Sequoia invests $50m in Bristol’s Graphcore

13 Nov 2017

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol. Image: Paul D Smith/Shutterstock

This is one of only a handful of investments by Sequoia Capital in Europe so far.

One of Silicon Valley’s most iconic venture capital firms, Sequoia Capital, has invested $50m in a Series C round in Bristol-based machine intelligence chip player Graphcore.

The investment will enable Graphcore to ship its first intelligence processing units (IPUs) at the start of 2018.

‘Machine intelligence will cause an explosion of new applications and services that will transform every industry’

The funding will be dedicated to scaling up production, building a community of developers around the Poplar software platform, driving Graphcore’s extended product roadmap and investing in its Palo Alto-based US team to help support customers.

According to data from Graphcore, the IPU can improve the performance of machine intelligence training and inference workloads by a factor of 10 to 100 compared with current hardware.

One test showed how a developer could use eight printed circuit boards with the IPU to run in the same amount of time as 128 GPU boards.

Such advances in performance enable developers to run existing machine intelligence models orders of magnitude faster, using less power.

AI chip of tomorrow

“Efficient AI processing power is rapidly becoming the most sought-after resource in the technological world,” said Nigel Toon, CEO of Graphcore.

“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.”

The Series C round has full support from existing investors: Amadeus Capital Partners, Atomico, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, C4 Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, Draper Esprit, Foundation Capital, Pitango Venture Capital and Samsung Catalyst Fund.

Graphcore has already attracted investments from many of the biggest names in machine intelligence, including: Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind; Zoubin Ghahramani of Cambridge University and chief scientist at Uber; and Pieter Abbeel, Greg Brockman, Scott Gray and Ilya Sutskever from OpenAI.

As part of the investment, Sequoia partner Matt Miller will join Graphcore’s board of directors while Bill Coughran will join its technical advisory board.

“Machine intelligence will cause an explosion of new applications and services that will transform every industry,” said Miller.

“The unique nature of this workload and scale of this opportunity creates an opening where a valuable new chip company can be created. 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.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years