Key Stable Diffusion Researchers Leave Stability AI As Company Flounders – Forbes

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Key members of the artificial intelligence research team that developed Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image generation model that helped catalyze the AI boom, have resigned from British AI unicorn Stability AI, Forbes has learned.

The news was announced by CEO Emad Mostaque at an all-hands meeting last week, according to staff on the call and other sources familiar with the situation. Robin Rombach, who led the team, and fellow researchers Andreas Blattmann and Dominik Lorenz were three of the five authors who developed the core Stable Diffusion research while at a German university. They were hired afterwards by Stability. Last month, they helped publish a third edition of the Stable Diffusion model that for the first time combined the diffusion structure used in earlier versions with transformers used in OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Their departures are the latest blow to the once-hot AI company, which has seen a mass exodus of executives as its cash reserves dwindle and it struggles to raise additional funds.

Stability AI, Rombach and Blattmann did not respond to comment requests. Lorenz could not be reached for comment.

Much of Stability’s success can be traced directly to the Stable Diffusion research, which was originally an academic project at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Heidelberg University. Stability became involved seven months after the publication of the initial research paper when Mostaque offered the academics a tranche of his company’s computing resources to further develop the text-to-image model. Björn Ommer, the professor who supervised the research, told Forbes last year that he felt Stability misled the public on its contributions to Stable Diffusion when it launched in August 2022. (At the time, Stability spokesperson Motez Bishara said Mostaque is “quick to praise and attribute the work of collaborators.”)


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AI images generated by the model went viral and contributed to the generative AI craze, helping Mostaque secure more than $100 million from leading tech investment firms Coatue and Lightspeed within days of the launch. He used some of the funds to hire Ommer’s Ph.D. students Rombach, Blattmann and Lorenz. Their research has since kept Stability at the forefront of technical developments around generative AI imagery.

Now, Rombach and his team add their names to a rapidly growing list of high profile technical departures from Stability AI. Vice presidents Christian Cantrell (product), Scott Draves (engineering), Patrick Hebron (research and development) and Joe Penna (applied machine learning) all left in the last year. Other notable departures include research chief David Ha and LLM leads Stanislav Fort and his successor Louis Castricato. Stability’s VP of audio Ed Newton-Rex resigned in November in a protest against Stability and other AI startups’ treatment of copyrighted data.

Stability has also lost other senior executives including general counsel Adam Avrunin, chief people officer Ozden Onder, COO Ren Ito and vice president of communications Jordan Valdés, who all resigned in the last year, per their LinkedIns.

It’s a dramatic exodus that comes less than 18 months after Stability’s 2022 fundraise that valued the company at $1 billion. Now, the company is facing a cash crunch, with spending on wages and compute power far outstripping revenue, according to documents seen by Forbes. Bloomberg earlier reported that the company was spending $8 million a month. In November 2023, CEO Emad Mostaque tweeted that the company had generated $1.2 million in revenue in August, and would make $3 million in November. The tweet was later deleted.

Investment firm Coatue resigned from the board, while Lightspeed Venture Partners resigned its board observer seat Stability AI in October 2023, Bloomberg reported. Per the report, Coatue called for Mostaque to resign as CEO and pushed for a sale of the company. (A spokesperson told Bloomberg that “our CEO’s leadership and management has been instrumental to Stability’s success” and the company was not looking to sell.)

That month, Stability AI was thrown a lifeline when the startup raised $50 million in the form of a convertible note from semiconductor giant Intel, according to Bloomberg. Forbes had previously reported that Stability had repeatedly tried to raise $400 million from a string of major investors over the last year.

Stability has since sold off Clipdrop, a Paris-based image generating and editing platform, to AI startup Jasper in February, less than a year after it acquired it. The company, which positioned itself as a champion, and financial sponsor, of the open source AI community, also launched last December a paid tier starting from $20 per month for commercial users of its tools.

Forbes previously reported that Stability had struggled to pay wages and payroll taxes, and the lines between Mostaque, and his wife, and the company’s finances were blurred, with cloud compute provider Amazon Web Services at one point threatening to revoke access over unpaid bills. Stability denied that AWS warned it would limit access due to late payment.

Stability AI also faces a major expense defending itself from copyright infringement lawsuits brought by Getty Images and a group of artists in the U.S. and U.K., who claim that it scrapped art and stock photos to train its models. (Stability is fighting the cases, which are currently ongoing.)

Rival AI image generation company Midjourney earlier this month blamed a 24-hour outage on “botnet-like activity” it claims stemmed from two users accounts linked with Stability AI employees. Midjourney said it was banning all Stability AI employees, and anyone using “aggressive automation” to scrape prompts, from the service.

Mostaque tweeted that the incident was not intentional and said in a statement to Ars Technica that this was a personal project of an employee.

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