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France looks to protect AI startups

Artificial intelligenceThe French government is leading efforts to keep hold of the country’s artificial intelligence (AI) startups and deter them from moving overseas.

The efforts, detailed in the latest issue of the Fundtech report, have come in the wake of a pandemic that has impacted the cash flow of startups and also at a time when the funds industry is looking to hire more data scientists.

There are currently more than 450 AI-based startups registered in France, many of them in financial services and the asset management market in particular. One of them, SESAMm, was awarded the most innovative company of the year in the inaugural FundTech Awards for its combination of AI, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP).

In 2019, the public investment bank Bpifrance provided more than $350 million (€288 million) of funding specifically for AI startups. Efforts have increased since the Covid-19 crisis hit including a $4.3 billion support package for startups, designed to help them find seed capital and to avoid them being acquired by larger firms.

In June, as the impact of Covid-19 on cash-strapped startups became clearer, the government announced additional measures, including Bpifrance’s launch of an investment fund offering finance and liquidity for key technology companies.

In the Fundtech article, a number of French fintech firms expanded on the reasons that France has such a  high number of AI startups, the benefits of government support and the importance of talent retention.

According to Oliver Yates, chief executive of French crypto prime broker SheeldMarket: “The government knows we have a big talent pool in AI and it is trying to push these graduates to start companies in France, in order to see large companies appear here and ultimately keep local talent here.”

Meanwhile, the chief executive of AI startup Yseop, Emmanuel Walckenaer, added: “Talent retention is our main issue.”

Read the full article, from FundTech Winter 2020, here: How France hangs on to its tech talent

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