A Tech City startup built by Cambridge University graduates has scored $20 million (£14 million) from a well known Silicon Valley venture capital firm for its virtual worlds development platform. 

Improbable  founded at Cambridge University by Rob Whitehead and Herman Narula in 2012  announced on its blog this week that it had received the money from Andreessen Horowitz, the venture fund cofounded by the creator of the first popular internet browser, Netscape. 

Improbable provides a platform for developers to build their own virtual worlds ©Improbable
Improbable provides a platform for developers to build their own virtual worlds ©Improbable

The startup, now based in Farringdon just a short walk from urban navigation app Citymapper (another startup that has raised millions of pounds from US investors), has a platform that allows developers to create their own virtual worlds for use in everything from gaming to finance.

"Simulated worlds are digital spaces that can run in real time containing millions of entities with interesting behaviour that work in concert to create functioning worlds: spaces with their own rules and properties that a multitude of people can simultaneously change, explore and visualise in as many different ways as developers can imagine,” explained Improbable in its blog post. “We think simulated worlds can be used to solve problems in areas as diverse as defence, healthcare, economics and entertainment."

One of the biggest challenges with creating simulated worlds is that the simulations need to be hosted across thousands of servers in real time. Improbable gets round this by adopting a “swarm of decentralised, heterogenous workers collaborating together to form a simulation much larger than any single worker can understand.”

Horowitz, which backed Facebook, Twitter and Oculus Rift in their early days and generally spends billions on promising technology firms, will now aim to elevate Improbable to success, cashing in along the way due to the undisclosed equity it has taken in the company. 

Horowitz general partner Chris Dixon, who invested in the likes of Oculus, Soylent and BuzzFeed, will be joining the Improbable board.

"Improbable's technology solves the parallelisation problem for an important class of problems: anything that can be defined as a set of entities that interact in space. This basically means any problem where you want to build a simulated world," Dixon wrote in his own blog post

It's fairly likely that an investment of this size will catch the attention of larger tech firms, some of whom may try and acquire the company, as Google did in the case of artificial intelligence firm DeepMind, which was spun out of Oxford University.