“Get your idea right first”: an interview with Dr Xiao Ai, CTO and founder at QLM Technology

QLM Technology won the Tech for Good category at the Tech South West Awards 2023, and received a judges’ commendation in the Innovation category.

We caught up with Dr Xiao Ai, CTO and founder at QLM Technology, to learn more about the company’s journey and vision for the future.

Firstly – what does QLM Technology do?

QLM has developed a unique, patented Quantum Gas Lidar that can detect, visualize, locate and accurately quantify emission rates of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Our cameras are installed in cloud-networked systems that monitor emissions at natural gas production sites, playing a pivotal part in monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

You’ve won a Tech South West Award! What does it mean to you and your team? 

QLM Technology Ltd were delighted to win the Tech For Good award at this year’s ceremony. For us, the recognition provided by the award is the next step in our mission to change the way that greenhouse gas emissions are measured. It is a fantastic feeling to have others see the opportunities the Quantum Gas Lidar represents for making the world a better place by enabling the most significant emitters of greenhouse gases to reduce their footprint and make real advances in the fight against climate change.  

What core values or principles have guided your team to get to where you are today? 

QLM was founded on the idea of addressing a problem that did not have a working solution. There was increasing pressure to more accurately measure and report greenhouse gas emissions, but no way of accurately doing so on a continuous basis, meaning that educated (and frequently highly inaccurate) guesses had to be made. Espousing the concept of “why estimate when you can measure”, the Quantum Gas Lidar is the physical expression of that principle.  

Can you share a pivotal moment or challenge your company has faced and how you overcame it to achieve success? 

The Covid-19 pandemic was a significant challenge for all parts of the company at such a pivotal time in its progression, as it was for all companies trying to remain afloat during that time. Supply chains for essential digital components were heavily disrupted, and a small startup like QLM could not hope to compete with the procurement influence of the major aerospace and automotive corporations. Souring the required parts necessitated approaching the market with ingenuity and clever thinking, detailed negotiations and casting a broad net. The operation was highly successful, with the stock room never running dry, and taught us a great deal about ensuring supply chain security as we grow into full production.

How do you foster a culture of creativity and innovation within your organisation? 

QLM was founded out of research and development, and this continues to be one of the core pillars of the business. While the Quantum Gas Lidar is a market-ready product, work is already underway on improvements for the next version, and the next after that. Driven by customer requirements, multiple realistic goals are targeted for development, with everyone in the company assured an equal voice in contributing ideas and insight. The department you work in is entirely irrelevant if you have a good idea.  

What advice would you give to aspiring tech entrepreneurs or startups aiming to make a significant impact in the industry? 

Get your idea right first. Make sure that the problem you are solving has industrial relevance, that the market will be receptive to it, that your solution is possible to realise. All of these criteria need to be satisfied before your plans can make the transition from the laboratory to the industrial marketplace.  

Finally – what makes the South West tech sector a great community to be a part of? 

The South West tech sector is like a young, hot gas nebula – the breadth and depth of the innovation means it has all the ingredients in one place, gravitating towards the best ideas in a sea of good ones, coalescing around them, and generating stars. It is exciting and inspiring to be in such an ecosystem – you can’t help but be swept along by it.

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