Once upon a time, the British empire ruled about a quarter of the world’s population. There was a saying: “The sun never sets on the British empire.” While those days of colonialism and conquest are (mostly) behind it, the United Kingdom remains a leading world power, mostly in tea and crumpet consumption. Though, as we understand it, the country still seems to be doing OK financially, boasting the world’s fifth-largest economy. You must admit that the Brits have a certain pragmatic pluck that has always made them competitive for an island nation with limited resources. Now we learn the United Kingdom is the latest country to join the artificial intelligence arms race.
|Company||Total Funding||Last Funding Date||Last Funding Amount|
|OakNorth||$448,500,000||Nov 3, 2017||$125,500,000|
|BenevolentAI||$202,000,000||Apr 19, 2018||$115,000,000|
|Darktrace||$179,500,000||Jul 11, 2017||$75,000,000|
|Graphcore||$110,000,000||Nov 12, 2017||$50,000,000|
|Blippar||$99,000,000||Mar 2, 2016||$54,000,000|
|Babylon Health||$85,000,000||Apr 25, 2017||$60,000,000|
|Qubit||$74,850,000||Feb 22, 2016||$40,000,000|
|XMOS||$72,390,000||Sep 7, 2017||$15,000,000|
|Onfido||$60,300,000||Sep 27, 2017||$30,000,000|
|Callsign||$38,750,000||Jul 27, 2017||$35,000,000|
We recently highlighted the top 10 French artificial intelligence startups after that country’s president—who we hear is a big fan of the movie Harold and Maude—announced France would invest $1.8 billion into AI over the next four years. Meanwhile, the Chinese are going all-in on AI, with companies ramping up on hardware like AI chips and other technologies such as computer vision to keep an eye on its nearly 1.4 billion citizens. To keep up with the Jacqueses and the Chans, the Brits have put together a multi-year $1.3 billion package of corporate and venture capital investments to boost the United Kingdom’s AI-based technologies. One of the country’s premiere AI startups was DeepMind before Google acquired the company for about $600 million in 2014, so the Brits have some homegrown talent.We tooled around in Crunchbase a bit, and came up with a list of 10 British AI startups that have taken in the most funding so far.
Lending with AI...MUCH MORE
Topping the list of the top-10 British artificial intelligence startups is one of the UK’s newest unicorns, OakNorth. The three-year-old fintech company has developed an AI-powered platform called ACORN for making data-driven loan decisions for small- to medium-sized businesses. The company has raised a staggering $448.5 million, including a $125 million Series B last November, giving it a valuation of about $1.4 billion. OakNorth even reportedly turned a modest profit of about $14.6 million last year with about $1.65 billion in loans, about quadruple of where it was a year ago. The company recently said it expects to add up to another $2 billion in loans this year and claims it has stimulated the UK economy through its loans by helping create 4,000 jobs and nearly $5.5 billion in economic output.
Its flagship product, ACORN machine, works by pulling in hundreds of data points on whatever industry the loan is to be applied in to analyze the credit risk, which sounds like what other AI fintech startups are doing. That helps make the loan officer become an instant expert in the sector. In addition, the platform constantly monitors other loans being made in the same sector, providing a benchmark and early warning system to proactively monitor risk. OakNorth is also licensing ACORN to other banking institutions, providing yet another potentially huge revenue stream.
Drug Discovery with AI
Another British unicorn, with a valuation of about $2 billion after a $115 million funding round in April, BenevolentAI has raised a total of $202 million. That makes the London-based company, founded in 2013, the most valuable private AI drug discovery company in the world. Its algorithms, able to draw upon more than 50 billion contextualised medical facts, can generate insights into the cause of many hard-to-treat diseases. The company claims its platform can cut early stage drug discovery by four years. In addition, it can work more efficiently over the entire drug development process by as much as 60 percent against the pharmaceutical industry average. As you might imagine, that’s not an insignificant cost: A new report published by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development pegs the cost of developing a prescription drug for market approval at $2.6 billion.
The company is targeting everything from Parkinson’s disease to blindness from age-related macular degeneration. Earlier this year, BenevolentAI also acquired a drug discovery and development facility in Cambridge that will allow the startup to begin clinical trial work.
Cybersecurity with AI
We did a deep dive into Darktrace about a year ago, and shortly after, the Cambridge-based cybersecurity startup raised another $75 million in a Series D, to bring total funding to $179.5 million, with investors like SoftBank in its corner. Founded in 2013 by some of the country’s bright minds at the University of Cambridge and intelligence experts from spy agencies like the Bond-esque MI5, Darktrace appears to be doing pretty well since we last checked on it, doubling its business under contract and adding more than 200 employees.
Darktrace takes its inspiration from the human immune system. Our immune system works by learning about what is normal for the body, and then identifies and zaps anything that does not fit the ever-evolving pattern of what qualifies as status quo. Darktrace applies the same logic by employing machine learning and AI algorithms to understand what is normal for every device and user on a network. Anything that does not fit the pattern of normality gets zapped.
Building Chips for AI
We first learned about Graphcore, an AI chipmaker out of Bristol, about a year ago for our article on startups building AI hardware. The company, found in 2016, has since taken in another $80 million to bring total funding to $110 million. It also added top VC firm Sequoia Capital to its already impressive list of investors. Graphcore is competing in an increasingly competitive AI processor sector, but seems to have some very promising hardware with its IPU (intelligence processing unit), which it claims can improve performance of machine learning tasks by 10x to 100x compared to others on the market. One test reportedly showed that eight IPU PCIe cards could run a training model in the same amount of time as 128 GPU cards. Watch out, Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA)....