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Matouš Kostlivý: The Czech Republic has a huge potential in the field of artificial intelligence

line-arrow Matouš Kostlivý: The Czech Republic has a huge potential in the field of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is one of the areas in which the CzechInvest agency offers incubation to innovative startups. Where does the Czech Republic stand in AI? What do you mean by innovation in AI? Who can apply for support in the AI HUB of the Technology Incubation project? We asked Matúš Kostlivý, who was at the birth of AI HUB and managed it for more than a year.

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AI is almost everything – what exactly does CzechInvest include in the AI HUB?

You are right that AI is a technology that permeates all industries with its capabilities and application potential, has the potential to significantly change all industries and their subfields from manufacturing and logistics to education and administration, and will have a direct impact on all disciplines. From biotechnology to the chemical industry, autonomous vehicles and energy to the availability of government services or the daily functioning of the individual. Accessing information, working with data, and even creativity can be taken to the next level thanks to AI.

Does the Czech Republic have the ambition to become a strong global player in the field of AI?

If we want to be a competitive economy based on innovation and technology, the Czech Republic should not only have ambitions, but also take the necessary steps. Advances in artificial intelligence have been gathering pace in recent years, and 2023 was a breakthrough year in many ways.

The Czech Republic still has a long way to go. Support for startups, e.g. from Technology Incubation, is just one piece of the puzzle. The financial resources invested in AI development (science, research, ecosystem, startups, corporations, legislation, regulation) are often only a fraction of what is invested in this strategically important technology abroad.

What is currently the most interesting or most developed area in relation to the use of AI?

Last year, the whole world was conquered by innovations in the field of generative AI. This brought disruption in many areas and logically so was the most debated topic of natural language processing. It was no different for us. We have a lot to offer the world in this area and we are among the leaders. And thanks to personalities such as Tomas Mikolov, we have a distinctive world-renowned footprint in this field. But it doesn’t stop with him, Stanislav Fort has been one of the prominent figures on the world scene in the field of generative AI for the last few years, and we should also mention Professor Cernocki from Brno University of Technology. He not only does cutting-edge research, but also has good relationships with research teams of interesting companies, which he showed, for example, at last year’s AI Days, where the head of NLP research from Google came to his seminar from New York with his presentation. At the AI AWARDS, a team from the Department of Cybernetics of the Faculty of Computer Science of the University of Technology in Pilsen won the award for their NLP project DOAZARC.

Do you have information about support for AI development in other European countries?

In October last year, together with AI researchers, I attended several meetings with relevant institutions in France, where support for AI is being “pushed” by President Macron, and it has to be said that it doesn’t end with words. This includes, for example, a €500 million package to create five to ten AI clusters, €40 million to attract investment in generative AI, and two government grants of €50 million and €500 million to increase the capacity of supercomputers that are critical to AI computing.

The fact that they can target AI support so quickly and effectively in France shows that the state can also prioritise technology areas and can kick-start AI innovation in the country with the right support.

And where do they stand in the aforementioned support to the east of us?

Even to the east of us we see very ambitious projects and investments in AI, and so the question arises, why isn’t support in certain strategic areas better focused here? Nobody, I believe, doubts the importance of artificial intelligence today.

Is it really that bad here?

Not to sound negative, the potential in the Czech Republic is huge and a lot is happening. The MIT opened a public discussion on updating the National AI Strategy (NAIS) in 2023. The direction and discussions on its update suggest that there will be a workable strategic document with an action plan to build on.

At the end of last year, EDIHs were launched to help companies and institutions with the adoption of digital technologies and AI. AI Days, a successful event last year, will continue to help the AI ecosystem grow in 2024, with exciting AI initiatives and startups developing in the regions.

In the Czech Republic, we can rely on some personalities who, through their research, work and outreach, are blazing a Czech trail that attracts attention abroad and can withstand the highest standards. We have some top companies, scientists, startups, regional AI ecosystem players and so there is a lot to build on.

And one of the most important things that everyone is anxiously awaiting – the implementation of AI ACT. What’s going on?

It is a regulation that defines what should be under scrutiny in the EU and to what extent, and that will have implications for the development of AI in the Czech Republic. It offers a proactive approach, the creation of AI Sandboxes and similar tools that the state can initiate, which can help in the implementation of AI in the Czech Republic.

One of the goals of the AI HUB is to make the Czech Republic more attractive to foreign investors. Is it going well? Would some legislative regulation at the government level help the Czech Republic?

