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Establishing new company to break into quantum technology market

SPRINT support for University of Southampton spin-out company

How SPRINT supported new start-up through Seraphim Space Camp programme and beyond

Aquark Technologies is a new spin-out company from the University of Southampton. Its aim is to enable the mass market adoption of quantum technologies into everyday life by producing the first simple, plug-and-play, cold-atom quantum device on the market, which will be the size of a match box. 

The company’s main focus is on the vacuum chamber and novel optical geometry that sits at the heart of its devices, which allows the miniaturisation of most quantum technology-based systems.

Progressing through the Fellowship Programme

In 2020, SPRINT supported Dr Andrei Dragomir, CEO of Aquark Technologies and part of the Quantum, Light and Matter (QLM) Group at the University of Southampton on the 10-week Seraphim Space Camp Fellowship Programme. 

Seraphim Space Camp is the UK’s leading accelerator programme dedicated to rapidly growing space technology start-ups in a wide range of industry themes. The Fellowship Programme is aimed at providing strategic advice, mentoring and training on developing a market opportunity, and preparations for potential venture capital investment.

Commenting at the time, Dr Dragomir said: “This is a pivotal time for my company as I’m focused on transforming my ideas from academic research to a business environment. My primary objectives at this point are to target and secure seed funding to enable me to start the practicalities of the business and product development cycle, and to leverage engagement with some of the major players in the space sector to gauge the potential fit for my product in the current marketplace. 

“The Seraphim team heard my pitch for my new cold atom quantum technology solution at a joint event with SPRINT at the University of Southampton. I was subsequently offered a Fellowship position in 2020. 

Dr Andrei Dragomir, CEO of Aquark Technologies 

“Once the programme started, I immediately saw the incredible value to my company and to me as an entrepreneur. The entire Seraphim Space Camp team were there to guide us, holding our hands at every stage.

“You can’t get this knowledge just by reading books as it opens your eyes to see how your product fits into the market. The programme takes you from zero to hero in terms of making your startup a success and there wasn’t a single session that I didn’t find useful.

“I was grateful for the support of SPRINT throughout the programme, allowing me to focus only on the programme and my development throughout.” 

A platform for investment success

Since he completed the Seraphim Space Camp Fellowship Programme, Dr Dragomir has been busy using the lessons learnt to drive forward the development of the Aquark Technologies business.

He adds: “It’s been amazing since the end of the programme. I’ve seen a 250 per cent increase in views of my LinkedIn profile, I’ve had approaches from industrial partners for possible collaborations and potential investors have been in contact. You wouldn’t usually get the chance to engage at those levels so soon. This will have a huge impact on the future of my company and potential investment.”

“Without sponsorship from SPRINT, I would not have been able to accept the Fellowship which was extremely important for a company in development. My business development knowledge was non-existent, so I learnt all I know about setting up a company.

“This grounding was integral in increasing my network, allowing interactions with different investors and positioning us for an initial funding round.”

Benefits achieved through the SPRINT support

  • Closing seed round for the company 
  • Finalising the licence from University of Southampton and spinout process
  • Recruitment – adding the co-founder (operational role), and in discussions with lead scientific officer for new hire (optical components)
  • Invited to participate in Creative Destruction Labs Quantum Accelerator
  • The company has recruited a scientific officer to make a team of three

New company building towards major milestones

Dr Dragomir continues: “Subject to receiving investment, the company will aggressively pursue grant applications to establish ourselves in the Quantum technology supply chain. 

Each grant comes with new hire and we’re hoping for 4-5 people over the next 12-18 months.

“Our first milestone will be a fully-fledged minimum viable product (MVP) of our technology which will then be followed by greater business side traction and committing clients.”

Facilitating ‘a true technical step change’

David Woolley, Technology Transfer Manager, Research & Innovation Services at the University of Southampton adds: “At an early stage, the University believed that Dr Andrei Dragomir’s cold atom trap design potentially offered a true technical step change in quantum sensing and measurement devices. 

“Through our FutureWorlds on-campus accelerator, we began to offer entrepreneurial mentoring support and took Andrei to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2020 to meet hundreds of conference attendees.   

David Woolley, Technology Transfer Manager, Research & Innovation Services at the University of Southampton 

“It was then completely clear that Andrei needed to focus on developing a market appropriate solution and to create the route and put in place resources to enable him to do this. The opportunity of the Seraphim Space Camp and the Fellowship scheme facilitated by our involvement in the SPRINT Programme emerged for us at the right time.

“Space Camp has been transformational in advancing Andrei and Aquark Technologies throughout all the preparation needed to be ready to launch a new commercial company and the company recently completed its investment-backed, spinning out from the University of Southampton in May 2021.  

“Andrei and Aquark were able to significantly accelerate the spinning out process, achieving as much in several months after completing Space Camps as some spinouts take years to finalise and the University is certain that the Space Camp Fellowship played a key role in this, along with SPRINT support making all of this feasible.”