Dr llana Wisby, CEO of Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC)

Photo of Dr llana Wisby

Ilana Wisby is CEO of Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC), an early stage Oxford University spin-out company founded by Dr Peter Leek. OQC is building the heart of a quantum future with the power of employing a simple, elegant approach to quantum computing. The company raised 2M in seed in 2017 and is looking to raise Series A toward the end of the year.

What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?

My academic background lies in quantum physics, in which I completed a PhD placed in industry at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington. From there, I moved to a software-development start-up company specialising in AI technologies, where I quickly found myself in the role of COO – before more recently moving to OQC to begin my role as CEO.
I found myself well-suited to working in an entrepreneurial environment – enjoying the fast pace, the vast array of challenges, and the opportunity to work at the forefront of innovation. Most of all, I enjoy working with like-minded, enthusiastic teams in taking our ideas through from conception to fruition and the real-world impact that our work can bring.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC) Logo

I see entrepreneurship as a mind set. To me, it’s a growth mind set. The ability and desire to grow as an individual, to grow as a team, and as a company. To have goals in mind but not to be afraid to be agile and change direction to continue growing in the right direction – not just any direction. Entrepreneurship is about passion. It’s both a mind set and a lifestyle choice. But most of all, it’s about investing in people.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?

When I was first speaking with Peter about his quantum architecture, I was drawn to the simplicity and the marked difference in his approach. Peter was prepared to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, not to follow the crowd and to re-design the ‘standard’. He was both passionate and humble, and, importantly, shared the same core values as me.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?

Genuine people skills. It’s important to really care and invest in the people who share your vision and to listen to those who don’t.
A growth mind set. It’s important to always want to continue to improve: yourself, your team, and your product.
Reflection. It’s important to be able to reflect, in order to genuinely improve.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

My favourite part of being an entrepreneur is being able to bring so many incredible, skilled, passionate people together.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?

Probably Blizzard Entertainment, or Rooster Teeth. They are just incredible, people-centric organisations. They have both cultivated an incredible work cultures, as well as communities. Their employees are working on things they truly passionate about, and that shows with the high quality work they publish – but they also seem to have fun whilst doing it.

If you had 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?

These are both pretty large companies now, but they have kept that ‘start-up’ vibe and passion – what’s their secret!

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?

In a previous role, we lacked direction. Our product suffered as we didn’t have a clear vision of what we wanted it to be.

How have you funded your ideas?

Previously, I’ve funded projects with funding from InnovateUK, DfT, as well as bootstrapped from a bunch of client projects. In this role, we are fortunate to have raised with Seed and also have an InnovateUK project.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?

InnovateUK & DfT.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?

There’s a great community and a wealth of knowledge which people are only too keen to share!