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ARM Holdings, Swiftkey, Magic Pony and Encription: A year in UK tech acquisitions


Skyscanner, one of Scotland’s few billion-dollar tech companies, announced its acquisition by Chinese travel company Ctip today in a deal worth £1.4bn.

The Edinburgh-based firm, which landed tech unicorn status (sorry!) in January following a $192m raise, is the latest in a string of UK founded technology businesses to have been sold throughout 2016.

Although a buyout may not be on every startup founder’s agenda, the truth is that tech giants like Microsoft and Blackberry are loosening their purse-strings and investing in small and established technology firms.

So, who’s been bought and by whom? Here are some of the top tech acquisitions to have taken place so far this year:

1. ARM Holdings

Cambridge-based semiconductor firm ARM Holdings was bought by Japanese telecommunications and internet corporation firm Softbank in September.

The deal, widely cited as the biggest ever tech acquisition to have taken place in the UK, saw the Japanese company pay £24bn in cash and ARM cease its listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Founded 25 years ago, ARM was considered of the biggest players in the processors (CPUs) space, with many of these being used in smartphones made by the likes of Apple and Samsung.

ARM’s own acquisition came after it bought Apical, an imaging company, paying $350m in cash just a few months earlier.

2. Switfkey

Earlier in the year, London-based AI startup Swiftkey announced it was being acquired by none other than Microsoft.

Eight years old at the time, Swiftkey was founded by friends and co-founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock.

The company, which raised $20m in venture capital funding, did not disclose any details of the acquisition.

Some reports said Microsoft, which has also snapped up Hotmail and Skype Technologies, paid up to $250m for the startup.

According to the Financial Times, both Swiftkey co-founders are thought to have made more than $30m each as a result of the buyout.

3. Magic Pony

Although Twitter is suffering from its own set of financial woes, the company bought London-based business Magic Pony in June.

The acquisition, which is thought to have set Twitter back approximately $150m, was part of  the company’s investment drive into machine learning. Twitter previously acquired Madbits and Whetlab in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

As a result of the transaction, Magic Pony’s team merged with Twitter Cortex and the firm’s technology – which uses machine learning techniques to understand imagery – is being used to enhance Twitter’s own live and video offerings.

4. Encription Ltd

Last but not least, Blackberry announced its acquisition of Encription in February as part of its attempt to boost its cybersecurity offering.

The smartphone pioneer, which is shifting its focus to security software and services due to the seeming decline in popularity of its devices, did not disclose the terms of the deal.

The tight-lipped firm is thought to be based in a secure location in Worcestershire and claims to serve a long-list of clients including the government, local authorities, international airports and SMEs.

With just over a month of 2016 left, it’s hard to say whether any more tech companies will get acquired before the year’s end but regardless of whether acquisitions are seen as a positive or not, the truth is that established firms seem to have an appetite – and funds – to hunt down talent and buy exciting technology propositions.