Cambridge University spin-out Riverlane has secured $20m in funding to build an operating system for quantum computers.

Riverlane is targeting companies making quantum computer hardware to use its Deltaflow operating system, which the startup says provides a “shared language” for applications running on quantum computers.

The Cambridge headquartered firm said it signed deals with 20% of quantum hardware makers last year.

The Series A funding round was led by venture capital fund Draper Esprit. Existing backers including Cambridge Innovation Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and the University of Cambridge also participated.

Riverlane said it will use the funds to fuel international growth to the US, Europe and beyond. The capital injection comes as quantum computing technology continues to make large strides.

However, despite significant progress in recent years, quantum computers mainly exist in research labs. They use a different process to classical computers, encoding information in qubits that can be in two states at once rather than represented as a binary 0 or 1.

This means a stable quantum computer can carry out advanced calculations that are not possible on traditional computers, promising to boost many industries such as drug and material discovery.

Companies such as Google, IBM and Rigetti are building quantum computer hardware but they are notoriously difficult to keep stable. Quantum computer chips must be kept at extremely cold temperatures to function and even then the error rate is notoriously high.

In 2019, Google made headlines after it claimed to have reached quantum supremacy, which is when a quantum device solves a problem that a classical computer is unable to in a feasible amount of time.

IBM currently rents out its quantum computing network, IBM Q, to businesses and researchers. However, this does not come with an operating system and instead focuses on harnessing the additional firepower of quantum machines.

As quantum computers continue to improve, Riverlane is hoping that Deltaflow can become the preferred operating system in a similar way to Microsoft’s Windows for personal computers.

“For a quantum ecosystem to thrive, we urgently need an operating system,” said Steve Brierley, founder and CEO of Riverlane.

“An operating system makes quantum computers useful – it allows programs and applications to run on many different machines. Riverlane aims to make our operating system Deltaflow a global standard.”

“I’m delighted to partner with Draper Esprit as we build the operating system for quantum computers and develop new collaborations with amazing quantum hardware companies.”

Riverlane’s funding follows a £3.25m seed round completed in June 2019.

Andrew Williamson, managing Partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, said: “A key goal for quantum computing is realising quantum advantage – solving a problem that classic computers cannot solve as efficiently, or even at all. Riverlane’s Deltaflow accelerates the development of quantum computers that demonstrate quantum advantage by optimising the performance of quantum circuits for the underlying hardware.

“This means the commercialisation phase of quantum computing is arriving and we are proud to continue to support one of the field’s pioneers – Riverlane.”

Read more: IBM quantum computing roadmap aims for 1,121-qubit machine in 2023