Daily Management Review

The European AI Talent Rivalry Heats Up


The European AI Talent Rivalry Heats Up
The competition for technical talent in Europe is intensifying due to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) startups, forcing corporations such as Google DeepMind to make a costly decision between losing out on top personnel in the region or paying a premium.
Investors have been flooding potential AI businesses with cash due to the explosive success of OpenAI's ChatGPT. These investors are anxious to find the next overnight sensation.
Riding the tide of investment, a number of foreign AI businesses, such as Anthropic and OpenAI based in the United States and Canada and Cohere based in Canada, built operations in Europe last year, adding to the pressure on IT companies that are already attempting to draw and keep talent in the region.
Founded in 2010 and purchased by Google in 2014, London-based DeepMind gained notoriety for using artificial intelligence in everything from structural biology to board games.
The company is currently dealing with a plethora of well-funded competitors entering its market, and an increasing number of its staff members are leaving to start their own businesses.
Co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, who departed to start California-based Inflection AI with LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman, and research scientist Arthur Mensch, who is currently CEO of Mistral AI, are two recent high-profile departures. In the brief time that they have been in operation, both companies have garnered valuations in the multibillion dollar range.
A source familiar with the situation claims that earlier this year, DeepMind granted a small number of senior researchers access to restricted stock worth millions of dollars in an apparent attempt to deter employees from leaving the company or launching their own ventures.
"It's a competitive space for sure," a DeepMind spokesperson told Reuters, adding that the company "continues to do well in attracting and nurturing talent".
Over the past year, C-suite employees at British AI startups have seen a "exponential increase" in pay, according to executive recruitment agency Avery Fairbank.
"The competition for AI talent will intensify even more with the entry of foreign giants like Anthropic and Cohere into London's market," stated Charlie Fairbank, managing director of the company.
According to him, executives receiving base salaries of about 350,000 pounds have seen their pay packages increase from 50,000 to 100,000 pounds.
Chief scientist Phil Blunsom joined Cohere in 2022 after serving as principal researcher at DeepMind for seven years. Cohere creates in-house chatbots and other solutions for its clients.
In January, Sebastian Ruder left DeepMind to join Cohere as well.
"It's rare to find a company building a massive business from scratch, with many of the leading minds in the industry," he told Reuters. "When that kind of chance comes along, you take it."
There were no comments available about his salary from Ruder.  
General partner at OpenOcean, a venture financing firm, Ekaterina Almasque, declared that DeepMind was no longer the "distant leader in the field".
"All these companies are competing for the same pool of talent, and with the AI skills shortage, that's increasingly more of a pond than an ocean."
Suleyman just started hiring technical personnel for Inflection AI who are based in London, and Mensch's Mistral has quickly gained momentum as one of the continent's most talked-about firms after securing $415 million in venture capital in December.
There were no comments on the issue from Mistral and Inflection.
Last year, OpenAI established its first overseas office in London. It moved quickly to open a second location in Dublin, calling them "just the first steps" towards future international expansion, according to Diane Yoon, vice president of people at the firm.
CEO Aidan Gomez of Cohere said that the company is now dividing his time between his hometown of Toronto and London, where it intends to grow its workforce to 50 employees. Cohere opened its UK office last year.
"We go where the talent is, and there's a lot in London and across Europe," Gomez stated.
Due to the talent war, employees have more power to demand things from potential employers.
ElevenLabs, an AI audio company located in London, offers substantial pay, stock options, and entirely remote work to new hires. However, the majority of opportunities that are listed require candidates to be stationed in Europe.
Following its successful $80 million fundraising from venture capital firms such as a16z and Sequoia, the company informed Reuters that it would shortly quadruple its entire workforce to 100 employees.
In February, the Paris-based business Bioptimus, which was also created by former employees of DeepMind, raised $35 million.
Early investor Thomas Clozel stated that startups were trying to entice talent from Big Tech companies like Google by giving them greater control over the course of the business.
"Google is one of the best at what it does and produces some of the best talent," he said. "At a smaller startup, you have a unique opportunity to remain true to the work you are passionate about and have a stake in the success of the company."