Northern Gritstone lands first deal with ‘brain biomimicry’ start-up Opteran | business news

The university spin-out company chaired by Lord O’Neill, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, struck its maiden deal with a £3.3m investment in Opteran, a start-up that has re-engineered insect brain patterns to forge advances in autonomous machines. .

Sky News may reveal that Northern Gritstone will announce this week that it will back Opteran, a pin-out from the University of Sheffield, as part of a $12m funding round.

The raising, led by Berlin-based fund Join Capital, marks a major milestone for both Opteran and Northern Gritstone, which wants to raise up to £500m to back early-stage companies in the north of England.

Opteran aims to set a new standard for autonomous machines by mimicking the brain functions of insects; in fact, he says, by using 600 million years of evolutionary development on a silicon chip, allowing machines to navigate complex visual and navigational challenges.

The system, called Opteran Natural Intelligence, is expected to have a wide range of applications across industries, and the company intends to use the new funding to scale internationally, including opening a US office.

“By mimicking nature’s genius to enable machines to move like natural creatures, we are redefining the global market for machine autonomy,” said David Rajan, CEO of Opteran.

“We expect Opteran Natural Intelligence to become the standard solution for autonomy anywhere on the ground or in the air, in any machine, large or ultra-small, because it combines such sophisticated natural brain capabilities in a lightweight and efficient package.”

Rajan said he had the ambition to make Opteran the “Facebook, Google or Intel of the autonomous machine industry”, crediting the University of Sheffield for avoiding stifling the company by imposing an unviable business model on it.

Next year, it plans to add natural brain decision-making for machines to its offering, while the company said it was also working to offer hyperspectral vision, natural brain image recognition and dynamic learning based on information from the surrounding environment.

Duncan Johnson, CEO of Northern Gritstone, said: “Opteran Technologies is exactly the kind of company Northern Gritstone was created to be.

“Originating from the University of Sheffield and having developed unique and innovative technology, Opteran is a prime example of the outstanding science-led spin-outs we are seeing in the North of England.

“Autonomous vehicles and robotics are important growth areas, and we believe the Opteran platform has the potential to transform this space into a wide range of applications.”

Other investors in the funding round included IQ Capital, Seraphim, Episode 1 and Schauenburg Ventures.

Opteran raised $3 million in funding in 2020 and will likely need more capital in the future to keep expanding.

Sebastian von Ribbentrop, a founding partner at lead investor Join Capital, said Opteran had “created the AI ​​technology needed to transform autonomous systems beyond current limited use in constrained scenarios to enable more widespread adoption.”

“We don’t often see companies with a vision and product of this magnitude, and we are clear that Opteran Natural Intelligence will be the differentiator for all industries implementing autonomous systems on machines.

“We are delighted to have this type of global disruptor in our portfolio.”

For Northern Gritstone, the Opteran deal will be the first of dozens likely to close over the next few years, as it seeks to help business growth for some of the brightest start-ups emerging from universities in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and the north. East.

The vehicle has secured backing from local authority pension funds in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, as well as M&G Investments, Lansdowne Partners and Andrew Law, chief executive of the hedge fund Caxton Associates, as part of an initial fundraising from 215 million pounds sterling.

It intends to become one of the UK’s most prolific investors in academic spin-outs and IP-rich businesses.

“By investing in Northern Gritstone, asset managers are buying directly into the brightest prospects for Britain’s future economy,” Lord O’Neill said recently.

Northern Gritstone’s aim is to tap into one of the world’s leading combined pools of researchers, academic staff and postgraduate students: the universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield have hosted 38 Nobel Prize winners.

Sources say he is evaluating a portfolio of up to 200 potential investment targets.

Its founding universities are said to produce close to 10% of all patents and a fifth of all intellectual property licenses filed by higher education institutions in the UK.

Comparable university spin-outs such as Oxford Science Enterprises have become major players with “unicorn” valuations of at least $1 billion.

The new investment company, which is being advised by Lazard bankers, has chosen a politically favorable environment for its launch, with substantial government attention and resources focused on the leveling agenda outlined by Boris Johnson as part of his campaign for the general election 2019. .

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