This is our final edition of Our Week in Digital of 2019. We have chosen to take this opportunity to reflect upon 2019 and share with you our highlights of the year. The festive season offers a time for reflection and pause. Following this, we are looking back at some of our favourite stories that have appeared in Our Week in Digital.

Our Year

Looking back over the last 12 months, Ignite Digital Talent has enjoyed a great 2019.  

Professionally, we have secured some great contract wins; partnering with some exciting and transformative new clients. For our legacy customers too, we have spearheaded some massive projects. We have secured them the tech talent to have a bigger and better year ahead than ever before. 

Our consultants have smashed PBs and outdone their performance targets without exception. We have secured some fantastic hires ourselves. We have scaled our team to ensure that we continue to be the solution to every tech, digital and data talent challenge.

Taking a wider view of the space, tech too has evolved massively over 2019. UK and London, in particular, continue to be Europe’s leading force. This comes despite political question marks and an underlying sense of ‘what if’.  

We are proud of our roots here in the South West. As such we have picked our favourite stories featuring our Bristol and Silicon Gorge neighbours.

Our first story takes us back to January. Bristol-based creators of AI processors and software, Graphcore were staying true to their UK and south-west roots. Read on for a re-cap.

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Bristol-based start-up Graphcore fend off takeover offers.

Graphcore is yet another Silicon Gorge success story. Based here in Bristol, this tech start-up specialises in building chips which can deal with artificial intelligence algorithms up to 100 times faster than current processors. Developments such as these claim to make machine learning “faster, easier and more intelligent”. 

Following a successful series D funding round in which Graphcore raised another €175 million, January saw the company hold a valuation of $1.7 billion. With this came the much sought after ‘unicorn’ label (a privately held start-up valued at over $1billion).

As a testament to their success, reports revealed that Graphcore was fending off takeover offers from some major industry players. All of which were eager to acquire this young and ambitious company. At this time, it was unclear what offers were being thrown Graphcore’s way. They were bound to be weighty. However, Graphcore was remaining true to their roots. 

Indeed, a company spokesperson confirmed that Graphcore founders Nigel Toon and Simon Knowles were and are “focused on building and growing a UK-based chip company” but one that still operates at “a global scale”.

From day one, Graphcore was the subject of much attention. Since its inception in 2016, It has raised more than $300 million from top investors. These include Sequoia Capital, BMW, Microsoft, Samsung as well as several others. Graphcore has since gone on to more than hold their own against the giant chip companies they call competitors. Familiar names being Nvidia, AMD, Intel, Qualcomm et al.  

Graphcore’s Growth

Looking back a little further, 2018 saw a fair bit of movement within the semi-conductor space. Singapore-listed Broadcom attempted an unsuccessful takeover of the aforementioned Qualcomm back in March last year. Meanwhile, in September, Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics bought rivals, Integrated Device Technology for $6.7bn.  

The UK has a reputation for growing exciting and innovative tech companies. Some industry insiders, however, have concerns about the interest these startups receive from the tech heavyweights. The danger is that these promising enterprises are lured overseas before they’ve had a chance to reach their full potential. Missing their opportunity to grow independently.

Vishal Chatrath, the chief executive of UK based AI startup, Prowler.io was able to confirm these high levels of interest. He stated:

“In terms of interest from the big players, it’s just constant. We get interest all the time from every shape and size, but we still feel that we would love to grow independently.”

Hopefully, success stories such as Graphcore’s will give British entrepreneurs the self-confidence to rebuff tempting proposals from larger companies. It’s essential that throughout 2020, the UK retains its crown as a key player in tech growth across the globe. One that can nurture and incubate growing, progressive and transformative business.  

our year, A hand in a glove places a microchip on a chip board

For our second story, we stay in January.  

We’re looking to the cybersecurity SaaS startup, Immersive Labs. If you’re familiar with the tech scene here in the South West, it is hard to believe that Immersive Labs is only around three years old. Such an impact it has made. 2019 has seen Immersive Labs go from strength to strength – more on this later! But for now, this is how Immersive began 2019. Talk about starting as you mean to go on!

Bristol-based startup, Immersive Labs raises $8m.

Founded in 2017 by former GCHQ researcher James Hadley, Immersive Labs are a startup based here in Bristol. They are cybersecurity specialists. They run online training sessions for industry, helping corporate customers to defend themselves against online attacks.  

The Immersive Labs platform is a SaaS product. It uses real-time feeds of the latest attack techniques, hacker psychology and technological vulnerabilities. It then builds cyber wargames for IT and security teams to learn from using this information. In short, their product helps corporate employees learn new security skills by using real, up-to-date threat intelligence in a “gamified” way. 

In early January, it was announced that Immersive Labs raised $8m (£6.2m) from Goldman Sachs and other investors.

The Goldman Sachs led investment was of huge interest to the company. Just 6 months prior, the Wall Street firm announced its plans to use Immersive’s product for their own employees.  

What they have to say

Chief information security officer at Goldman Sachs, Andy Ozment said the firm was “aware of the benefits it brings to large organisations”. After all, they had successfully rolled out the product themselves. He went on to say that the Immersive product “helped…hone the skills of the people at the front line of our cyber defences and identify new talent throughout the organisation.”

Indeed, Hadley believes that large organisations are facing a dual cybersecurity talent problem. One which he is confident the Immersive product can address.   

