May 23, 2024

Top quantum researcher leaves Amazon for UK startup Phasecraft: ‘I couldn’t contribute meaningfully’

Steve Flammia decided to jump from Big Tech into the risky world of startups in order to have a bigger strategic impact

Tim Smith

4 min read

UK quantum software startup Phasecraft is today announcing its US expansion, opening its first international office in Washington D.C. The stateside team will be led by Steve Flammia, director of Virginia Tech’s Centre for Quantum Computing and former principal research scientist at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Center for Quantum Computing.

He tells Sifted that he decided to jump from Amazon into the risky world of startups in order to have a bigger strategic impact.

“I didn't feel like I could contribute meaningfully in the context of a big company, I think there was a lot of planning that was done above my level that I didn't feel like I could influence,” says Flammia. “Startups are much more agile; I'm much closer to being able to influence the direction of things, I'm much closer to being able to inject ideas that are likely to have an impact.”


And for a young startup like Phasecraft, which launched in 2019, it’s a big hire — and one it hopes will help draw in more of the best minds from US quantum research centres.

“Steve is really one of the world's very top quantum algorithms and computing researchers. He’s in the top 10-20 people worldwide working in this area and we’re so excited to have him,” says cofounder Ashley Montanaro.

US expansion

Phasecraft is expanding to the US for a number of reasons, one being closer access to the country’s researchers.

“The US has a fantastic pool of quantum talent, it’s one of the very strongest countries in the entire world there,” says Montanaro. 

While the founder says that the UK has been "a fantastic supporter of quantum over many years," there’s also the draw of US government support, and the ability to work more closely with public institutions like universities.

“The US government has been a fantastic supporter of quantum over many years, and continues to be,” says Montanaro. “If you want to work with the US government then you better be in the US. That is really a fantastic source of funding, but also great collaboration. There are amazing US universities that we'd love to work with, [and] it's just a bit easier to be there locally.”

And, while Flammia will be focused on building up Phasecraft’s US team initially, he’s not quite done with working with big tech yet: he’ll also be a touchpoint for some of the startup’s commercial clients like Google and IBM.

“Everybody who receives federal funding in the US is in Washington D.C. at least once a year to do things like review their grants. I can meet these people on a regular basis,” he says.

The quantum software market

Phasecraft — which has landed more than $26.3m in funding from VCs including LocalGlobe, Playground Global and Albion — develops software and algorithms to help quantum computers achieve better results and specialise for specific use cases. It recently won a £1m UK government contract to develop quantum algorithms to optimise energy grids.

Much of this work revolves around an area of quantum research known as error correction. Quantum computers in their current state of development have a high error rate, meaning that qubits (the quantum equivalent of a bit in traditional computers) are unstable and hard to scale up to useful levels.


Flammia’s research focuses on how to use a variety of different error correction techniques to create bespoke solutions for different quantum applications. Phasecraft plans to sell its tech to “all of the world's best quantum hardware providers” which are looking for software partners to improve the results from their machines.

It’s a competitive market, with startups like Riverlane, Qutech, Strangeworks and QC Ware all jostling for market share.

But with Flammia on board, and a new launchpad to target the US market, Phasecraft is hoping it can build on its client list of quantum computer makers and become the go-to software provider in what is one of the most anticipated future areas of technology.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is news editor at Sifted. He covers deeptech and AI, and produces Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast . Follow him on X and LinkedIn