SoftBank Said to Plan Investment in Horowitz-Backed Improbable

  • Talks about London-based virtual reality startup in progress
  • Deal comes as SoftBank finalizes $100 billion Vision Fund

Why SoftBank May Be Making an Investment in Improbable

SoftBank Group Corp. is close to an investment in Improbable Worlds Ltd., a London-based virtual reality startup backed by U.S. venture capitalist Andreessen Horowitz, people familiar with the matter said.

An agreement may be reached as soon as this week, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. It’s unclear how large a stake SoftBank would buy, and no final decisions have been made, they said.

Representatives for SoftBank and Improbable declined to comment.

The investment is part of SoftBank’s founder Masayoshi Son’s vision to establish the Japanese company at the forefront of the technology sector. SoftBank is currently finalizing the $100 billion Vision Fund, with backers including Apple Inc. and Saudi Arabia. Son’s largest investment in the U.K. to date is its $32 billion acquisition of ARM Holdings Plc last year.

Improbable has raised around $20 million in funding so far, led by Andreessen Horowitz. The company focuses on creating hyper-realistic simulations and virtual worlds. It recently worked with the U.K. government to build a simulation of the entire internet.

Chief Executive Officer Herman Narula launched Improbable in 2012 along with Rob Whitehead after the pair studied computer science at Cambridge University. Conversion Capital and LocalGlobe, founded by U.K. investor Saul Klein, are also investors in the firm.

Improbable, which has a joint venture with Google’s cloud business, has been gearing up for significant expansion. The firm opened an office in San Francisco in February, and hired a brace of senior executives over the past few months. Rob Miller, who worked at King Digital Entertainment Ltd. during its initial public offering and $5.9 billion sale to Activision Blizzard Inc., has joined as chief legal officer. Chief Financial Officer Michael Bannon has also joined from private equity firm TPG.

Still, the company, which has more than 150 employees, isn’t yet profitable, reporting a loss of 13.4 million pounds ($17.2 million) in the year through May 31, according to a financial report filed with Companies House.

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