Bristol AI tech unicorn secures $222 million in funding


Graphcore, the Bristol-based tech unicorn which makes a new type of microprocessor specifically designed to support artificial intelligence workloads – has raised $222 million in a Series E funding round that values the company at $2.77 billion. The new investment will be used to support the company’s continued global expansion and to further accelerate future Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) silicon, systems and software development.

Graphcore is the inventor of the Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), which it says is the world’s most sophisticated microprocessor, designed for the needs of current and next-generation artificial intelligence workloads.

Since its founding in 2016, Graphcore has raised over $710 million in funding.

This latest investment round was led by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (Ontario Teachers’) with participation from funds managed by Fidelity International and Schroders along with existing Graphcore investors including Baillie Gifford and Draper Esprit. This investment brings the total funds raised by Graphcore to more than $710 million, with the company expecting to have over $440 million of cash on hand post-closing to support future growth.

Graphcore CEO and co-founder Nigel Toon said: “Having the backing of such respected institutional investors says something very powerful about how the markets now view Graphcore. The confidence that they have in us comes from the competence we have demonstrated building our products and our business. We have created a technology that dramatically outperforms legacy processors such as GPUs, a powerful set of software tools that are tailored to the needs of AI developers, and a global sales operation that is bringing our products to market.”

In 2018 the company announced the first intelligence processing unit (IPU). A fully programmable system to dramatically accelerate machine intelligence. Since then medical research, finance, automotive and even quantum physics have used the system.

The new investors bring experience in disruptive technology and support for scale-up businesses and underscore the size of the market opportunity that Graphcore is addressing in datacentre AI compute, as well as the maturity of the company’s product offerings.

Olivia Steedman, Senior Managing Director, Teachers’ Innovation Platform (TIP) at Ontario Teachers, said: “The market for purpose-built AI processors is expected to be significant in the coming years because of computing megatrends like cloud technology and 5G and increased AI adoption, and we believe Graphcore is poised to be a leader in this space.

The company’s Mk2 IPU products were unveiled in 2020 and are now shipping in production volume to customers.

The IPU-M2000 is a 1U datacentre blade, built around four Graphcore Colossus GC200 IPU processors, capable of one PetaFlop of AI compute. For many AI training and inference tasks, IPU systems significantly outperforms the latest GPU-based systems.

Graphcore’s IPU-POD64 for large scale deployments offers the ability to run very large models across up to 64 IPU processors in parallel, or to share the compute resource across multiple users and tasks. For Exascale compute, up to 64,000 IPUs can be connected in IPU-POD configurations.