UK Tech Sector ‘Unicorn’ Goes Into Administration

Blippar, a former UK tech industry “unicorn” said to have been worth more than $1 billion (£790m), has gone into administration over a funding dispute.

The company was a pioneer in the field of augmented reality (AR), and its charismatic co-founder, Ambarish Mitra, at one time served as a brand ambassador promoting the UK tech sector in other countries.

But more recently the company suffered from an apparent lack of direction and lost £35m last year.

One of its major shareholders, Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional, blocked an emergency $5m round of funding that would have diluted Kazanah’s share in the company. Qualcomm was another major investor.

Image credit: Ambarish Mitra

Augmented reality

Blippar was founded in London in 2011 by Mitra and Omar Tayeb.

It made its name with smartphone software that would display on-screen information, advertisements or animations when objects, landmarks or even people’s faces were picked up by the phone’s camera.

Mitra claimed that in 2015, during a rush of tech sector interest in AR and VR, he had been offered $1.5bn for the company.

At one point the firm employed 300 staff and operated an office in Silicon Valley.

But in 2017 The Financial Times ran an investigation into Mitra’s background that found inconsistencies in his CV.

Mitra has always claimed to have run away from a middle-class home in Dhanabad, in eastern India, as a teenager to live in a Delhi slum, where he founded his first tech company, but the FT could find no link between Mitra and the company, WomenInfoLine.

Other inconsistencies related to Mitra’s later studies in London and his involvement with tech firms in London and India.

After making huge losses in 2017, the company shut its Silicon Valley office at the beginning of this year and lost key executives.

Meanwhile, Blippar had shifted from selling consumer apps to providing its technology to other businesses, but staff said anonymously on employment site Glassdoor that the firm lacked focus.

It currently employs around 261 people, or as few as 75, according to varying reports.

Company sale

Administrators Paul Appleton and Paul Cooper of David Rubin & Partners said they would seek to sell Blippar in whole or in parts.

“Following their appointment, the administrators are now exploring all possible options for the future of the business for the benefit of all stakeholders,” the insolvency firm said.

“We are disappointed to announce that Blippar is entering into administration,” Blippar said in a statement on its website. “Blippar’s services are likely to come to halt once the administrators take control of the business and its servers. As part of the administration process, all employees will be let go.

“We are grateful to all our Blippar team members, customers, partners, our board and investors who have contributed meaningfully to our mission to bridge the physical and digital worlds.”

The company’s fate reflects broader fluctuations in the AR and VR field, where major investments by the tech sector’s biggest companies have thus far resulted in few notable successes.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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