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This little-known NVIDIA programme is backing 4,500 European startups

A sign for a Nvidia building is shown in Santa Clara, Calif., May 31, 2023
A sign for a Nvidia building is shown in Santa Clara, Calif., May 31, 2023 Copyright Jeff Chiu/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Jeff Chiu/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Anna Desmarais
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NVIDIA’s Inception programme supports 4,500 European startups working on artificial intelligence (AI).

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Stijn Verrept knew in 2018 that his company needed to find an unconventional solution if they were going to develop a quality smart lamp to detect the motion of an older person’s fall to notify caregivers. 

Verrept, the founder of Belgian startup Nobi, tried manually calculating the distance a person could fall, mounting cameras to the ceiling or the lamps themselves with no luck. The tech is meant to allow the elderly to stay in their homes.

They decided to pivot to artificial intelligence (AI), with the company choosing NVIDIA microchips for their high processing power and the ability to quickly retrain the lamps. 

By 2020, Nobi and its smart lamps joined NVIDIA’s Inception programme "to help startups evolve faster through cutting-edge technology,” according to the company’s website

Nobi redeemed $100,000 (€92,000) worth of NVIDIA credits to store their AI training on the company’s cloud, where it still stays today. 

“It helped a lot because every dollar that you don’t have to spend on cloud cost, you can put into development, and any tech startup is development-heavy,” Verrept told Euronews Next. 

Nobi is one of 4,500 companies in Europe and over 17,000 around the world that are supported by the programme, according to a spokesperson from NVIDIA. 

Through Inception, NVIDIA offers a headstart to select AI startups on the continent with “preferred pricing” on their graphics cards, courses and exclusive events, according to their website. 

It’s one of three investment arms that the world’s second-most profitable company is using to build what they call a global AI ecosystem.

NVIDIA ‘brings the ingredients’ to AI startups

Verrept estimates that the programme gave his company Nobi something of an 18-month head start on building their prototype. 

At Moon Surgical, a French-American medical technology startup, Inception allowed them to access NVIDIA technology to build a surgical robotics system designed to help surgeons with precision and control in minimally invasive procedures. 

Jeffery Alvarez, Moon Surgical’s chief operating officer, said they gained three to six months to “refine the algorithms and make the hardware more reliable”. 

Startups enrolled with NVIDIA can access training credits for courses on programming and preferred pricing on the company's products.

By 2023, two years after Moon Surgical joined Inception, NVIDIA became a formal investor in Moon Surgical, giving the company $55 million (€51.19 million) in a funding round

“We create a full ecosystem in order to be able to address and support these enterprises that want to make the move to [Generative] AI."
Serge Palaric, vice president of Europe, Middle East and Africa at NVIDIA

Mohamed (Sid) Siddeek, head of NVIDIA's venture capitalist arm Nventures, is now a board observer at the company. 

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Serge Palaric, vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at NVIDIA, previously told Euronews Next the Inception programme is part of the company’s broader “ecosystem” to work with “every AI company”. 

“We create a full ecosystem in order to be able to address and support these enterprises that want to make the move to [generative] AI,” Palaric said. 

The goal of the programme, Palaric continued, is to “bring the ingredients” to AI companies so they can develop their own devices but they “are not developing the application for them”. 

NVIDIA has separately invested in France’s Mistral AI and Hugging Face along with the UK’s Synthesia.

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Is NVIDIA’s investment in these startups anticompetitive?

Anne-Christine Witt, professor of antitrust law at EDHEC Business School in Lille, said antitrust lawyers would need to prove three things to make a case against NVIDIA or any startup programme supported by Big Tech companies.

These include showing proof of a having significant market share, misusing that share to dissuade any competition, or abusing their dominance to acquire smaller companies. 

“It would be very hard to say that [the Inception programme promotes] anti-competitive conduct; as long as the startups are free to switch to another technology."
Anne-Christine Witt, professor of antitrust law at EDHEC Business School in Lille

“It would be very hard to say that [the Inception programme promotes] anti-competitive conduct; as long as the startups are free to switch to another technology,” Dewitt said. 

NVIDIA’s market share is estimated at anywhere between 70 to 95 per cent, according to media reports, but Dewitt says having a large market share is not illegal. 

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There are no conditions keeping Nobi with NVIDIA products or in its Inception programme, according to founder Stijn Verrept. Nobi can still pivot to a cheaper and more efficient model if it exists, he said. 

It's hard for antitrust professionals to know whether there are any breaches of merger control or other factors because of a lack of transparency from tech companies, Dewitt explained. 

“This is not information that is in contracts that we can make available to competition agencies,” Dewitt continued. “A lot of this is in the blackbox, it’s all kept very secret”.

The European Commission has the Digital Markets Act, a new law that could assist with investigating breaches of antitrust laws by artificial intelligence companies “on a case-by-case basis,” a spokesperson told Euronews Next. 

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The Commission refused to comment about NVIDIA specifically, which reportedly faces possible antitrust charges in France, but did say they are “looking into some of the agreements that have been conducted … between large digital market players and generative AI developers and providers,” and how they are impacting market dynamics.

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