News Title

Europe is currently at a pivotal point in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The continent is experiencing a surge in AI startups, with countries such as the UK, Germany and France leading the charge. However, a growing concern among tech companies and venture capitalists are the potential over-regulation of AI by the European Union, which could stifle innovation and competitiveness. 

A rich pool of talent 

Europe is emerging as a global leader in artificial intelligence, thanks to a concentration of talent and innovative policies, according to a report published by Sequoia Capital on the European tech talent landscape. The region is experiencing an AI boom, marked by cutting-edge research and swift innovation from leading technology companies. The presence of highly skilled engineers has been instrumental in this growth, although the talent is primarily concentrated in specific cities, and the hiring and policy landscapes are in a state of flux. Europe offers a conducive environment for AI companies aiming to expand and for those beginning to delve into the technology. The region is home to nearly 200,000 engineers with some AI experience, but the real catalysts of Europe's AI revolution are a core group of around 43,000 dedicated specialists. It is estimated in the above-mentioned report that this group represents a per-capita concentration of AI experts that is 30% higher than in the U.S. and nearly triple that of China. 


Universities across Europe are fostering this expertise, with the University of Edinburgh standing out as a particularly fertile training ground, having educated 1.3% of all Europe's AI experts. Other notable contributors include the Technical Universities of Madrid and Munich, the University of Amsterdam, and the global online learning platform Udacity. In terms of sourcing AI talent, London leads the way with approximately 20,000 engineers possessing some AI expertise, more than any other European city. However, Dublin is notable for its high concentration of AI talent, accounting for 17% of all software engineers in the area, which is more than double the average for European cities. Zurich also stands out with 14%, a figure driven by the esteemed Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems and Google's strategic decision in 2016 to establish its European machine-learning research group in the city. 

A flourishing AI startup scene 

Although the United States is widely recognised as the hub of AI innovation and North America hosts the majority of AI startups, Europe's potential in this field is noteworthy. Research conducted by Andre Retterath, a partner at Earlybird Venture Capital, reveals that the United States leads with the highest number of AI startups, totalling 1,752. In contrast, 33 European countries collectively house 1,157 AI companies. However, when it comes to the number of startups per million people, Estonia takes the lead with 10.52, nearly twice the figure for the US, which stands at 5.22. Estonia’s sixth unicorn, is Veriff, an AI-powered identity verification service company, founded and headquartered in Tallinn. 


A graph with numbers and a red line  Description automatically generated

Data Source: Data-driven VC 


The UK is at the forefront of Europe's AI startup scene, boasting 334 such companies. Europe’s third unicorn in 2023 is the London-based AI startup Synthesia, a synthetic video generation platform, which has recently raised $90 million in funding at Series C., another UK company, has raised $250 million at Series D this year.  


Germany and France are also significant players in the AI startup scene, hosting 167 and 135 AI startups respectively. The aforementioned study further reveals that French AI companies have attracted the highest funding in Europe. This aligns with previous reports indicating that France was the only country to see an increase in investments in 2022 compared to the previous year, witnessing a growth of 8%. Gleamer, a HealthTech AI startup based in Paris, is particularly noteworthy. The company is dedicated to developing AI software for radiologists. Another intriguing French company is Mistral AI, which is seen as a competitor to OpenAI. Mistral AI has successfully raised $113M in seed funding, which is reported to be the largest seed round ever in Europe. Bpifrance, a member of the Tech Tour Investors Club along with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt are among the shareholders in Mistral AI. A notable German AI company which raised $130 million in Series A is Kinexon, real-time location intelligence for the Internet of Things. 


Switzerland, despite being a small nation, demonstrates a remarkable presence in the field of AI. Home to 67 AI startups, the country benefits from strong academic institutions like ETH Zurich, which has produced numerous AI founders. 

The shadow of over-regulation 

While the AI startup scene in Europe is thriving, the potential impact of the EU's regulatory approach to AI casts a shadow over the ecosystem. The European Union's proposed Artificial Intelligence Act aims to establish a comprehensive legal framework for AI, focusing on safety, transparency, and ethics. The Act is designed to protect people's rights, particularly in the context of social security, and it classifies AI systems into different risk categories, each with a different level of regulation. 


However, the Act has also been criticised for potentially stifling innovation and competitiveness. Critics argue that the Act's draft rules may be overly restrictive, especially in the regulation of generative AI and foundation models. There are also concerns about the Act's assumption that an end-to-end "provider" of an AI system can be identified and held liable.  


Executives from 150 VC firms and tech companies, including industry giants like Siemens, Airbus and Renault have signed an open letter to the EU Commission warning against over-regulation of AI. 


The Act is expected to have global repercussions, with companies worldwide potentially subject to the regulations. While some see it as a pioneering step towards global AI regulation, others worry that it could set a precedent for overly restrictive legislation. They argue that the proposed laws might heavily regulate foundational AI models regardless of their use cases. This could lead to disproportionate compliance costs and liability risks, forcing companies and investors to leave the EU to take advantage of new AI innovations, thereby creating a critical productivity gap with the US. 


The letter calls for the formation of an EU regulatory body, comprised of industry experts, that can monitor how new laws are applied and take into account new technological advances. The signatories believe that Europe cannot afford to stay on the sidelines of the new AI era and must take action to ensure its competitiveness and technological sovereignty. 

Striking the right balance 

The European AI landscape presents a complex picture. While the continent is home to a growing number of AI startups, the threat of over-regulation looms large. Striking a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring responsible use of AI is a challenge that Europe must address as it seeks to secure its place in the global AI arena. 


Europe's AI landscape is at a critical juncture. On one hand, the continent is witnessing a surge in AI innovation, with startups sprouting across various countries and sectors. On the other hand, there is a growing concern about the potential impact of over-regulation on the AI ecosystem. 


To secure its place in the global AI arena, Europe must strike a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring the responsible use of AI. This will require a nuanced approach to regulation, one that promotes innovation while safeguarding the interests of society. It's a delicate balance, but one that Europe must strive to achieve as it navigates the path to a prosperous AI-driven future. 


Learn more about promising next-generation startups at our event Digital Frontiers & Trust