French AI startup H raises $220M seed round

It’s not often that you hear about a seed round above $10 million. H, a startup based in Paris and previously known as Holistic AI, has announced a $220 million seed round just a few months after the company’s inception.

It has managed to raise so much money so quickly because it’s an AI startup working on new models with an impressive founding team. Charles Kantor, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, was a university researcher at Stanford.

The four other co-founders all previously worked for DeepMind, the AI company owned by Google: Karl Tuyls was a research director at DeepMind, where he worked on game theory and multi-agent research. Laurent Sifre was a principal scientist who contributed to many of DeepMind’s flagship projects, such as AlphaGo, AlphaFold and AlphaStar. More recently, he also worked on Google’s Gemini and Gemma AI models. Daan Wierstra, who will become H's chief scientist, was a founding member at DeepMind. And, finally, Julien Perolat worked on game theory and multi-agent research at DeepMind.

As you may have guessed, H is going to work on AI agents: automated systems that can perform tasks that are traditionally performed by human workers. The company’s minimalistic site states that H is working on “frontier action models to boost the productivity of workers.”

Investors in the startup include a long list of billionaires (or their family offices); some well-known VC funds; and a few strategic backers. On the billionaire list you’ll find notable names like Eric Schmidt, Xavier Niel, Yuri Milner, Bernard Arnault (via Aglaé Ventures) and Motier Ventures (the family office of the owners of the Galeries Lafayette Group).

On the VC list, investors include Accel, Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund, Creandum, Elaia Partners, Eurazeo, FirstMark Capital and Visionaries Club.

Finally, there are a handful of industrial investors, including Amazon and Samsung. Interestingly, UiPath is also an investor in H. The European robotic process automation unicorn will help H when it comes to commercialization and partnerships.

According to an earlier Bloomberg report, investors are splitting their commitments into equity and convertible debt. Around 40% of the seed financing is a traditional equity investment, meaning H has sold a portion of its shares in exchange for money.

The rest will be converted to equity at a later stage, when H raises another round of funding. The investors’ stakes for this debt part will be based on the future valuation of the company.

The H founding team has already put together a group of 25 engineers and scientists, which indicates the startup plans to move quickly. Comparatively, Mistral AI, another well-funded AI company, has been much more conservative when it comes to hiring.

H also needs to raise a lot of money to pay for compute power and datasets. The company says it wants to reach full artificial general intelligence (AGI), a concept where AI is capable across a wide range of tasks at a level that's comparable with human intelligence. But let’s be honest, that’s a marketing promise since nobody knows if or when AGI will happen.

As TechCrunch reported last year, Paris has become a magnet for AI startups and talent. Mistral AI is arguably the biggest name in town, but there are dozens of tech founders who have decided to focus on artificial intelligence and set up shop in the French capital.

In addition to access to funding, tech giants -- including the likes of Facebook and Google -- have historically set up AI research labs in Paris and London. While the biggest AI startups, such as OpenAI and Anthropic, are based in San Francisco, AI company-building ecosystems are also emerging in Paris and London.