AI boom makes European universities the new Harvard and Stanford for tech talent

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The dramatic new-age story of a college student who strikes gold on a billion-dollar idea shortly after donning her graduation gown has been a very American dream for much of the 21st century.

While Europe was left behind in the tech boom, the founders of Google, Meta, and Microsoft, who still reign supreme, were starting their journeys out of college dorm rooms at Harvard and Stanford.

However, several exciting European startups are proving they won’t be left behind in the AI ​​revolution, as more capital now flows through Paris than anywhere else on the continent.

French AI startups are the most funded among their European and Israeli peers, according to deal room data analyzed by venture capital fund Accel.

Companies like Mistral, Owkin, and Hugging Face have helped French AI startups raise $2.3 billion worth of capital to fuel their growing operations, more than their competitors in other European hubs like the UK and Germany. Is.

The data confirms that Parisian universities are the source of France’s new tech muscle.

Paris book smart

Arthur Mensch, the 31-year-old CEO of AI unicorn Mistral, is perhaps the most exciting face of France’s burgeoning tech sector, overseeing the giant language model group’s rapid rise to a $6 billion valuation.

But he started as most of his fellow French founders did—at a university in Paris.

About 57% of the French founders belonged to the École Polytechnique, a science and engineering-focused college located in the southern Paris suburb of Plisseau.

Mensch was one of them, studying applied mathematics and computer science at the university between 2011 and 2015.

According to École Polytechnique Provost, Dominique Rosen, only a handful of students who walk through the doors of his university on their first day know what they want to do for a career.

We really push our students out of their comfort zones and encourage them to try new subjects and explore new fields in science. Just as the field of engineering is vast, so are student profiles, interests and certain topics. There are also trends about,” Rawson said good fortune.

Nevertheless, we can say that successful founders often share certain traits, which we try to develop here at École Polytechnique: a good team spirit, strong problem-solving skills, and a lot of persistence and Mobility.

University students also access courses in the humanities and social sciences to broaden their perspectives, which seem increasingly important as AI affects all areas of life.

The Mistral cofounder is also a former employee of Google DeepMind. He’s in good company, with 11% of founders analyzed by Excel starting at Google.

The Sorbonne Université and the Pierre et Marie Curie campus at Télécom Paris are other major universities in the capital where today’s founders cut their teeth.

École Normale Supérieure, meanwhile, is where technicians grow up. Around 29% of French founders gained work experience at a university, surpassing US colleges Stanford and MIT and AI giants such as Google and Facebook. Mistral’s Mensch earned a PhD at the university, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, before moving to Google.

AI Capital’s campaign is underway across Europe. While French startups receive the most funding, the UK has the most creative AI startups out of 221 identified by Dealroom.

Universities become founding factories.

It wasn’t always the case that Europe’s universities were the birthplaces of the founders of multi-billion dollar companies. Businessmen are not fond of invoking cultural similarities which mean that innovation rarely starts behind university walls on the east side of the Atlantic.

But thanks to the AI ​​boom, things are changing.

Accel partner Harry Nellis has been investing in Europe’s tech ecosystem for two decades and says the landscape has “changed dramatically” in recent years.

He credits “founder factories,” in other words, startups creating new startups.

“At the very beginning, we will invest in entrepreneurs who will come out of large French companies, and they have not done this before.

As a result, they have to reinvent the wheel many times,” Nellis says.

Now, Europe’s mature ecosystem is becoming home to many of these founding factories, the most important of which are universities, with the establishment of META’s flagship AI Research (FAIR) center in Paris in 2015.

Because AI is based on deep tech and foundation models, Niels says it’s not surprising that 38% of Europe’s founders hold positions in academia.

“It’s really novel for an AI wave. It wasn’t the case of an e-commerce wave, for example, or an enterprise software wave; it’s something that’s really unique to AI,” he notes.

École Polytechnique’s Rossin agrees, the success of its grads providing a unique networking opportunity for current students.

However, there is a growing threat from France’s relatively chaotic political wing.

President Emmanuel Macron last week announced an election that could bring the country’s far left or far right to power.

The news sent France’s stock market tumbling, allowing London’s exchange to regain its crown as Europe’s largest.

This is troubling enough on its own without recalling Macron’s pro-business stance.

The president has been at the forefront of the “Choose France” investment campaign, which has allowed $16 billion in capital from tech titans like Microsoft and Amazon to flow into the country. A disruption in the French political landscape could change priorities.

However, Nels believes that even a historic shift in France’s ruling class cannot stop France’s hard-won AI supremacy.

I think the AI ​​wave will be so powerful on its own that politics won’t really matter.

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