A British start-up which helped Network Rail save tens of millions of pounds by identifying potential bottlenecks in infrastructure upgrades has secured more than £10m in new funding from the venture arm of Google’s owner, Alphabet.
Sky News understands that nPlan, which was founded in 2017, will announce this week that GV – formerly Google Ventures – has invested $18.5m to help fund its expansion plans.
The investment will represent GV’s latest backing for a UK-based business, following equity injections into companies such as CurrencyCloud and Secret Escapes.
nPlan operates in the “constructiontech” category, which is attracting billions of pounds in investment as the industry attempts to wrest greater efficiencies from the substantial spending associated with major physical infrastructure developments.
Established by Dev Amratia, chief executive, and chief technology officer Alan Mosca, nPlan uses machine-learning to forecast the duration and risks associated with construction projects.
To date, the company said its algorithms had analysed global projects worth almost $1trillion, with the Biden administration in the US and other major economies expected to step up infrastructure spending in a bid to aid their recovery from the pandemic.
At least one recent study has estimated that substantial chunks of construction-related expenditure are wasted, with $127m of every $1bn outlay spent unnecessarily.
nPlan said it had worked with Network Rail on upgrades to the Great Western main line and signalling work between Salisbury and Exeter, worth a combined £3bn.
By highlighting previously unknown risks, nPlan said it had eliminated potential costs of up to £30m on the former project alone.
“At a time of ongoing uncertainty, our goal is to provide confidence in a sector notorious for struggling to stick to deadlines or budgets,” Mr Amratia said.
“By using some of the most powerful machine learning capabilities in the world to analyse what worked and what didn’t in past projects, we can help our customers work out what’s going to derail their own initiatives, and stop problems happening before they even appear.”
The company has expanded into Australia, and also intends to utilise GV’s money to provide an insurance product which covers clients against the cost of project over-runs.
“Through due diligence, we spoke to a range of customers and prospects, ranging from infrastructure owners like Network Rail or the largest tech companies to contractors such as SNC Lavalin,” Tom Hulme, general partner at GV, said.
“In all cases, we were blown away that those responsible saw the benefit of applying modern machine learning techniques to such a difficult analogue problem.
“Enabling more efficient build in infrastructure is a multi-billion dollar opportunity, increasing by the day as governments drive investment post-pandemic.”
Other investors in nPlan’s funding round include LocalGlobe, Entrepreneur First and Sir Ian Davis, the Rolls-Royce Holdings chairman.
Mr Amratia, a former project manager at Shell, recently led a national review of artificial intelligence for the government and sits on an expert panel for the Department for Transport’s Acceleration Unit.
nPlan previously raised nearly £3m in a seed funding round in 2018.
(c) Sky News 2021: Alphabet venture arm GV backs UK machine-learning start-up nPlan