UK AI chip startup Graphcore lands millions from top Silicon Valley investor Sequoia Capital

Lynsey Barber
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Graphcore make the more powerful chips needed for devices that use Ai (Source: Getty)

One of the UK's most ambitious technology startups which is hoping to become the Intel for artificial intelligence chips has landed fresh backing from one of Silicon Valley's top investors.

Sequoia Capital, which has previously backed Apple, Google and WhatsApp, has led a $50m (£38.2m) funding round in Graphcore, the Bristol-based chip maker.

The series C comes hot on the heels of a previous round of cash in July from several of the world's top AI experts - Google DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis and Zoubin Ghahramani, Uber's chief scientist and Cambridge university professor, among them - but the new cash will accelerate the startups growth. It aims to ship its first Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) at the start of next year.

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In the same way that graphic processing unit (GPU) chips support the graphics performance on devices such as smartphones, Graphcore's IPU chips support machine learning in things like driverless cars and are much more powerful.

“Efficient AI processing power is rapidly becoming the most sought-after resource in the technological world," said Graphcore chief executive Nigel Toon.

"We believe our IPU technology will become the worldwide standard for machine intelligence compute. The performance of Graphcore’s processor, compared to other accelerators, is going to be transformative, whether you are a medical researcher, roboticist, online marketplace, social network or building autonomous vehicles."

Sequoia partners Matt Miller and Bill Coughran will join the board of directors and technical advisory board respectively.

The venture firm was an early backer of US chip maker Nvidia, which is moving into AI processors from graphics processors for gaming.

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“Machine intelligence will cause an explosion of new applications and services that will transform every industry. The unique nature of this workload and scale of this opportunity creates an opening where a valuable new chip company can be created," said Miller.

"We believe Graphcore's product architecture, team and early market interest make it the best positioned new entrant in this market. We look forward to helping them build a large and enduring company.”

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Also participating in the latest round are existing investors, including Atomico, Dell Technologies, Draper Esprit and Samsung via its Catalyst Fund. The Korean tech giant is also said to be working on its own AI chips.

Graphcore is the latest UK startup to attract interest from across the pond. Fintech firm Transferwise attracted IVP, an early backer of Netflix, Snap and Twitter to a $280m round of investment announced at the start of the month.

It's a bumper year when it comes to cash flooding into the UK from Silicon Valley. Recent figures suggest 2017 is a record with more than $1bn so far, double the amount raised in both the two years prior.

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