French AI scene toasts $200M for Holistic as Sonio sale shows risks of success

As overseas interest grows, Europe may struggle to keep artificial intelligence leaders in the continent

French AI scene toasts $200M for Holistic as Sonio sale shows risks of success Image by: Tara Winstead

France’s budding AI scene has received another boost from a big investment in the startup Holistic. Amid the celebrations, however, the sale of medtech firm Sonio has added a warning about the dangers of success.

The Holistic funding was revealed by Bloomberg on Tuesday. The Paris-based firm has reportedly raised $200mn (€186mn) in a round that values the company at $370mn (€344mn).

Holistic has big plans for the cash. According to Bloomberg, the startup wants to build “multi-agent” models that will enable interactions between different AI systems and “genuine AGI capabilities.”

Holistic also boasts an eye-catching leadership team. It includes four ex-DeepMind engineers and Charles Kantor, a former venture resident at Stanford University’s business school who is the startup’s CEO. One of the founders, Laurent Sifre, was a co-inventor of the seminal DeepMind system that mastered the ancient Chinese game of Go.

The mega-round revealed on Tuesday adds another cash injection to France’s rising AI sector. Led by OpenAI rival Mistral, the country has become a European hotbed for artificial intelligence.

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The nation also recently added a vital dose of compute power to the mix. Last month, Paris-based startup FlexAI emerged from stealth with a €28.5mn war chest and a plan to rearchitect AI infrastructure.

French artificial intelligence is also attracting growing interest from abroad. A day after the Holistic news broke, South Korea’s Samsung Medison announced a 126.5bn won (€86mn) acquisition of Paris startup Sonio, which develops AI-based fetal ultrasound software.

The deal is further evidence that French AI is attracting global admiration. But that admiration could impede domestic growth.

French AI takes on the world

Although Samsung Medison says Sonio will remain an independent company headquartered in France, overseas investors frequently upset the home nations of their acquisitions.

The UK provides a striking example of the consequences. The sales of DeepMind to Google, chip designerArm to Japan’s SoftBank, and Darktrace to a US private equity firm have taken a toll on the British tech sector and stock market.

France will hope its emerging AI leaders can avoid a similar fate. If the sector is to truly boom, the country will need to prove that Europe can not only create top startups, but also scale them.

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