London-based virtual reality start-up receives $502m investment

Improbable, a London based virtual reality start-up, has achieved ‘unicorn’ status after raising $502m to achieve a $1bn valuation

  • By Rachel Connolly | Monday, May 15th, 2017

Virtual reality start-ups haven't had the same media impact as those focused on AI and automation, but they are attracting serious investor interest

On May 12, London-based start-up Improbable announced that it had raised $502m in a Series B funding round led by Japanese technology conglomerate Softbank. This makes Improbable, which has also received investment from venture capital firms Horizons and Andreessen Horowitz, the newest addition to the small but growing group of UK technology ‘unicorns’ – start-ups that are valued at over $1bn.

Improbable specialises in making virtual reality and large-scale simulations. While start-ups focusing on automation or communications continue to dominate the media, investor interest in virtual reality has been steadily growing. Emerging start-ups have started to rival more established companies like Oculus VR. Just last February, MindMaze, based in Switzerland, became the first VR-focused start-up to achieve unicorn status.

While start-ups focusing on automation or communications continue to dominate the media, investor interest in virtual reality has been steadily growing

Founded by Cambridge computer science graduates Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead to build detailed computer gaming environments, Improbable’s ambitions have since widened. The company’s SpatialOS platform allows clients to build and operate large-scale simulations in the cloud, enabling them to build virtual environments of massive scale and complexity. One use for this is enabling multiplayer games, but another is to solve complex problems in the real world. Improbable aims to provide a framework for overcoming challenges in infrastructure or complex ecosystems by building detailed simulations of those systems. Clients already include the US and UK defence departments.

In a statement discussing the investment, CEO Narula said: “We intend to fully dedicate this investment to building our business and technology… we are working towards a future in which participatory virtual worlds and simulations of unimaginable scale become ubiquitous. We think this is potentially as exciting and important a technical development as work on AI or the Internet of Things.”

This is one of the biggest investments in an early stage European technology company, but despite the large investment Softbank has not gained a majority stake in the company, demonstrating the growth of the European technology sector. A report by Tech.EU found that European technology start-ups raised €16.2bn last year, the highest figure ever recorded. In a statement to the BBC, Narula said: “I’d like to see a British company – maybe us – get to the level where we could be a world-leading platform.”

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