The British technology startup Improbable, which was co-founded by two Cambridge alumni in computer science, has raised USD 502 million in funding from the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

Cambridge graduates Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead established the firm together with Peter Lipka, an Imperial College alumnus, in 2012. The platform is focused on helping third parties build complex virtual simulations. With the funding led by Softbank and with previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Horizons Ventures also participating, Improbable has now been valued at more than USD one billion.

The startup

According to the news shared by Cambridge, Mr Narula and Mr Whitehead first met at a dissertation review at the university’s Computer Laboratory. Their mutual interest in multiplayer games and virtual worlds eventually put them on the path to creating the software that underpins Improbable. Although the gaming industry represents a vast market with multiple opportunities for the company, the vision of its creators goes further into exploring and simulating systems on an unprecedentedly massive scale. Thus far, Improbable’s clients include video game makers (Bossa Studios), technology giants (Samsung), universities (Oxford), and governments (Britain’s Ministry of Defence) according to Forbes.

Herman Narula, who currently occupies the position of CEO, has also revealed that SoftBank holds only a minority, non-controlling stake at the British startup. The three co-founders, on the other hand, hold a majority equity stake with Mr Narula having enough voting rights to control the decisions that will impact Improbable’s future. As noted by TechCrunch, the link to the Japanese corporation is not only financially valuable, but it could open up opportunities for expanding into new markets as well.

The Guardian has also provided its own take on the news with additional details about the inspiring journey of Improbable’s co-founders. The British source reports that Herman Narula moved to the UK from India when he was three years old and managed to teach himself how to write code when he was 12. Despite having the option to join the family business in construction, somewhere along the way he chose to follow his own path and pursue a career in computing. Considering the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, it may not seem a surprise that he set up the company with fellow Cambridge student Rob Whitehead months before Mr Narula’s graduation from university.

Talent and innovation at Cambridge

The company created by the Cambridge alumni is the latest in a string of commercialisation success stories from the university’s Computer Laboratory, including DeepMind and “next word prediction” app SwiftKey. The institution also reports that more than 300 high-tech ventures and technologies involving representatives of University of Cambridge have been created in the last 20 years. In addition, over 240 firms have been founded by alumni of the Cambridge University Computer Lab, while spin-outs from the Cambridge Enterprise portfolio have raised in excess of GBP 1.4 billion follow-on funding.

Professor Andy Hopper, Head of the Computer Laboratory, said: “This is a fantastic achievement, and a testament to Cambridge’s role as an innovation hub. While most people see innovation when fast-growing firms hit the headlines, here at Cambridge we are dedicated to providing the time, space, and resources to ensuring knowledge can develop incrementally and build impact cumulatively.

To achieve such results, Cambridge has been consistently developing numerous platforms that encourage scientific and technological innovations including incubator spaces, science parks, education programmes as well as the provision of seed funds and patient capital. 

Source: University of Cambridge