Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Alexandra Beckstein

Co-founder of QAI Ventures, a company focused on investment and acceleration of Quantum and AI startups. She is leading the investment activities and is also heading the company. In the QuantumBasel project, out of which the company was born, she was responsible for the strategy development as well as building the startup ecosystem. A geoscientist by training with advanced education in business and leadership she has worked in her professional career for both startups, SMEs and government. She was founder of her own company in Berlin in the field of renewable energy and is author of the book: “Bossing it- The future belongs to the bold.” She is driven by the conviction that technology is a key to solving many global challenges and that ecosystems must replace the traditional ego-systems.

Founder-CEO Interview Series

with Alexandra Beckstein

Tell us about your background.

I am geoscientist by training by training with advanced education in business and leadership. I have worked in the construction industry for a long time in my professional life, for SMEs, startups and the government. I once founded my own company in Berlin, where we drilled holes for the extraction of geothermal energy.

What is uptownBasel building and tell us more about FANKHAUSER.

uptownBasel is an innovation campus for the industry of the day after tomorrow, which is being built in Arlesheim. A total of about 2500 workplaces and 9 buildings will be created here, which will be built according to the specifications of sustainability. The campus will serve the purpose of a platform of networks, where ecosystems are formed on different topics of Industry 4.0.

The first topic that we have now made big is the topic of quantum technology. In uptownBasel, the first campus in Switzerland and one of the first in the world has been created that focuses on applications of quantum technologies in industry and not in research. Today, a dozen quantum physicists and other experts are already working here, we have established partnerships with leading hardware providers, as well as a global customer network of global companies.  

Behind the project are the family of Dr. Thomas Staehelin and Hans-Jörg Fankhauser, and his company FANKHAUSER Arealentwicklungen. Hans-Jörg Fankhauser stands for the realization of future-oriented projects. He is constantly developing the campus, trying things out, redeveloping them until they fit perfectly with the vision of the campus, namely to create an ecosystem of high-quality players from which a Nobel Prize can emerge. For me, uptownBasel is a good example of the fact that it is people who are one the ones that make projects.

you WERE a Startup Ecosystem Lead. What dOES your day-to-day look like?

I was in the project uptownBasel the Startup Ecosystem Lead. This involved bringing those startups into the ecosystem that could develop projects with other partners from universities or corporates. We quickly realized that in addition to a good ecosystem, startups also need funding. 

Over time, we need startups to further develop the technologies that are available here. Startups often provide the “missing puzzle piece” and are pioneers in the development of disruptive and innovative technologies.  That means that startups quickly became a “need” for us, not just a “nice-to-have.” 

To attract the best startups to join our campuses we have restructured. Since the beginning of March, I have been running my own company within the project. I am responsible for a 50 million fund with which we will invest in 20-25 startups over the next 3 years and integrate them into our network via an accelerator program and project. At the moment, I am still busy building up the company on a daily basis and am developing it further. We have also already started to evaluate the first startups for investment and to start project collaborations with them.

Who/what motivated you to go into the startup world?

For me, startups are companies that act the way I also work. They are very agile; they try out new things and also accept failure from time to time. I myself didn’t plan a career in the startup business but took advantage of opportunities. I am motivated by the fact that behind a startup there is always a real will to change something for the better. And being active in the Quantum Startup scene lets me feel like I’m being part of real change.

First thing most people would relate the word ‘quantum’ to is physics and may think that it is only applicable in the textbooks. What are some ways that quantum can be applied to improve the digital/physical world?

When talking about quantum technologies, one has to differentiate it somewhat. Quantum technologies include all technologies that are based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Today, these effects are already used in the development of high-precision sensors, which are primarily used in medical technology or in exploration geology. 

In the future, the sensors will be able to detect cancer cells, or control prostheses via nerve impulse control for example. Future satellite navigation systems will also be equipped with quantum sensors, will be able to measure more precisely and will thus significantly support autonomous driving. 

If we talk about quantum computers, the expectations lie in the feasibility of simulations or optimization calculations that would take a normal computer 10’000 years. It is about simulating the interaction of many parameters with each other. This will mainly drive drug development, support general molecule discovery to find new materials, and to optimize supply chains.

What does the actual startup scene actually look like?

We are mainly interested in the Quantum Startups scene. We are currently talking about less than 1000 startups worldwide working directly in the development of quantum technology. In 2022, 40 new startups have been founded. In total, 2.2 billion private capital was poured into quantum technology last year.  Almost half of the capital is flowing into startups developing quantum computing hardware. Industry focused ecosystems like Quantum Basel are still few and far between.

Examples of most innovative companies you’ve seen/worked with?

For me, the most innovative startups are those that have the world of the day after tomorrow in mind. By definition, this already includes all startups working in the quantum realm. I’m fascinated by a startup that is developing human digital twins to drive personalized medicine on these models.

What does the future look like for this industry? 

It depends on who you ask. The industry assumes that it will take between 3 and 10 years for quantum computers to have a real impact on the industry. These differing numbers show that there are still uncertainties. The industry still has some engineering challenges and scientific challenges to solve. The investments are steadily rising, especially in the quantum computing field. We are doing our part to drive developments forward by offering our services, hardware, and financial support.

Any notable events that are upcoming at uptownBasel?

At the end of March 2023, we will host the 2-day US Swiss Quantum Days, bringing together the most renowned quantum scientists from the US and Switzerland with the big players from industry.  

In February 2024, we will host the BIG Hackathon, where over 4 days 50 students will solve real-world challenges from leading global companies with hardware support from 10 leading hardware vendors. The special thing about our hackathon will be that we will develop working business models from the solutions.

Before uptownBasel, you were a Dam Safety Specialist for almost 8 years. Tell us a bit more about it!

I moved to Switzerland after having shut down my own company in Berlin. I was highly motivated to build something new and got the offer to work as Dam Safety Specialist in Switzerland. In total there are 8 people in Switzerland who are responsible for the safety of the dams of Hydropower plants. I was one of these. I’ve learned a lot and my boss at the time encouraged me a lot. For me, these are very important elements that motivate me. However, the opportunities for innovation are limited, which was then the reason why I left the job.

What sparked your interest to work on Geology?

I am a very curious and practical person. I also knew that as a geoscientist the world is open to you and you can travel a lot.  Earth science is also a subject that allows for very practical, hands-on jobs. Exploring new areas and learning about them drives me, but I also need to be able to put the knowledge directly into practice. I have spent most of my time working in the construction industry, traveling a lot. However, I have realized that there are many areas that not only serve my interests, but also where I can better use my skills. I am grateful that I have always found the support from the outside and the strength from myself to reinvent myself every now and then.

What is an example of a project that you’re most proud of?

At the moment, it is certainly the latest project, namely the establishment of my company QAI Ventures. There are also private projects I am proud of, such as being part of an amazing group of cycling enthusiasts that organize and offer women cycling camps annually.

Any final remark/advice to share?

In my own development I realize that the most important things to me in order to find your own way in a fast-moving society are to listen and to learn constantly, to stay open, to get to know your own competences and to strengthen them, and to not take yourself too important- consider yourself as a part of a whole.

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