Machine intelligence start-up Graphcore has raised $50m in a Series C funding round led by US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.

The Bristol-headquartered firm has built a new type of computer chip for machine intelligence to accelerate machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

The cash injection comes as the company prepares to ship its first Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) products to early access customers at the start of 2018.

The funding will be dedicated to scaling up production, building a community of developers around the Poplar software platform, driving Graphcore's extended product roadmap, and investing in its Palo Alto-based US team to help support customers.

“Efficient AI processing power is rapidly becoming the most sought-after resource in the technological world,” said CEO Nigel Toon.

“We believe our IPU technology will become the worldwide standard for machine intelligence compute. The performance of Graphcore's processor, compared to other accelerators, is going to be transformative, whether you are a medical researcher, roboticist, online marketplace, social network or building autonomous vehicles.

"At Graphcore, we are focused on building a successful, enduring company that can serve the needs of all of those communities, over the long term. Sequoia has a deep understanding of what it takes to scale and build a successful business and we are looking forward to a long partnership with them."

Matt Miller, partner at Sequoia, who will join the Graphcore board of directors, added: "Machine intelligence will cause an explosion of new applications and services that will transform every industry. The unique nature of this workload and scale of this opportunity creates an opening where a valuable new chip company can be created.

“We believe Graphcore's product architecture, team and early market interest make it the best positioned new entrant in this market. We look forward to helping them build a large and enduring company."

Graphcore has already attracted investments from many of the biggest names in machine intelligence including Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind; Zoubin Ghahramani of Cambridge University and chief scientist at Uber; and Pieter Abbeel, Greg BrockmanScott Grey and Ilya Sutskever, from OpenAI.

The Series C round has been supported by existing backers Amadeus Capital Partners, Atomico, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, C4 Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, Draper Esprit, Foundation Capital, Pitango Venture Capital and Samsung Catalyst Fund.