The UK may be Europe’s top country for AI by number of startups, but by a different measure, one of the continent's smallest nations takes the top spot.
Startup-friendly Estonia boasts the most AI startups per million people — 10 — with companies like the Tiger Global-backed unicorn Veriff leading the charge, according to new research by the VC firm Earlybird.
Switzerland also punches above its weight when accounting for population. It boasts 67 AI startups including the smart data capture unicorn Scandit. The alpine nation has benefited from having one of Europe’s spinout capitals in ETH Zurich, which counts nine AI founders as alumni.
French AI companies are some of the best-funded in Europe
The UK is home to 334 startups in the AI space, Earlybird’s research showed. Across the Channel, Germany leads with 167 AI startups followed by France’s 135.
Some of the best-funded AI startups in Europe include the Paris-based enterprise platform Dataiku. Bristol-based Graphcore, Belgian company Collibra and Paris-based Shift Technology have all raised in excess of $500m.
London has in its armoury several unicorns in AI — the recently promoted Synthesia, the AI-powered software development firm Builder AI, insurtech Tractable, generative AI startup Stability AI and financial analytics startup Quantexa.
For the research, AI startups include companies developing and using large language models and those deploying AI in use cases, according to Andre Retterath, partner at Earlybird, who led the research.
TUM leads for AI founders
Technical University Munich leads in Europe with 35 AI founders, followed by the usual suspects of Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London.
That, however, pales in comparison to what the US universities are producing.
California-based universities — Stanford, the University of California network and USC — have produced 175 AI founders, only marginally less than the top 10 European universities put together.
The US is ahead of Europe by some distance in overall numbers too, with 1,752 startups in the AI space compared with 1,157 in 33 European countries for which Earlybird has data.
Retterath believes that the US ecosystem provides for a better transition of novel research to commercial use. “Europe does have very strong research. However, the collaboration between universities and companies is not as strong as in the US,” he tells Sifted.
Another factor that works better for startups more generally and specifically in the deeptech sectors, according to Retterath, is the existence of one clear epicentre of activity: Silicon Valley. “Top researchers from Europe also want to go there as there is close collaboration between the universities, big tech and startups,” he says.