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Meta Expands AI Startup Program in Europe

Meta is broadening its AI Startup Program across Europe, highlighting both the potential for innovation and the growing influence of American tech companies in the region’s artificial intelligence (AI) landscape.

The program, run in partnership with AI platform Hugging Face and cloud provider Scaleway, will select five startups to receive mentoring, tools, and computing power. While proponents tout the initiative’s potential to accelerate European AI development, the program also raises questions about data privacy and the long-term independence of the continent’s tech sector.

The program, which will run from September 2024 to February 2025, is based at Paris’ STATION F campus and is open to applicants across the European Union. Selected startups will work with Meta’s Fundamental Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) lab and gain access to open-source AI models like Llama.

Marco Pancini, head of EU affairs at Meta, framed the program as an extension of the company’s commitment to open innovation. “For more than a decade Meta has been a pioneer in open innovation in AI, and through our publicly available, state of the art AI models, we’ve seen firsthand the impact they can have on the broader community,” he said in a news release.

The program’s first cohort, launched in 2023, supported startups in robotics, retail technology, and cybersecurity. These included Pollen Robotics, which is using Meta’s Llama and Segment Anything models to develop an open-source robotics platform; Fringuant, which is developing body scan technology for fashion retailers; and Qevlar AI, which focuses on strengthening cybersecurity.

Clément Delangue, CEO of Hugging Face, cited the program in the news release as evidence of “Europe’s incredible AI talent and their enthusiasm for innovation driven by open and collaborative efforts.”

The program expansion comes as Europe seeks to establish itself as a responsible AI innovator while navigating complex relationships with Big Tech. The Meta-led program could accelerate European AI development, potentially leading to breakthroughs in various sectors. However, it also underscores the region’s reliance on American tech expertise and infrastructure.

Scaleway’s involvement adds a European element to the initiative. The company provides high-performance computing resources, allowing startups to keep data within EU borders. Damien Lucas, Scaleway’s CEO, emphasized in the news release that their “cluster of several thousand NVIDIA H100 GPUs is Europe’s largest, which means startups can achieve new levels of innovation without any data leaving the continent.”

The program has generated interest among European startups as the Aug. 16 application deadline approaches. In the news release, Roxanne Varza, director of STATION F, noted that Meta’s program “quickly became one of the most sought-after programs on campus.”

The selected participants will gain valuable resources and mentorship, but the long-term impact on Europe’s AI ecosystem remains to be seen. As Europe continues to navigate the complex landscape of AI innovation, programs like this will likely remain subject to enthusiasm and scrutiny.

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