Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship resulted in an unexpected win for qBraid, according to Setia, who parlayed the winning prize into AWS credits to build out his system.
“My hope is that we’ll become the place for quantum — if there’s anything that you want to do with quantum, we want you to come to qBraid."
Kanav Setia, qBraid
That pitch’s success snowballed into more. He tested the platform with a class at the local high school — and learned how popular and intuitive it was. Then qBraid earned a spot in the MIT delta v accelerator program, which opened up more doors to support and exposure.
Funding soon followed, and Setia’s product — with its educational and research programs — has grown to more than 2,000 users after being used for quantum computing hackathons at MIT, Stanford, and Yale. A handful of angel investors have supported the operation. Now, he’s having conversations with government labs and other places.
“My hope is that we’ll become the place for quantum — if there’s anything that you want to do with quantum, we want you to come to qBraid,” Setia said.
The qBraid team, which consists of Setia and a handful of other co-founders, is working to add community-building tools to the quantum-writing tools already on the platform — a reservoir for news, emerging papers, blog posts, a vehicle to showcase and share work. They want to keep accessibility at the forefront, regardless of experience or familiarity with the subject matter.
“Then the question is whether you understand it or not,” Setia said. “If you don’t, we have a whole course built for you. But the main take-home message is, ‘Hey, it actually is really simple. It just requires a little more effort in order to learn what just happened.’”
What growth has meant for qBraid
Indeed, the biggest change for Setia since officially launching qBraid has been becoming the CEO of a tech startup. Those responsibilities have altered the social and time-management dynamics in his life.
Setia’s days as a Ph.D. student laser-focused on his work, with interactions limited to his faculty advisor, are over.
“As the CEO I’m always taking like three or four meetings every day and that takes away a lot of time from me working on the tech,” he said. “As useful as the meetings are for the company itself, I find more joy working on the tech side, writing code, building software.”
qBraid officially incorporated in August 2020. By that point, in a year free of the pandemic, Setia said he and his colleagues likely would’ve relocated to Boston.
But riding out the pandemic in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont, where Dartmouth is located, hasn’t been an issue for the company. Investors haven’t objected — cost savings and a less stressful lifestyle have both contributed to productivity — so why move?
“I’ve loved the area. I lived in the cities in India and that was terrible — I hated cities,” Setia said. “When I came here, within the first five or 10 days I felt comfortable saying, ‘If I were to stay here for the rest of my life, I think I’ll be happy.’ I loved it so much.
“A rural setting with an amazing college is just unmatched. The best part is I get everything for my intellectual curiosity … and at the same time you get natural beauty all around you.”
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