‘Icon of the year’ award for Bristol tech entrepreneur and co-founder of city’s first unicorn

November 8, 2019
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The founder and CEO of Bristol’s first ‘unicorn’ tech business has been named as one of the UK’s top entrepreneurs.

Nigel Toon, who launched semiconductor challenger Graphcore in 2016 and is also a key player in the city’s business ecosystem, was among the winners at the recent Barclays Entrepreneurs Awards ceremony.

He was named as Barclays Entrepreneurial Icon of the Year, an award that recognises the individual who has best demonstrated the successful scaling of businesses, leadership through significant growth and investment raising, and the offering of support and mentorship to other entrepreneurs.

Graphcore, co-founded by Nigel with Simon Knowles, is developing interconnect processing unit IPU) systems that lower the cost of accelerating Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in cloud and enterprise datacentre – so speeding up the machine learning revolution.

The firm has raised total venture capital investment of more than $300m so far, giving it a value of $1.7bn and making it Bristol’s first tech firm worth more than £1bn – so earning it the title of ‘unicorn’. The firm also has offices in Cambridge, Beijing and in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Nigel previously led two VC-backed Silicon Valley companies before founding Graphcore. Bath-based PicoChip, which was sold to US firm Mindspeed Technologies in 2012 and Bristol-based XMOS, in which Graphcore was incubated.

Prior to that Nigel was co-founder of Icera, one of Bristol’s pioneering semiconductor companies, which was sold to NVIDIA in 2011.

As well as his key role in helping start and grow leading UK tech businesses, Nigel also actively supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bristol and the wider UK.

He appears regularly as a panel member at founders’ events and at conferences globally, while also mentoring entrepreneurs and their companies.

Nigel said: “It’s great to receive this award but what really needs recognising is the huge team effort that is going on at Graphcore to exploit what is a massive market opportunity ahead of us.

“What we’re doing at Graphcore is potentially changing the future of computing – this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. If we get this right, the IPU will define the future of machine intelligence, powering world-changing innovations for decades to come.”

Barclays South West high growth and entrepreneur director Matt Brook added: “The Barclays Entrepreneur Awards are a celebration of the incredible individuals and businesses from across the UK who are quite literally changing the world.

“Nigel was a unanimous winner among the judges for all of his and Graphcore’s achievements in the last 12 months and he is a true icon and role model for other founders and entrepreneurs, both in Bristol and the South West but also for the UK deep tech sector as a whole.

“This is the fourth year of the awards and I am delighted to see a growing presence of leading South West technologies and businesses each year.”

The awards were held in London and hosted by former newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald.  The event was attended by the other winning entrepreneurs, industry experts and investors from across the UK.  A national judging panel made up of key industry leaders and influencers selected the overall national winners.

Pictured, from left: Head of high growth & entrepreneurs proposition at Barclays Richard Heggie; Head of High Growth and Entrepreneurs at Barclays Juliet Rogan; Nigel Toon and host Sir Trevor McDonald

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