Britain is losing out on being world leader for innovation, says Ex-Google boss who warns UK tech firms are sold off to US giants before they can grow

  • Patrick Pichette says promising UK firms are being bought early by US giants
  • Canadian businessman was Google’s finance boss for seven years until 2015
  • He said there were ‘probably 25 Facebooks or Googles’ in UK at the moment
  • But he raised concerns they’d be robbed of chance to become UK champions 
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A former Google boss has claimed British start-ups are being robbed of the chance to become ‘UK champions’ as they are being quickly bought up by US tech giants.

Patrick Pichette said promising companies, with talents nurtured and funded in Britain, are being acquired on the cheap before they can reach their full potential.

The Canadian businessman, who was Google’s finance boss for seven years until 2015, said there were ‘probably 25 Facebooks or Googles’ in the UK at the moment.

But he raised concerns that the burgeoning firms would ‘get taken out too early and don’t really have a chance to become world champions’.


Patrick Pichette (pictured), who was Google’s finance boss for seven years until 2015, said there were ‘probably 25 Facebooks or Googles’ in the UK at the moment


Google’s acquisition of DeepMind is thought of as the poster child of British firms swooped on by US giants, but the process has become a well-trodden path

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Mr Pichette oversaw in the region of 200 acquisitions for Google during his time in charge, including the sale of London-based DeepMind.

The artificial intelligence firm was sold to Google for £306million in 2014, the same year that it was named ‘Company of the Year’ by Cambridge University.

The British firms bought out by Google 

Plink (visual search engine) – bought for an unknown amount in April 2010

Phonetic Arts (speech synthesis) – bought for an unknown amount in December 2010

BeatThatQuote.com (price comparison site) – bought for $65,000,000 in March 2011

DeepMind (artificial intelligence) – bought for $625,000,000 in January 2014 

spider.io (anti-click fraud) – bought for an unknown amount in February 2014 

Rangespan (e-commerce) – bought for an unknown amount in May 2014 

Dark Blue Labs & Vision Factory (artificial intelligence) – bought for tens of millions of pounds in October 2014

GraphicsFuzz (GPU reliability) – bought for an unknown amount in August 2018

‘There’s a pretty broad consensus that Google got DeepMind for a steal,’ Mr Pichette told the Daily Telegraph.

‘And there’s a pretty broad consensus that this company, whether you like it or not, was basically funded by the UK, it was funded by the UK system of education that brought all these amazing minds together to do all these amazing innovations and now it’s under the control of a US company.

‘That’s just the reality of what happened to DeepMind.’

The company has hit the headlines for a number of its creations, including software it created a that taught itself how to play and win at 49 completely different Atari titles, with just raw pixels as input.

In a world first, its AlphaGo program took on the world’s best player at G, one of the most complex and intuitive games ever devised, with more positions than there are atoms in the universe – and won.   

The acquisition of DeepMind is thought of as the poster child of British firms swooped on by US giants, but the process has become a well-trodden path.

Apple paid £300million for the music-recognition app Shazam in 2017, in what was its biggest purchase since buying out Beats Electronics for $3billion in 2014.

The Asian market has also made strides in the UK, with Chinese tourism group Ctrip paying £1.4billion for flight comparison site Skyscanner in 2016.

The same year, Japanese group SoftBank had an offer of £24.3billion accepted by chip designer ARM.


Mr Pichette oversaw in the region of 200 acquisitions for Google during his time in charge, including the sale of London-based DeepMind (pictured is DeepMind and Google’s UK base)

WHAT IS GOOGLE’S DEEPMIND AI PROJECT?

DeepMind was founded in London in 2010 and was acquired by Google in 2014.

It now has additional research centres in Edmonton and Montreal, Canada, and a DeepMind Applied team in Mountain View, California.

DeepMind is on a mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how.

If successful, the firm believes this will be one of the most important and widely beneficial scientific advances ever made.

The company has hit the headlines for a number of its creations, including software it created a that taught itself how to play and win at 49 completely different Atari titles, with just raw pixels as input.

In a world first, its AlphaGo program took on the world’s best player at G, one of the most complex and intuitive games ever devised, with more positions than there are atoms in the universe – and won.   

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