As a UK-focused venture capital investor, Oxford Capital is fortunate that the UK is a world leader in AI (although to avoid topical accusations of British exceptionalism, it’s definitely worth mentioning that there are centres of excellence in AI and machine learning (ML) throughout Europe). We have just completed an as-yet undisclosed investment in the AI space, and we’re evaluating several other opportunities. Along with taking an interest in AI companies that approach us for funding, we’ve mapped out recent activity in the sector across the UK. The map below (larger version here) shows that clusters of AI activity are emerging, particularly around Oxford, Cambridge in London, in three key areas:
Talent pools and research centres
Innovation starts with talented individuals, and AI is no exception. Many of the UK’s most respected universities have AI research groups, such as the Intelligent Systems group within UCL and the joint Oxford-Cambridge Strategic AI Research Centre. Interestingly, several dedicated AI research institutes have been funded and founded in the last few years, such as the Turing institute in London.
Financial and strategic investors
It’s no surprise that venture capital investors are very interested in AI. Financial investors have backed AI companies across the UK, from Edinburgh to Bristol, but of particular interest are the investments made by strategic players like Google in pre-commercial teams or academic research groups. For instance Google made a “substantial” donation to the University of Oxford to fund AI research in 2014.
Interest at the team and funding level has continued at the exit stage. The UK has amassed a strong track record in AI exits in a few short years, with high value exits in young or pre-commercial companies (e.g. Magic Pony and Deepmind) and more established commercial businesses (e.g. SwiftKey) alike.
Whether you’re involved with a company in the space looking for funding, would like to add something I’ve missed or have a different view, we’d love to hear from you – do get in touch.