SoftBank In Advanced Talks To Buy AI Chip Designer Graphcore: Report

Once seen as a viable competitor to Nvidia, Graphcore’s business suffered in 2022 from deteriorating macroeconomic conditions that slowed down sales of systems outfitted with its IPUs, and now it’s reportedly in talks to sell itself to Japanese investment giant SoftBank.

Japanese investment giant SoftBank Group is reportedly in advanced talks to acquire Graphcore, a British AI chip designer that has struggled to gain traction in recent years.

Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg reported Wednesday that discussions elevated recently about a potential deal after the two parties began initial conversations several months ago. The report emphasized that a “final agreement isn’t imminent” and that talks could fall apart.

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A Graphcore spokesperson declined to comment on the report. SoftBank did not respond to a request for comment.

Founded in 2016, Graphcore develops a novel chip architecture called the intelligence processing unit (IPU) it has previously said is better suited for AI applications than Nvidia’s data center GPUs because it was built from the ground up for “fine-grained parallelism.”

The Bristol, U.K.-based company attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from big-name investors like Sequoia Capital, Microsoft, Dell Technologies, and Samsung over several years, which allowed it to reach a $2.8 billion valuation in 2020.

But a couple years after pushing new generations of IPUs that it said were competitive against Nvidia’s A100 GPU, the company said its business suffered from deteriorating macroeconomic conditions that slowed down sales of systems outfitted with its IPUs. As a result, Graphcore’s 2022 revenue declined 46 percent to $2.7 million and it slashed headcount by 21.7 percent to 494 employees that year, according to public filings with the U.K. government.

As the company struggled, Nvidia grew its dominance of the AI computing space with its data center GPUs and became one of the world’s most valuable companies earlier this year.

Graphcore made a foray into the channel with the launch of a partner program in 2020 that included solution providers in North America. But the company has since terminated that program, though it does still work with channel partners, according to the Graphcore spokesperson.

Starting in 2022, Graphcore started to diversify its business model, which mainly revolved around selling IPU systems, by making a push to sell access to such systems in the cloud through partners like Gcore in Europe and Paperspace in North America.

SoftBank’s reported interest in Graphcore comes as it seeks to raise $100 billion for an AI chip venture that competes with Nvidia, Bloomberg previously reported. The firm formerly owned British chip designer Arm until September of last year, when it took the company public while retaining a majority of Arm’s shares. Since then, Arm’s stock price has risen by 80 percent.