“Not only is the number of professionals seriously lagging but so is the pace at which their skills are developed,” he says. “If you are able to recruit the right people in the first place, today’s attackers move so fast your team may quickly fall behind. Our goal is to reduce this gap.”

This ethos has not only impressed Goldman Sachs. Immersive Labs can also boast BAE Systems, Sophos and Grant Thornton as clients.

Fast forward a few months…

Immersive Labs hit the tech headlines for a second time. In November, Immersive Labs raised its second round of funding; a series B injection of $40 million. In this instance, Summit partners led the fundraise with further contributions from Goldman Sachs.

With this round, Immersive Labs have the US and Canadian markets in its sights. It plans to use the round to expand further across these regions, all from its North American HQ in Boston.  

Immersive Labs can boast impressive numbers. The startup has revealed that they have a 750% year-on-year growth in annual recurring revenues. As well as employing a 100 plus strong workforce across its offices.

Wow! 

We love it when a Bristol-based Silicon Gorge startup gets a well-deserved capital injection. We are excited to see what’s next for Immersive Labs. One thing’s for sure, this gutsy company is going from strength to strength. Long may it continue! 

bristol, tech companies, hiring, waterfront, business, techMay brought us news of another Silicon Gorge startup blazing a trail from the South West. Bristol-based, Ultrahaptics went all international! They revealed they had grown their portfolio and had bought Silicon Valley rivals, Leap Motion. 

Bristol-based, Ultrahaptics buys Silicon Valley rival for $30m.

Quite literally making the “leap” to The Valley, Silicon Gorge based start-up Ultrahaptics purchased rival gesture tracking firm, Leap Motion for $30m (£23.7m).

Headquartered in San Francisco, the Leap Motion develops sensors which allow people to translate their hand movements into virtual signals. 

Ultrahaptics’ purchase of Leap Motion facilitated the expansion of their already impressive offering. At the point of the purchase, it was believed that Ultrahaptics would take on all Leap Motion’s staff and patents. In so doing, the company planned to use Leap Motion technology to help create a host of other products. These include automotive products, digital signage and medical interfaces among them.   

In a statement released at the time, Ultrahaptics chief executive Steve Cliffe outlined its ambitions.  

He said,

“our combined technologies have the opportunity to be at the global epicentre of spatial interaction. We are building a company to support the changes between human and machine interaction that will define the 21st Century.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) looks set to continue to advance into 2020. As it does, companies using this technology and building haptic feedback can only prosper. Recently, smartphone manufacturers and carmakers are just two industries which have been able to revolutionise and disrupt their respective markets. Through using haptic technology, they have been able to pioneer transformative concepts. One example of these is creating the illusion of physical buttons and switches on otherwise flat surfaces.  

Definitely defining the 21st century!  

EV, Autonomous cars, driving, drivers, driverlessThe final story from our Bristol based round-up of 2019, revolves around Bristol-based self-driving car pioneers, FiveAI. 

FiveAI launched the largest commuter trials for self-driving vehicles on public roads here in the UK.

These trials were held courtesy of StreetWise, a government-backed consortium led by Bristol-based, FiveAI

These landmark trials were conducted on a pre-defined 19km route. It saw these autonomous cars self-navigating through roads in the London boroughs of Croydon and Bromley. 

The trials were not opened out to the general public. Only those participants who were pre-invited by insurance firm Direct Line Group took part in the heavily structured trial. 

The trials were conducted throughout October and November. While the vehicles essentially drove themselves, the cars did, of course, have a safety driver at all times. In addition to this, they had a safety technician to monitor the performance of the self-driving system.

The self-driving cars picked up the invited 100 volunteers at pre-defined times from pre-defined spots within the 19km route.

To assess how these self-driving vehicles performed during the trial, the participants were asked to respond to a series of questions before, during and after the trial. This information was then used to analyse how the driverless vehicles reacted to real-life situations on busy roads.

The software

The reference software stack used in FiveAI’s self-driving system was developed and trained using a data set compiled from complex UK roads and cities, including London.

Although the technology powering these vehicles was developed by FiveAI, the company was partnered in this particular trial by insurers, Direct Line and the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).  

Of the research and partnership, Stan Boland, co-founder and CEO of FiveAI, said: ‘Shared, self-driving vehicle services promise a better way for people to get around. We’ll be working with forward-thinking partners to make these services a reality in European urban environments”. 

Indeed, Direct Line is one of the largest car insurance providers in the UK, while TRL is the global centre for innovation in transport and mobility. 

He believes that “the lessons learned through StreetWise provide an important step towards that goal”.  

Once the stuff of futuristic Hollywood movies, the age of self-driving vehicles is looming closer and closer. Revolutionary tech, as pioneered by FiveAI is making this a reality.  

Will 2020 be another landmark year for FiveAI as they continue their work to change the landscape of the UK’s roads?

It is always exciting to witness the prowess of Bristol’s tech entrepreneurs. We have loved reaching for the tech pages throughout this year and reading the stories which confirm all that we at Ignite Digital Talent have known for some time; that the South West is home to some of the greatest tech and digital businesses on the planet.  

Congratulations all of you! We can’t wait to see what your enterprise, hard work and smarts bring you throughout 2020. 

That brings the round-up edition of Our Year in Digital to a close.

Our year has been fantastic, let’s hope the next one is just as good. All that is left to say, is that we wish all our readers, candidates and clients a restful, peaceful holiday and a happy and healthy New Year!

About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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