London-based AI startup on hiring spree amid U.K. boom

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(Bloomberg) -- Drug discovery startup BenevolentAI has begun a major hiring spree, as it seeks to take advantage of the current boom in the U.K.’s artificial intelligence and machine learning sector.

The London-based startup, valued at $1.7 billion according to data firm CB Insights, is seeking to hire 50 new staff across AI, data science and bioinformatics, software engineering and medicinal science.

"We are already bursting at the seams of our current office space so alongside this hiring spree we’ll be moving to a much larger London office later in the year,” said Ken Mulvany, founder of BenevolentAI.

Benevolent is one of five private AI companies that has reached a valuation of more than $1 billion, according to CB Insights. The startup, founded in 2013, focuses on using machine learning to help parse medical data -- from existing studies to new papers -- to speed up drug discovery.

The company has so far raised $140 million from investors including Lansdowne Partners and Woodford Investment Management. In 2014 the company signed a conditional 585 million pound ($747.8 million) deal with an unnamed U.S. pharma company for potential Alzheimer’s treatments, according to filings with Companies House.

Benevolent employs around 70 people in the U.K. and U.S. In September 2016 it hired Jerome Pesenti, a former executive at IBM’s Watson platform.

The U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union has created economic uncertainty and raised questions about the development of artificial intelligence and the country’s ability to attract engineering, software and security talent. Cities including Paris have been battling to attract companies away from the U.K. as well as entrepreneurs and funding for startups.

Despite this, the U.K. has recently emerged as one of the dominant hubs for AI, hosting a batch of high-profile tech startups in the sector that have gone on to be acquired by U.S. tech firms, including Twitter Inc.’s purchase of London-based artificial intelligence startup Magic Pony Technology in June, language processing company SwiftKey’s sale to Microsoft Corp. in February 2016, and Alphabet Inc.’s £400 million acquisition of London AI startup DeepMind in 2014.

Most recently, SoftBank Group Corp. led a $502 million investment in Improbable Worlds Ltd., a London-based virtual reality startup, in one of the U.K.’s largest venture capital deals.

London is also only behind San Francisco and New York in terms of developers, according to a report Wednesday from Stack Overflow Internet Services Inc., a website for coders. The number of developers in the U.K. capital has increased 11 percent during the past twelve months to 418,000, compared to San Francisco Bay Area and New York, home to around 661,000 and 432,000 developers respectively.

Cloudreach, backed by investors including private equity giant Blackstone and based in London, announced plans Wednesday to hire 100 new developers.

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