Monday, July 17, 2023

"...Big Tech Alumni building AI startups in Paris"

From, July 14:

Mistral's €105m raise is just the start — French AI founders think Paris is the place to be 

At 22 Rue Chapon, in Paris's ever-trendy third arrondissement, within a converted 18th-century mansion surrounding a cobbled, vine-covered courtyard, researchers from Meta and OpenAI are building the next generation of artificial intelligence. 

These machine learning specialists cut their teeth at the perhaps less picturesque offices of Silicon Valley’s most powerful Big Tech companies, and they’ve now flown the nest to work on their own startups. And despite hosting a tech scene that’s one seventeeth the size of the US's, they say France is the perfect place to found an AI company today.

It comes as European nations are increasingly trying to build strategic technology on home soil and reduce their reliance on American tech.

“I had two AI startups before, and I moved to the US for those. If you were not in [San Francisco] you weren’t ‘somebody,’” says Alex Lebrun, cofounder of AI healthtech company Nabla and formerly an engineer in Meta’s AI division. “Now it's actually really changed, and Paris is a big hotbed.”

Nabla — which uses large language models (LLMs) to assist clinicians and reduce their admin burden — shares its office building with Dust, an AI startup cofounded by former OpenAI research engineer Stanislas Polu. Not far down the road, generative AI startup Mistral — founded by former staffers of Meta and Google’s AI labs — is working out how to spend its €105m seed round.

Strong foundations
Despite the backgrounds of some of those founders, Polu says that France’s AI renaissance hasn’t required a mass repatriation of prodigal sons and daughters from the US.

“I don't think it's about people coming back [from Silicon Valley]; I think they’ve always been here. Paris has a lot of traction these days because we have a very large pool of very strong talent in AI research,” he says.

That includes Facebook and Google research labs in the capital city, and “lots of very good engineers and scientists”, according to Lebrun, who adds that it makes economic sense to build the business there: “80% of our users are in the US but we are based in Paris because AI engineers are good and cheap compared to the States.”

Nabla says that the market rate salary for a junior ML engineer in Paris is around €60k today, and €80-90k for a senior ML engineer, while Silicon Valley rates are 2.5-3x that amount (data from recruitment platform Wellfound suggests the average salary for an engineer at OpenAI is $268k).

Polu says that France’s deep talent pool is partly due to the country’s engineering degrees having a strong mathematical focus, and partly down to a government scheme called the Cifre system. The scheme encourages companies to hire PhD students by contributing to their salary payments and is funded by France’s Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

“Basically you get PhD students for free,” says Polu. “There's been a lot of this applied thesis research happening inside the laboratories of DeepMind [owned by Google] and Meta AI, so you get a lot of these PhD students getting access to compute and being able to do actual research during their thesis.”

Hoovering up Big Tech talent
The fact that Paris is now home to three high-profile startups founded by alumni of Meta, OpenAI and Google represents the tip of the iceberg, Polu adds.....


June 18: "France makes high-profile push to be the A.I. hub of Europe setting up challenge to U.S., China"
June 11: "Report: France's Macron Seeks Seat at AI Table"

And back into the mists of time (well, the twenty-teens):

"French government officials advocate for a €500m investment in blockchain technology"
The country might be better served adding to the €1.5 billion that President Macron has pledged for research in Artificial Intelligence.
But I might be biased....
France: "For Emmanuel Macron, AI is more than a technological revolution. It is a political revolution of hope in an increasingly dystopian future"
"The Race is On for European AI Research"
Profit From The Global Riot Control Industry
"The Top-10 French Artificial Intelligence Startups"
The Creator of the iPod and the iPhone Seeks to Dethrone Tech’s Giants
It’s a crisp January morning in Paris’s 13th Arrondissement, and outside Station F, the former freight terminal that is the epicenter of France’s startup scene, twentysomethings climb out of cars hailed using iPhone apps.
Tony Fadell’s Next Act? Taking on Silicon Valley—From Paris

"‘The Disruptors’ — Unique insight into Europe’s 1,600 AI startups (Part 2)"
I was about to headline this link "The 1600 AI Startups you must know" to play off the "672 thought leaders you must follow on Twitter" or the "37,000 young people who want to take your job" articles but then realized our wary-yet-intrigued readers are not the type of people who respond well to someone saying they 'must' do anything.