As excitement around generative AI continues to sweep across the world of tech and startups, it can be difficult to know who to listen to, as just about everyone seems to be an expert on the topic now.
So who are the European founders, experts and operators worth knowing in this young and slightly mind-blowing field, which promises to change the way we work and the content we consume?
The following list of 20 names is far from comprehensive, but we’ve tried to focus on the founders leading big companies, and those with strong technical backgrounds in AI.
We’re also spotlighting experts and operators with solid CVs in machine learning, as well as those bringing different skills into the world of generative AI. And we’ve included a few names from the Stability AI stable who are working on products outside of Stable Diffusion (the text-to-image tool that competes with OpenAI’s DALL-E), to give you an idea of what could be coming next from the OpenAI competitor.
Here are 20 people to know in generative AI in Europe.
Generative AI founders
Karim Beguir and Zohra Slim — cofounders at InstaDeep
Slim and Beguir, cofounders of AI system developer InstaDeep, are the architects one of Europe’s highest profile generative AI exits. They sold their company to BioNTech — of Covid vaccine fame — for £562m in January.
InstaDeep is now headquartered in London, but Slim and Beguir launched the company in Tunis, Tunisia in 2014. Beguir, InstaDeep’s CEO, is also a machine learning development expert for Google, while chief web officer Slim also serves as co-lead for Tunisia-based Google Developer Group Carthage.
William Tunstall-Pedoe — UnlikelyAI
Tunstall-Pedoe founded UnlikelyAI in 2018, and raised a $20m seed round in September 2022. It’s an impressive feat, given that the startup’s products are largely still in stealth, but the investor interest is likely to do with the founder’s pedigree.
Tunstall-Pedoe previously founded True Knowledge (now Evi), a company that was later acquired by Amazon, and is credited with developing many of the key technologies around language processing that went into Alexa.
Emad Mostaque — Stability AI
As cofounder and CEO of Stability AI, Mostaque is one of the best known names in Europe’s generative AI sector. He’s building a European, open-source competitor to Silicon Valley-based OpenAI, and doesn’t shy away from criticising his competitor across the pond.
Mostaque spent his early career working at hedge funds, and also founded an anti-misinformation charity in 2015 called Ananas Foundation, which was run on blockchain. He’ll be hoping that the investor hype around generative AI doesn’t wear off as quickly as it did for Web3.
Jonas Andrulis — Aleph Alpha
Andrulis founded Aleph Alpha with Samuel Weinbach in 2019. Like Stability AI, Aleph says it’s building an open source European answer to OpenAI, but with an eye on building “artificial general intelligence” — the holy grail of AI that can do anything.
Andrulis previously founded machine learning and computer vision startup Pallas Ludens, before becoming a senior AI research engineer at Apple.
Joel Hellermark — Sana Labs
Sana Labs has been running since 2016 and uses generative AI to allow businesses to easily create training content and knowledge summaries from internal company information. The Stockholm-based company raised $34m in December, and is already working with big clients like Merck, Kry and Klarna.
Anca Stefan — Creative Fabrica
Stefan serves as CTO at Amsterdam-based Creative Fabrica, which she launched with cofounder Roemie Hillenaar in 2016. The company raised $61m in January 2022 to scale its creators’ marketplace, which allows users to generate visual assets out of text-based prompts.
She started her career as a programmer at IBM Romania, before becoming CTO at Amsterdam-based furniture marketplace Crowdy House and later a developer at fashion marketplace Otrium.
Nikola Mrkšić — PolyAI
Mrkšić cofounded PolyAI in 2017 — a startup that has used generative AI to help clients like Starling, Metro Bank and Greene King automate customer service operations. The company has raised $68.4m to date.
He’s got a PhD in machine learning and natural language processing from Cambridge University, and worked for two years as a researcher on Apple’s Siri team.
Raza Habib — Humanloop
Habib is CEO and cofounder of AI developer toolkit Humanloop, which raised a $2.6m seed round in July 2022. He says he wants his company to help “democratise access to AI” by giving companies without deep machine learning experience the ability to build AI-powered tools.