Presenting the Czech Republic abroad is one of the indispensable tasks of CzechInvest. Attracting foreign direct investment has been one of his privileged roles and I am glad to see that many foreign companies are developing AI in our territory, collaborating with universities in this area and actively supporting the local innovation ecosystem.

AI is about high value-added investments that have the potential to bring valuable knowledge, data and innovation to the economy in addition to finance. AI is a technology that is impacting all areas of the economy, with interesting AI research being conducted by companies in the automotive (Toyota, Valeo), telecommunications (AT&T, O2) and cybersecurity (GEN) sectors.

Investment incentives are still more suited to the manufacturing companies for which they were originally “built”. However, the amendment to the Investment Incentives Act will expand the possibility of supporting other investment projects that have a significant contribution to the economic and social development of the Czech Republic. It will also make the whole process easier and faster.

Where do we have imaginary AI centres?

In the Czech Republic, 80% of the things around AI happen in Brno and Prague, where most of the Czech AI ecosystem is located, including companies and startups. But if we are to play a more significant role on the world map, it is important that AI finds adequate support in Prague, because it does not work here yet.

So where should Prague companies look for support?

I am glad that thanks to Technology Incubation, such companies can be supported by CzechInvest, as well as e.g. Technology Agency of the Czech Republic, which is an excellent tool for establishing research collaboration in AI and motivates companies to collaborate with universities on projects.

Prague and Brno have already been mentioned. Where does Ostrava stand?

Ostrava has potential, because for companies in AI, other things besides talent are essential, and that is computing power. And this can be a great opportunity for Ostrava and its supercomputer IT4Innovations.

Similar supercomputers in France have seen increased demand for AI computing power in recent years. We’re not just talking about big companies here, most AI computing is outsourced to AI startups. Even multinational corporations do not have enough computing power, it is a large investment, which often “mothers do not allow their daughters” in the Czech Republic.

Here is an opportunity to engage with universities, researchers and students who often have easier access to computing power. This is where Ostrava and the whole Czech Republic should direct their support.

Who can apply for incubation in the AI HUB of the Technology Incubation project?

All companies that are actively developing AI technology solutions in their product. Ideally, AI technology startups can then take the step towards a globally successful product with the support of Technology Incubation.

Startups that apply to us differ in the degree of technological complexity, sophistication of the business model, and dependence on external suppliers and services. Applicants include both experienced AI researchers and budding budding entrepreneurs, as well as those who see that if they don’t actively develop AI in their existing product, they won’t be competitive.

How many startups have already been incubated in the AI HUB? How successful were the first and second incubation challenges?

In both the first and second Technology Incubation challenges, AI startups were the most represented group. We selected 11 AI startups in the first challenge, and 19 in the second. In 2024, we are incubating 30 AI startups, which is already a very nice number that we are happy about.

It is also worth mentioning that thanks to the fact that Technology Incubation systematically works with startups before they apply and even start a company, we have over 1,000 startup ideas or projects in the pre-incubation.

We were able to work with this, for example, at the AI Days, during which we organized the AI Startup Pitch Contest and gave pre-incubation startups the chance to present their project in a competition in front of a jury composed of representatives of the AI HUB CzechInvest and several VC funds.

Can you give 2-3 examples of successful incubation?

All startups so far z 1. and 2. calls are still using the incubation support of the Technology Incubation. Startups such as have attracted significant pre-seed investment to develop their product in addition to support from HUB. Startup made a name for itself by, among other things, helping to complement Expres FM presenter Barbara Haczi with her voice-generated twin. We are also pleased when presents an incubated solution at AI4Business during AI Days, or when Technology Incubation startups place at the AI Startup Pitch Contests in competition with quality AI projects. CCFLOW, Qeedia, Tolgee or Technologies for Freeride saw a noticeable improvement in the presentation of their “pits” in front of the jury.

How much money has already been invested in incubating promising startups?

In the first call, 11 startups received support in the amount of CZK 29 million, the second call was bigger and 19 startups could draw support of CZK 53 million for business start-up. In total, there are 30 AI projects in the Technology Incubation, which were supported with CZK 82,297,550.

Are you trying to make AI more popular or accessible to the general public?

CzechInvest together with, Brno. AI, MSIC (Ostrava) and BIC (Pilsen) organized AI DAYS, where the general public had a chance to look under the hood of AI. A continuation is planned for 2024. In the last year, there has been a proliferation of training and tutorials on working with generative AI, but if you want to understand AI better as a layman, I recommend the Elements of AI course, which is free and is being promoted by

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