Investment in the UK AI sector topped $1bn in 2018 and helped to create the fifth British-based AI company with unicorn status

unicorn companies

Companies that reach a billion-dollar valuation are known as unicorns

Graphcore became the latest start-up to join the list of UK AI unicorns after it received $200m (£153m) of investment last year.

This recent influx of money boosted the tech start-up’s valuation to $1.7bn (£1.32bn), helping it become the fifth addition to the UK’s list of AI-focused companies valued at more than $1bn (£770m).

Figures released today by entrepreneur support network Tech Nation and UK government body Digital Economy Council revealed UK investment in the AI sector totalled $1.3bn (£1bn) in 2018 – more than the other 49 countries in Europe combined.

Commenting on the latest statistics, Dan Pitchford, co-founder of AI news website AI Business, said: “It is no surprise that the amount of funding and investment into AI start-ups has increased within the UK.

“A continuous flow of successful AI start-up stories, such as Deepmind and Graphcore, has meant that the UK is taking a lead within Europe around the creation of AI unicorns.

“This coupled with the UK’s ability to attract the best talent through its world class universities and thriving business hub has encouraged individuals from around the world to invest into the UK.

“It is clear that there is a huge pull towards the UK for anyone who wants a piece of the AI pie.”

The five UK AI unicorns specialise in the areas of cyber-security, med-tech and robotics.



Darktrace, Fastest-growing tech companies, UK AI unicorns
Darktrace uses machine learning to enhance the cyber security software it develops

Darktrace, an AI-powered cyber security start-up, was founded by mathematicians from the University of Cambridge in 2013.

It reached unicorn status in 2018 and has a current valuation of $1.65bn (£1.26bn).

The makers claim the AI programme is “modelled on the human immune system” and analyses users’ network traffic to build a picture of the system’s normal operations so it can then quickly detect any unusual activity that could indicate a malicious attack.

Darktace claims its customer numbers are doubling every quarter and they include high profile organisations and companies such as the NHS, Suzuki and AXA Insurance.


Benevolent AI

Benevolent AI is looking to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry by using AI to pore over clinical research papers and data from trials.

The system can then recommend new uses for existing compounds and tailor medicines for different patients.

Benevolent AI claims a new research paper is published every 30 seconds, meaning much of the available knowledge on treating disease goes unread.

Founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Ken Mulvany, the company is now estimated to be worth $2bn (£1.5bn).



UK AI unicorns
Graphcore’s IPU AI processing unit (Credit: Graphcore)

Bristol-based Graphcore is the latest addition to the list of UK AI unicorns.

The tech start-up specialises in creating the next generation of AI processing units and invented the Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) which can lower the cost of accelerating AI applications, while improving performance and efficiency anywhere between ten and 100-times over.

It is currently valued at $1.7bn (£1.32bn) and hopes to power the development of new AI enterprises and innovators.


Blue Prism

Newton-le-Willows, a Merseyside market town located midway between Liverpool and Manchester, is the unlikely location of the Blue Prism headquarters.

The publicly-listed AI automation company hit the $1bn (£770m) mark in June 2018 following surge in share prices.

Blue Prism creates software that uses robotic process automation (RPA) – sometimes referred to as a “digital workforce” – to complete mundane tasks that would previously have been performed by employees.

The AI start-up has provided services for Lloyds Banking Group, eBay, Siemens and Co-operative Bank, which recorded an 80% saving in processing costs following Blue Prism’s implementation.



Improbable develops virtual worlds and simulations of real environments for use in videogames.

Its cloud-based SpatialOS platform claims to solve many of the traditional technical and production challenges related to making online multiplayer games.

However the company’s ambitions stretch far beyond gaming and Improbable has applications for industries wanting to conduct simulated tests of their systems.

Speaking to Wired, Improbable CEO Herman Narula said: “Basically, we want to build the Matrix.”

The start-up reached unicorn status in May 2017.