Y-Combinator offers students chance to share ideas

By Joe Longo

The panel — held at the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science — consisted of Kat Manalac, Y Combinator director of outreach, Kevin Hale, Y Combinator partner and cofounder of Wufoo and Roger Dickey, co-founder of Gigster and University alumnus.RB

Gary Durack, adjunct clinical assistant professor of bioengineering, moderated the panel, which was organized by the Technology Entrepreneur Center.

Speaking to about 200 entrepreneurial hopefuls, the members of the panel stressed the importance of clear vision.

“To have a strong sense of how to communicate that and how to sell that to both the public and (one’s) users is a really important thing now,” Manalac said.

She noted that clarity is what helps separate a company from its competitors in the current saturation of startups.

Founded in 2005, Y Combinator boasts that the only eight startup companies worth over $1 billion are alumni of their accelerator program. Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox are among the over 900 companies produced through Y Combinator.RB

The company recently launched an experimental fellowship program in which a $12,000 grant is given to a group with an idea or prototype. They hope to reach 1,000 companies a year through their fellowship.

Although Y Combinator has a strong history of producing successful companies, Manalac said the company wants to innovate even further.

“In the past couple of years, we have seen a lot of applications and founders come from all over the world,” she said.

Manalac said Y Combinator accepted applications from 18 different countries in the last accelerator program.

“I look forward to us funding a thousand companies with the fellowship or through Youth Combinator and having founders from all over the world joining us,” she said.

Y Combinator’s push to help more young entrepreneurs has already benefited University members.

After graduating from the University, Dickey’s company, Gigster — which builds tech products on demand — had its start at Y Combinator. Dickey is not the University’s only connection to Y Combinator though.

Taylor Fairbank, University alumnus, participated in the Spring 2015 accelerator with ReSchedule Med; the company was founded by Dr. Janet Jakola, head of internal medicine at the University.

Reschedule Med simplifies medical school scheduling for students.

While on campus, Y Combinator allowed students to pitch their ideas and prototypes to Hale and Manalac, which is how Fairbank began Reschedule Med’s involvement with the company.

“We would not have gotten into Y Combinator if we didn’t have the opportunities to meet some of the partners and talk to them,” Fairbank said.

Stephanie M. Larson, assistant director of student programs and marketing at TEC, said that she notices a difference in the way alumni and regular field professionals treat current students.

“(The alumni are) more open with their feedback and advice, because they had just been there,” she said. “You have a connection already.”

TEC hosts a Silicon Valley workshop each year where students visit startups and professionals in the field; Dickey is one of the workshop hosts.

“He opens up his home to us and we have a pitching event at his house,” Larson said. “He’s really good about his time and giving back.”

The TEC started its own accelerator program for student startups this past summer and plans to continue the program through the spring.

“There are 13 different startups in the accelerator, and it’s not just engineering,” said Ashley Hipsher, marketing director for the center. “They range from social work to engineering to applications.”

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