He’s got a PhD in machine learning from University College London, and worked as an AI research intern for Google in Mountain View.
Connor Leahy — Conjecture
Leahy is cofounder and CEO of Conjecture, a London-based company working on AI research and products that are more transparent than the “black boxes” found in products like OpenAI’s GPT-3.
Before Conjecture, Leahy worked at Aleph Alpha as a machine learning engineer and researcher. He’s also a founder of eleuther.ai — an open source AI research community.
Experts and operators
Danilo Jimenez Rezende — DeepMind
Based in London, Rezende is now a director at DeepMind, having started there as a consultant in 2012. Of all the clever people from DeepMind we could’ve included in this list, we’ve chosen him due to his lead role in developing generative models for the organisation.
He’s got a PhD in computational neuroscience from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and writes a blog on all things AI.
Niccolo Zanichelli — OpenBioML
Zanichelli is a researcher at OpenBioML, the arm of Stability AI that’s working on DNA sequencing and computational biochemistry.
In a recent interview with the Science Times, he said that he and the OpenBioML team are working on an open source equivalent of Google’s AlphaFold protein structure database, which could be used to accelerate the discovery of new drugs.
Lourdes Agapito — Synthesia and University College London
Agapito could easily have featured in the first half of this list, as one of the cofounders of video creation platform Synthesia, but she’s also still working as a professor of computer vision at University College London.
She’s a co-director at the university’s UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Foundational AI, an initiative to help AI scientists enter the world of entrepreneurship and start companies. Previously she was a reader (the rank above senior lecturer) at Queen Mary University.
Patrick Esser — RunwayML
Based in Heidelberg, Esser is a research scientist for AI content generation startup RunwayML, where he specialises in “the generative side of computer vision.”
He also collaborated on the development of Stable Diffusion and has contributed to more than 20 research papers on generative AI.
Matthias Plappert — GitHub
Based in Berlin, Plappert is a senior machine learning researcher at GitHub. Previously he worked at OpenAI where he helped develop Codex, which provided the technical basis for the coding assistant tool Copilot.
Another of Plappert’s claims to fame is his work for OpenAI on building a robotic humanoid hand that could solve a Rubix cube, which made it onto the front page of the New York Times.
Richard Vencu — LAION
Richard Vencu is one of the cofounders of German non-profit AI research institute LAION — which provided the dataset for Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion.
He’s also the lead cloud architect at Stability AI, and previously served as CTO at global software firm Ness Digital Engineering.
Avital Oliver — Google
Based in Amsterdam, Oliver is a senior research engineer at Google Brain, part of its AI division that combines machine learning research with large-scale computing.
He’s a former research intern at OpenAI and tweets regularly on generative models.
Ed Newton-Rex — Harmonai
Newton-Rex is VP of product at Harmonai, the music division of Stability AI. He’s also one of the rare generative AI builders in Europe with an exit under his belt, having sold his generative music startup Jukedeck to ByteDance (the owner of TikTok) in 2019.
He then went on to work as a product director in TikTok’s “AI Lab”, based in London. He might not have originally trained in machine learning as a student, but Newton-Rex has now published two academic papers on the topic. And he's no slouch on music either, with a degree from Cambridge University he's now an advisor to the iconic Abbey Road Studios.
Nina Schick — author
Schick might not be a data scientist, but she does have a masters degree in philosophy from Cambridge University and is the author of the non-fiction book “Deepfakes and the Infocalypse”, as well as the substack “The Era of Generative AI”.
Schick serves as an advisor to generative AI startups Synthesia and Truepic, and has previously worked in international relations for organisations like Rasmussen and Open Europe.
Henry Ajder — author
Like Schick, Ajder is a Cambridge philosophy graduate and specialised in ethics and AI. He’s an expert in synthetic media and presented the BBC documentary series “The Future Will Be Synthesised.”
He’s also on the European advisory council for Meta’s Reality Labs and previously worked at Sensity, a company working on tech to detect deepfakes.