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Investment in UK AI startups has increased almost six-fold in four years

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Robotics research facility. Photo: Monty Rakusen/Getty
Robotics research facility. Photo: Monty Rakusen/Getty

Venture capital investment in the UK’s artificial intelligence sector leapt almost six-fold from 2014 to 2018, according to figures released on Thursday.

Research by market intelligence firm Dealroom found investment in UK AI startups reached a record £997m (£1.3bn) in 2018, continuing upward trends since 2014, when investment was just £153m.

The research was carried out on behalf of startup accelerator Tech Nation and the UK’s Digital Economy Council.

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According to Dealroom’s figures, the biggest surge in interest in AI came between 2016 and 2017, when venture capital funding for UK companies almost doubled from £500m to over £900m.

Dealroom recorded 82 venture capital fundraisings across UK companies last year, compared with 70 the previous year. One of the biggest fundings was Graphcore, the Bristol startup, which raised £153m from a consortium of investors.

Other UK AI companies that raised funds last year include Renalytix AI, a developer of AI for kidney disease, which raised over £22m through an AIM flotation; healthtech company Medopad (£20m); HR software Beamery (£21.5m); and accident and disaster recovery startup Tractable (£19m).

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The figures from Dealroom shows the UK raised almost as much for AI startups as the rest of Europe combined last year. French companies raised £307m and Germany raised just £230m, while Israel was second place behind the UK with about £600m.

Investments in AI have been across all sectors, but fintech and healthtech have seen particularly strong growth. The UK counts at least five AI unicorns among the total number of private tech companies with a valuation of $1bn (£767m): these are Darktrace (£1.3bn valuation), Benevolent AI (£2.1bn); Improbable (£1.6bn); Graphcore (£1.3bn) and Blue Prism (£997m).

Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright, said: “These statistics are further confirmation that the UK is Europe’s undisputed number one tech hub. Our success in artificial intelligence is thanks to a unique combination of talent, location, our business friendly environment, unrivalled access to capital and world-leading universities.

READ MORE: AI industry suffers from deep gender gap, World Economic Forum says

“We are determined to make the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business, and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are using the power of technology to change people’s lives for the better.”

Tech Nation’s own research in 2018 found investment in AI is growing at a faster rate than investment in tech more broadly.

Last week it was revealed up to 40 UK AI and data analysis projects have received a portion of £13m in government investment.

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