One of our two Enterprise Associates this year is Maria Violaris, a third year PhD student in Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and Physics Department, whose research focuses on the foundations of quantum information. Here she tells us a little about her background and journey to entrepreneurship, and what she has achieved so far in her role as Enterprise Associate.
Tell us a little about where you come from, and what moves or motivates you?
My background is that I did a degree in physics at Oxford before starting the PhD.
I’m attached to both the Maths Institute and the Physics department, and my research is in the foundations of quantum information. It's all theoretical, and I'm looking at things like the quantum arrow of time and quantum paradoxes. I'm also very interested in quantum technologies.
Outside of my PhD, I'm involved in a few different projects. I have set up Oxford Quantum Information Society, which runs various events and workshops on both the fundamental science side and the technology side. I've done an internship with quantum software start-up Riverlane, where I saw how they’re getting into the industry. I’m also involved with a lot of quantum science communication. For example, I ran the “Quantum on the Clock” schools video competition with the Institute of Physics, and I am doing a part-time internship with IBM Quantum where I make videos explaining quantum paradoxes using quantum computers.
I’m really interested in connecting different parts of the quantum industry together, bringing together fundamental science and technology through business, outreach and academic collaborations. I like connecting together different networks and seeing if there are things we can do together to help break new ground for the quantum industry.
How is Entrepreneurship and Innovation connected to your area of study, and how is it evolving?
I feel that the quantum industry is in a bit of a transition at the moment. There are now quite a few quantum startups popping up, but I think for it to really grow and sustain itself, we have to figure out how to make these technologies practical. People often only associate the quantum industry with physics and physicists, but it's a lot broader than that. To create successful industry-linked startups, we need computer scientists, mathematicians, engineers, chemists, finance people - people from all across the STEM spectrum. The challenge lies in getting people from a broader range of STEM backgrounds to become aware of the opportunities available there, and to identify ways that their ideas or their research could be contributing to new ideas in industry.
Tell us some of the things that you hope the Fellowship will help you to do or achieve, for yourself or for others.
One of the main drivers for me getting involved in the Fellowship was to see if there were some initiatives we can create in quantum entrepreneurship. I recently did a quantum entrepreneurship course - it was a virtual course, created by an independent organisation called PushQuantum who are based in Munich, and anyone can join. Each team works with a mentor company, and comes up with a startup idea over time, and then presents it to the rest of the cohort. I found it really inspiring, being part of that process, and I learnt a lot. It would be great to bring together the people in Oxford who are interested in these ideas, and do something similar here. It doesn’t have to be that big, maybe a hackathon or something along those lines. I was recently in touch with entrepreneurs at the Oxford quantum spin-out Quantum Dice to organise a quantum-entrepreneurship themed event together. I’m hoping we can organise events that will bring together people from diverse research disciplines to do something fun, and get them inspired to explore the possibilities that entrepreneurship and industry can offer.