UK chipmaker Graphcore raises $200m in unicorn funding

The Bristol-based tech startup is now valued at $1.7 billion after it raised investment from multinationals including Microsoft, Dell and Samsung

Graphcore's Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) is set to revolutionise AI. It is designed for Machine Intelligence and delivers between 10x and 100x greater speed compared to today's hardware - image courtesy of Pixabay
Graphcore’s Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) is set to revolutionise AI. It is designed for Machine Intelligence and delivers between 10x and 100x greater speed compared to today’s hardware – image courtesy of Pixabay

AI chipmaker Graphcore, whose Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) is set to revolutionise computing, has raised $200 million in funding from some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

It brings the total capital raised by Graphcore to $300 million and its estimated value to $1.7 billion.

Graphcore say the funding will be used to hire new engineers, and to open offices in Beijing and Hsinchu, Taiwan. They also say they will be increasing the size of their sales, marketing, finance, and legal teams.

In a press release, Graphcore says the investment is “a further step towards fulfilling the company’s ambition to build a global technology company, focused on this new and fast-growing machine intelligence market.”

Graphcore have invented the Intelligence Processing Unit, a microprocessor designed to accelerate machine learning. The IPU chips have more than 1,000 processors which communicate with each other to share the complex workload required for machine learning.

Unlike Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), IPU chips do not separate the staging area for data and where the data is processed, thereby minimising data traffic. The chips can crunch data at speeds of 10x to 100x faster compared to other current hardware and are used for applications such as intelligent voice assistants and autonomous vehicles.

The new funding round was led by London venture capital firm Atomico and Belgian holding company Sofina, with Goldman Sachs advising on the deal. Included among the funding round’s investors were BMW, Microsoft, Dell and Samsung.

It has also received funding from Demis Hassabis, co-founder of AI company DeepMind and the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. The Silicon Valley company are famous for having invested in some of the world’s largest tech firms, including Google, Apple, YouTube and WhatsApp.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times’ Tech Tonic podcast, Graphcore’s co-founder Nigel Toon said he hopes his company “can build a processor and a company that ends up becoming an industry standard in this new world of compute.”

Later in the interview, he elaborated on his claim that the world is entering the era of ‘Computer 2.0.’ He said that for nearly all of computing history, people have trained computers what to do in a step-by-step programme. Soon though, computers will be able to learn from data by themselves and build models that replace the algorithms programmers have previously written for computer programmes.

Graphcore was started two years ago in Bristol by Nigel Toon and Simon Knowles. Since its last financing a year ago, Graphcore’s staff have increased from 75 to 200. Nigel Toon says he hopes to see significant revenue increases next year and to quickly scaleup the company.


Reporting by Harry Wise