Fostering a Culture of Innovation at SandboxAQ

August 11, 2023
Fostering a Culture of Innovation at SandboxAQFostering a Culture of Innovation at SandboxAQ

By Suzannah Radack, Vice President of People & Operations

At SandboxAQ, we are focused on solving society’s epic challenges by leading the way in innovative Artificial Intelligence and Quantum (AQ) solutions. We believe that by tackling epic challenges vs incremental ones, we attract more committed employees, investors, and advisors. As such, we are extremely proud to have been named one of Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators. In the spirit of nurturing innovation at large, we want to share how we strive to create a culture and workforce that will help realize the immense potential of AQ technology.

Reimagining the Work Environment

Having emerged from Alphabet during the COVID pandemic, SandboxAQ had the opportunity to build a global company from the ground up. Rather than following the familiar, centralized campus mentality, we decided to embrace modern work norms and reimagine the future workplace. Our workforce is globally minded, diverse, and entrepreneurial. Our flexibility allows us to attract the best and brightest talent from around the globe. Rather than invest in an expensive real estate footprint, we empower people to get together in person as needed, experiment with innovative benefits and perks, and invest deeply in personal development.

Empowering Individuals

At SandboxAQ, we encourage employees to have an ownership mindset and gain cross-disciplinary experience through continuous learning and growth. Because innovation originates at the intersection of knowledge and experience, we encourage collaboration, pursuing audacious goals, and taking risks.

One example is Dr. Constantijn Van der Poel, who joined SandboxAQ as a PhD candidate in artificial intelligence from the City University of New York. While participating in the Residency Program at SandboxAQ, Constantijn proposed a vision for what he called “Minerva” – a cross-company, distributed AI community. His vision aimed to address the data science and machine learning needs of SandboxAQ by creating a communal knowledge pool that facilitates the exchange of ideas and techniques between technical teams.

Supported and encouraged by company leadership, Constantijn's vision for Minerva became a reality. Today, Minerva comprises more than a dozen AI and ML experts across the company. The impact of Minerva on SandboxAQ's initiatives in quantum sensing, drug discovery, healthcare, and security has been profound. The Minerva effort has fostered collaboration, resulting in valuable insights and innovations that have directly influenced SandboxAQ's technology and led to impacts beyond the company. 

Another standout is Dr. Kimberly Moore, who joined SandboxAQ as an Applied Research Physicist with an academic background in planetary physics from CalTech and Harvard. Her primary role at SandboxAQ includes geophysical modeling and mapping for our quantum navigation team. However, her role has grown to include planning and roadmapping across multiple products. 

From her first days at SandboxAQ, Kimberly has been a major contributor to the company culture. Soon after the spinout from Google, she launched the Frontiers in AQ speaker series to encourage research-sharing and community across our Residency program. Under her guidance, the series has grown into a company-wide colloquium where speakers from across industry and academia are invited to present on their research. Sandbox employees frequent these meetings to learn, stimulate creativity, and better understand the rapidly moving field of AI and Quantum by hearing from experts.

Investing in People

AI and Quantum technologies are rapidly evolving, with new advances every day. These fields are also relatively new, with a high demand for specialized talent. To meet demand, much of this talent will need to be homegrown. At SandboxAQ, we believe in continuous learning and provide employees with significant time, opportunity, and funding to expand their knowledge and capabilities. Professional coaches are made available to employees at all levels, focusing on leadership, self-awareness, confidence, and strategic thinking. We encourage employees at all levels to speak on behalf of SandboxAQ at conferences, workshops, and global universities, and we provide public speaking training opportunities to everyone in the company. By empowering employees to explore outside their comfort zones, SandboxAQ maximizes growth and gains an innovation edge.

To ensure our team members’ personal development, we help each employee create a robust learning plan and provide comprehensive training programs, both internally and through outside certification programs. Employees, including ones from HR, Finance, and other non-technical teams, have completed quantum courses at renowned institutions such as Harvard and MIT, broadening their expertise in areas like drug discovery, quantum computing, and more. In addition, our braintrust of advisors, consisting of preeminent leaders from various industries, actively contribute their knowledge and insights to support SandboxAQ employees.

Building a thriving, diverse, and modern workforce also means investing in our employees outside of work. In addition to traditional benefits, we offer robust parental leave, childcare, family planning, and wellness benefits to ensure all employees can be full participants in both their work and personal lives.

Investing in the future

We believe over the next decade, AQ will emerge as a new job category similar to AI/ML over the past decade. To address the AQ talent shortage, SandboxAQ has implemented a Quantum and AI Education Program with over 30 universities worldwide. Through this program, we are working to stimulate interest in quantum careers and develop the future quantum workforce. The program encompasses general education efforts, curriculum development, research and thesis support, PhD sponsorships for low-income or diverse candidates, and a Residency Program that offers hands-on experience to complement theoretical education. This commitment to enhancing the quantum ecosystem goes beyond SandboxAQ’s own needs and aims to ensure a skilled and diverse workforce for the industry as a whole.

Furthermore, SandboxAQ's Strategic Investment Program bridges the funding gap faced by quantum startups during challenging economic environments. By investing in and acquiring innovative startups like evolutionQ, Qunnect, and Cryptosense, SandboxAQ brings new technologies and bold ideas into the company, directly impacting current and future product offerings.

Investing in Diversity

At the heart of SandboxAQ's initiatives is the recognition of the power of diversity. We know that diverse perspectives drive innovation, and we actively work to create more opportunities for women, including women of color, and other historically underrepresented groups. For example, while women make up a relatively high percentage of MBA candidates, as well as PhDs in fields that include biology, chemistry, and earth sciences they are not as well represented in fields such as physics, engineering, and computer science that traditionally feed into Silicon Valley’s workforce. To help create the diverse workforce that will power the AQ revolution, we’ve built and continue to strengthen relationships with universities that serve highly diverse student populations, such as City University of New York (CUNY) and University of California Merced. 

Our Residency Programs are designed to draw from interdisciplinary expertise and ideas, while giving students relevant resume experience that can help them break into AQ fields they otherwise may not have entered. In addition, we are proud to have recruited a diverse leadership team, which includes Nadia Carlsten, VP of Product; Nadia Harhen, GM for Simulation & Optimization; Jen Sovada (USAF Colonel, retired), President of Public Sector; and Kit Ye Au-Yeung, GM for Quantum Sensing.   

In the broader ecosystem, we are focused on preparing a new generation of diverse talent for the AQ workforce by partnering with governments, NGOs, research institutions, education programs, and professional organizations. Our education team is focused on creating high quality science education resources for the general public, and we work with programs like Skillbridge and Hiring Our Heroes to help members of the US military community gain experience and training in AQ fields.

If you are an innovator interested in helping to realize the transformative potential of AQ, we encourage you to reach out.

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