Playground Global's Peter Barrett on Australia's High-Tech Future


by Paul Sanger

Paul Sanger: I am Paul Sanger for the Finance News Network, and today I have the pleasure of speaking with Peter Barrett. Peter Barrett, an Australian native, is a globally renowned entrepreneur, investor, and technology leader. He serves as a founding partner of Playground Global, a venture capital fund, managing 1.8 billion in deep, rich tech investments. Playground Global focuses on investing in transformative technology start-ups across various sectors, including AI, next-gen computing, robotics, and quantum technologies. Remarkably, over 20% of Playground's portfolio companies have achieved unicorn stages, with the fund leading a series A investment in PsiQuantum in 2016. Before his venture capital career, Peter held the position of lead engineer at Microsoft. Additionally, he co-founded Rocket Science Games where he notably hired Elon Musk for his first job in Silicon Valley. Peter holds more than 100 patents to his name. Welcome to the network, Peter.

Peter Barrett: Thanks so much for having me.

Paul Sanger: So Peter, let's begin. What prompted your return to Australia?

Peter Barrett: Well, so having grown up here, really want to be able to take advantage of some extraordinary natural resources and intellectual resources in this country. Obviously, with the bold move in quantum with the Queensland and federal government's investment in PsiQuantum, I think it's a first step in many opportunities to translate the really extraordinary natural resources, renewable resources, and capital and intellectual resources we have in Australia, and to allow us to not only lead to the front of the world in quantum, but also in a whole bunch of other domains. We have the best scientists and engineers here, but our economic complexity is between Pakistan and Uganda, and we have everything we need to advance Australia if we invest in the future, and not just in real estate.

Paul Sanger: So Peter, Playground Global focuses its investments on cutting-edge technologies like quantum computing, AI, and advanced semiconductors, all of which promise to have a significant impact across multiple generations. Australia finds itself at a unique juncture presenting a once-in-a-generation opportunity to safeguard its position in the high-tech landscape. How can Australia capitalize on its current strength in specialized sectors where it already holds a competitive edge on the global stage?

Peter Barrett: Yeah, so I think the real opportunity is we have the scientists and engineers that are working at world-class level or above across all of those domains. What's missing is translating that into big companies, translating that into deep-tech start-ups the way Silicon Valley has demonstrated a repeated ability to do, but all the ingredients are here. I think Australia leads in quantum algorithms and in quantum sensing. Now that we have PsiQuantum as a hub, we will be able to deploy capital into Australian startups doing that.

I think Australia has the opportunity to turn western Australia from the world's mine into the world's founder using Australian electric chemistry and mining expertise. I think we should be building semiconductor fabs here. There is absolutely everything we need. It's just how do we translate the expertise in academia and the capital we have in the three-and-a-half trillion dollars of Superfund capital? How do we translate that into big companies and do it in Australia rather than have the scientists and entrepreneurs have to move to Silicon Valley in order to build those companies?

Paul Sanger: And the Australian Queensland governments have underscored their commitment to a more ambitious and tech-advanced future through their substantial investment of nearly a billion dollars in a trailblazing quantum computing company, PsiQuantum. How does this groundbreaking investment in a single early stage contribute in the development and utilization of the wider sector in Australia?

Peter Barrett: Yeah, look, I think that Silicon Valley created trillions of dollars of value because the Fairchild guys built their transistors there, built Silicon there. Having PsiQuantum as an anchor in Queensland will create this nexus of opportunity that advantages Australia by having the first useful quantum machine. So there will be quantum startups, there will be people building drugs and materials and applications for quantum that will be drawn into that ecosystem anchored by that PsiQuantum machine. And I think it's an extraordinarily visionary move by the Queensland government and federal government to do that. And I think it proves that there are now thoughtful people who are thinking about ways of transforming the Australian economy to one that is based on, today, exports of simple raw materials, and translate that into exports of intellectual force power, and embracing quantum gives us the sharpest tool in computation we've ever had, and an opportunity to tackle our toughest challenges by building quantum companies and quantum application companies in Australia.

Paul Sanger: And while founded by an Australian, PsiQuantum was established in the USA in order to access the scale of capital required to develop its technology. Despite this, Australia maintains a leading position in the quantum sector globally. How can we, as a nation, improve our efforts to retain local innovation and talent domestically?

Peter Barrett: Yeah, I think it's building an ecosystem, right? It's having preferential access in Australia to things like the PsiQuantum hardware, but also allowing people to stay here and attract capital. Having the machine here is a huge step forward in doing that. Australia publishes on quantum hardware, software algorithms and sensing well above its weight, and I think that we've already attracted academic interest because of that. That's only going to be multiplied by having a machine that's anchoring an ecosystem.

Paul Sanger: And this is to close up Peter, what are the key obstacles preventing Australia from emerging as a dominant global player in technology over the coming decade?

Peter Barrett: So we have all the ingredients. You have world-class scientists and engineers. You have deep capital, you have a geologically and geopolitically stable government structure. Everything is here. Deep, deep pockets of capital, the fourth largest resource of capital in the world. We've just got to figure out how to unlock it and allow that capital to be deployed against building great Australian companies that will transform the Australian economy and put us in a position to have the leadership that we deserve based on all of the richness we have. Nowhere else on earth has the mineral resources or the renewable energy resources that Australia does. We have extraordinary opportunity there. We've just got to figure out how to close the loop on the capital and turn that incredible set of resources into great, deep-tech transformative companies.

Paul Sanger: Peter, it is been a delightful conversation with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Peter Barrett: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.


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