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12 May, 2017 - 10:38 By Tony Quested

Cambridge spawns its 15th $1 billion company

Improbable Rob Whitehead

The fertile Cambridge UK technology cluster has given birth to yet another billion dollar business – virtual reality sensation Improbable – following a $500m investment round led by ARM’s new Japanese owner SoftBank.

Improbable was last month named by Cambridge Computer Laboratory svengali Andy Hopper as the Lab Ring’s company of the year; it was already in the Lab’s 257-strong Hall of Fame.

Improbable, headquartered in London and San Francisco, was founded by Cambridge computer science alumni Herman Narula (CEO) and Rob Whitehead (CTO) in 2012.

Their SpatialOS operating system is transforming capabilities across sectors as diverse as game development, smart city design, including transport networks, telecoms and monitoring of autonomous vehicles.

As explained by multiple tech specialists online, the platform enables third parties such as games developers and civil engineers and architects to build virtual worlds on a massive scale.

The company plans to use the proceeds of the funding round to develop its platform and accelerate recruitment on both sides of the Atlantic. It has already grown to almost 200 people in just under five years.

It is the 15th billion dollar business spawned  in Cambridge from home-rooted IP.

SoftBank and Middle East partners are intent on raising a mammoth £100bn IoT fund to invest in global game-changers in the space; Cambridge-based chip architect ARM – sold to SoftBank for $31 bn last year – is central to the development of the Internet of Things through its planet-wide ecosystem of integral partners.

SoftBank recently sold a 25 per cent stake in ARM and this investment could be part of the reason for that previously unexplained move. While not a record, the investment in Improbable is one of the largest European technology rounds of all time. Series A investors Andreessen Horowitz and Horizons Ventures also participated.

The Cambridge Computer Lab Ring accolade has been won in the past by great companies such as Raspberry Pi, SwiftKey (sold to Microsoft) and Deepmind Technologies (sold to Google).

Improbable says it maintains a close connection to the University of Cambridge with many staff who are alumni, including the co-founders.
 
“I always remember seeing the wall of fame on my way into lectures at the Computer Lab as an undergraduate,” said CTO Whitehead. “It’s going to be a proud moment to see us up there on our next visit.”

The award was presented at an event in the Old Hall at Queens’ College, Cambridge by celebrated dontrepreneur Professor Andy Hopper and by computing pioneer Dame Stephanie Shirley.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Improbable’s CTO and co-founder Rob Whitehead. Image courtesy – Improbable

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