In the loop: UK’s latest unicorn unveiled while Uber’s duking it out with Google’s spinout

The reason London’s tech startups are worried about market uncertainties, the rise of Britain’s latest unicorn and why it’s a good thing that SMEs learn from each other

In the loop: UK’s latest unicorn unveiled while Uber’s duking it out with Google's spinout

Worlds Adrift is the first game built on Improbable’s SpatialOS platform. Credit: Bossa Studiose

Improbable becomes the UK’s latest unicorn

Whenever Herman Narula, co-founder and CEO of Improbable, is asked what his startup does, he usually quips that it wants “to build the Matrix”. More explicitly, the company is developing cloud-based tech that allows huge data simulations to run glitch-free. Given that this innovation enables everyone from game developers to city planners to create massive virtual worlds, it’s hardly surprising that the company just raised an impressive $502m series B round, making it the UK’s newest unicorn.

Improbable’s latest round was led by SoftBank and also saw follow-up investments from the startup’s series A investors Andreessen Horowitz, the VC firm, and Horizons Ventures, the VC firm. The startup plans to use this influx of capital to recruit more staff to its London and San Francisco offices as well as to ramp up the development of its technology. “This investment will allow us to take the big, bold steps needed to fully realise our vision,” said Narula.

And having already gained such huge interest from investors and gamers alike, it certainly seems as if the future is looking bright for Improbable.

SME leaders look to learn from each other

From dating to learning new languages, the rise of mobile technology has enabled people to manage their lives with a simple swipe of a touchscreen. But the new mobile tech has also brought new entrepreneurial challenges. Fortunately it seems that SMEs can rely on each other to help them navigate waves of new technology.

The Future of Business Survey is an ongoing study in which Facebook, the OECD and the World Bank collaborate to find out how SMEs operate amidst the rise of mobile technology. Having surveyed 200,000 small business leaders in more than 40 countries, the latest report revealed that 42% are learning to operate in the new economy through other SMEs.

And it definitely seems that connecting with other businesses matters: nearly half of businesses confident about the future are learning from others, whereas two-thirds of unconfident businesses are not. Additionally, 47% of the companies that have added new staff members in the past six months have learned from other businesses.

In other words, staying connected is simply good business.

London’s tech leaders worry about investment

The headlines painted a rather lacklustre picture for SMEs operating in post-referendum Britain this week: business leaders worried that Brexit could escalate the problem of late payments and it was revealed that investment in UK startups still hasn’t snapped back to pre-2016 levels. And now the doom and gloom has seemingly reached the London tech scene: 27% of companies are concerned about the market uncertainty caused by Brexit.

Having surveyed 300 of its members, Tech London Advocates, the network championing the tech industry in London, has revealed that market uncertainties have eclipsed skills shortages as the biggest challenge keeping tech leaders up at night. Almost six out of ten tech professionals believe article 50 has damaged London’s position as a global tech hub and 29% thought that the city will lose its crown as the European capital of tech investment over the next five years.

And with 39% stating that it’s become harder to raise growth capital in the past 12 month, it does seem as if there may be some trying times ahead.

Google’s court case against Uber referred to criminal prosecutors

Forget about Suits: the best legal drama right now is the legal battle between Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber. The two tech giants have been slugging it out over alleged intellectual theft since February. But the case just took a dramatic turn: the judge presiding over the case recommended that the case should be investigated by federal prosecutors to determine whether Uber is guilty of theft  and also rejected the ride-hailing firm’s request for private arbitration, meaning that the case will go to court.

At the centre of the case is Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer who is now the current vice-president at Uber. He is accused of having stolen 14,000 confidential documents before leaving his former employer, among which were trade secrets and patents including Waymo’s proprietary LiDAR system, a radar technology used in self-driving cars. The company is accusing Levandowski of using those files to launch the autonomous vehicle startup Otto, which was later acquired by Uber.

With the case having already taking a few twists, like an engineer using his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, it certainly seems like we’re in for quite a ride.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson

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