This article was published on May 12, 2017

UK startup Improbable picks up improbable $502m investment

UK startup Improbable picks up improbable $502m investment Image by: alphr
Már Másson Maack
Story by

Már Másson Maack

Editor, Growth Quarters by TNW

Már tries to juggle his editorial duties with writing the occasional weird article. He also loves talking about himself in the third person. Már tries to juggle his editorial duties with writing the occasional weird article. He also loves talking about himself in the third person.

UK-based Improbable recently raised a 502 million dollar investment from the Japanese media conglomerate SoftBank. The company’s share in the VR startup will be non-controlling (within 50 percent), meaning that Improbable’s worth is now estimated to be over one billion dollars.

According to the BBC, SoftBank’s investment in Improbable is one of the largest in an early stage technology business in Europe. The startup has grown tremendously in size and worth in the last couple of years.

Only two years ago, Improbable got a 20 million dollar investment from Silicon Valley VC Andreessen Horowitz (SoftBank’s new investment is 25 times bigger). The VC funds went into expanding the startup’s operation and now Improbable employs nearly 200 people. The expansion truly seems to have paid off, however, the startup’s revenues are still relatively scant.

Improbable’s founders aren’t deterred by revenue and have always had big ambitions. That’s why it was crucial for them that they’d retain full control after further investments. In an interview with the Financial Times, co-founder Herman Narula said that it had always been their goal to create a leading European company, rather than to sell out to foreign investors.

Our hope is that that is not just a good thing for Improbable but for the whole ecosystem. The knock-on effect can be massive. The goal is for Britain and Europe to produce big world-leading platform companies, like what the six US tech companies have managed to do. Our ambition is to make it to that.

Improbable’s flagship-product, SpatialOS, is a platform that enables game developers to create massive virtual worlds with less manpower and in less time. The platform is based on a revolutionary technology (at least according to Improbable), using cloud-based distributed computing to enable highly detailed modelling.

The platform, which was built in partnership with Google Cloud, could also have other applications as the field of virtual worlds evolves. Narula said in an interview with BBC that Improbable wants to aid people to build massive virtual worlds that “can impact the way we understand some of the hardest problems”. Narula believes that SoftBank picked up on the interesting path the technology is on, away from gaming to broader applications.

However, despite SoftBank’s investment being huge for the European startup scene, it’s just another step in the company’s expansion in the global technology market. SoftBank has invested heavily in tech all around the globe. Last year the company bought British chip designer ARM in a huge takeover, but not all of its investments have been successful. SoftBank recently revealed that the company lost a record 1.4 billion dollars on its investments in India.


Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.