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Regulating AI Startups @ #SummitAFS

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Last week, Allied For Startups (AFS) held their first annual #summitAFS open to the public, giving an insider view into the work that they do to as a pillar in the startup eco-system across five continents: bridging the gap between start-ups and governments by bringing all the relevant voices into one room.

Sat in Brussels alongside representatives from the European Parliament and European Commission alike at the Microsoft Center in Brussels, the event opened the conversation to players from the startup ecosystem across Europe. It was a space where founders and government-level leadership in the startup space could gather to exchange ideas and input on how the European Commission can better support startups in Europe.

This is the founding focus of AFS. With a presence in North and South America, Europe, and Africa, their mission is to serve as a platform that enriches and deepens the support system for startups on a Governmental level. From a keynote talk from the European Commission’s Rudy Aernoudt, it is clear that Europe realizes the deeper value of startups in an economy. As Tobias Henz, a panelist at the event, entrepreneur and Mckinsey partner puts it:

“To the public sector, the aspect of continual job creation and community building around solutions cannot be replaced. To the private sector, the agility and ideation available to startups is a breeding ground for priceless innovation that cannot be overlooked.  However, neither new jobs nor new ideas can flourish from an economy’s startup sector if the environment for these startups is not favorable”

The aim of AFS is to promote a dialogue which advocates for the right conditions needed in the startup eco-system and environment.

The hottest topics at the summit were split across two panel discussions. The conversation included questions like how do we maintain an environement that fosters innovation and supports startups, while in the face of funding pools drying up and a growing list of regulations that can easily limit or hamper the development of startups in the Deeptech and AI community. The selection of panelists was well balanced, with a variety of perspectives in each case, representing the true concerns and interests of the parties actually involved, from founders to parliament.

The first panel of the day

There was a collective agreement from that great companies cannot emerge from unstable environments. The topic of VC funding and finding availability came up, or rather: the lack thereof. While Europe’s strength in Intellectual Property rests, historically, in inventions and patents from the industrial revolution and onwards: its true that the USA has more funding to offer European startups, a reality that many EU startups are confronting in this post-covid investing climate.

Speculation says there is a greater aversion to risk from Europeans VC’s compared to American ones. Either way, the general consensus communicated by founders was that the most impressive funding options for European startups often don’t come from within Europe, but rather the USA, China, and even Japan. Caroline Louise Lilleor, founder of Sirène, a personal safety device that connects you to a community of Runners, shared how they only began receiving more serious funding once they partnered with a larger and more reputable organization. This was yet another example voiced on the day, illustrating the challenges in the European startup environment.

Second panel of the day

The second panel talk of the day addressed AI Regulations and how they will impact the startup environment. The panel comprised of four speakers in total. Two speakers with deep insight into the current state of AI regulatory affairs in the USA: Frances Burwell, an advisory expert on the Atlantic Council and Zachary Long, founder of conductor.ai, shared their insigh and opinion on the stae of AI regulatory affairs in the USA. Kai Zenner, Head of Office and Digital Policy Advisor in the European Parliament and Martin Ulbrich, a policy maker also from the Commission, brought equally rich and deep knowledge into the drafting and parliamentary discussions on the Europe’s AI Act.

A common voiced concern on the topic was how discrepancies in such regulatory acts, along with the fact that they are not universal, could hamper international business for startups with the AI-based solutions, especially in the startup space. Failure to meet a long list of information security and data compliance requirements could easily make it difficult for startups to close bigger clients and thereby start not only adding value, but creating higher value business for themselves to go from startup to scaleup. This is a valid concern that AFS insists the Commission takes into consideration.

Various thought leaders in the room shared their insight and opinion, resulting in an afternoon rich with fruitful discussion and detailed explanations. You can catch AFS at their HealthTech congress in January next year.

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