Chipmaker Graphcore is now worth $1.7 billion after raising $200 million from Microsoft and BMW

GraphcoreGraphcore founders Simon Knowles (L) and Nigel Toon.
  • Britain has a new unicorn startup worth more than $US1 billion.
  • Graphcore makes computer chips for artificial intelligence applications, and has raised $US200 million at a $US1.7 billion valuation.
  • Microsoft and BMW’s venture arm have invested in Graphcore, joining a roster of top-tier backers.
  • There’s a war to dominate AI chips as data-hungry artificial intelligence requires more computing grunt.

British chipmaker Graphcore is valued at $US1.7 billion after its latest round of funding, raising $US200 million from Microsoft and BMW among others.

The new round brings Graphcore’s total funding to $US300 million, and Microsoft joins existing blue-chip technology backers in the startup, including Dell, Robert Bosch, and Samsung.

Graphcore is working on a computer chip specifically designed to power artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, as the technology becomes more prevalent and requires more computing grunt. The company said in a statement that it had started shipping its first chips to customers this year.

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UK chip startup Graphcore raised $US50 million from Sequoia to help it build AI processors

There is something of an AI chip war among chip companies. The thinking is that conventional computer chips can’t offer the power needed for data-hungry artificial intelligence programs. Graphcore is hoping its executives’ long experience in the silicon industry, plus the fact it can be more nimble than a behemoth such as Intel or Nvidia, will give it the edge over bigger rivals.

Graphcore IPU processorGraphcoreGraphcore’s processor.

Graphcore will open new offices in London, Palo Alto in California, and Beijing this year, and plans to triple the size of its team.

The latest round of funding catapults Graphcore into the ranks of British unicorns – companies that are worth $US1 billion or more. Others from the UK include food delivery service Deliveroo, banking firm Oaknorth, and finance startup Monzo.

The Bristol-based firm was founded by two veterans of the silicon industry, CTO Simon Knowles and CEO Nigel Toon.

Toon said in a statement: “Machine intelligence marks the start of a new age of computing which needs a radically different type of processor and software tools. This new, fast growing market creates the opportunity for Graphcore to build a major global technology company that can help innovators in AI achieve important breakthroughs.”

This latest round of funding was led by European venture capital firm Atomico and new backer Sfonia. A number of existing backers joined the round.

Nigel Toon ranked number 14 in Business Insider’s 2018 ranking of the coolest 100 people in UK tech.

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