Silicon Valley is overflowing with venture capital firms and startup accelerators all looking to help launch the next big thing. Over the past decade, one of these has emerged as the preeminent startup accelerator of the Bay Area: Y Combinator. Founded in 2005 by Paul Graham and several other Viaweb cofounders, Y Combinator has made a name for itself as one of the most prestigious seed accelerators in Silicon Valley. YC invests using a slightly different strategy than most venture capitalists: Prospective startups apply to be part of a YC "Class," which is their name for the three month program that they put all of their investments through. For ninety days, the startup founders are required to move to Silicon Valley and work out of the YC coworking space. Their goal is to help these companies leave YC with better products than the ones they came in with. Mentorship, user interviews, and the legendary weekly dinners with prominent entrepreneurs are all perks of the program.
But Wait - All These YC Investments Look Like Software Companies
For the bulk of YC's existence, it has had a pretty serious focus on building software companies. Hardware startups at YC were the exception, not the rule. The past year, however, has indicated that things are starting to change. February of this year brought the announcement of YC's partnership with Bolt, a SV venture capital firm that specializes in funding hardware companies. In addition, YC has also been building up the amount of tangible support that they are capable of offering to hardware companies. Quick-turn manufacturing services, specialized test equipment for RF and compliance testing, and on-site PCB rework labs are just a few of the services that they've added to their repertoire.
What Kind of Hardware Companies Does YC Fund?
Senic - Summer 2013
Senic is a consumer hardware company specializing in revamping and improving the state of human/computer interaction. Their products are designed to make it easier for you to work well with the software you love, as well as give you novel interfaces into the ever-growing Internet of Things. Their first product, the Nuimo, is a controller designed to allow for more natural gestures and fine control. Using capacitive sensing, a milled aluminum ring that can be turned like a knob, and near-field infrared motion sensing, the Nuimo allows the user to map onto gestures things that were previously relegated to hotkeys or extra mouse buttons. They are accepting pre-orders for the Nuimo now, and are expected to ship at the beginning of 2016.
Airware - Winter 2013
Ever since Amazon unveiled video showing a remote controlled flyer delivering a package, drones have been a part of the public consciousness. Stepping into this space is Airware, a hardware startup out of San Francisco. Airware's mission is to allow enterprise customers to easily incorporate drones into their businesses. The lynchpin of their system is a hardware component known as the Airware Core. The Airware Core contains all of the hardware and software to easily control a drone's basic flight functions, as well as a number of advanced peripherals like multispectrum cameras, differential GPS modules, and real-time video links.
Ohm - Summer 2015
Batteries are a crucial part of many of our modern technologies, including cars. Lead-acid car batteries, however, haven't changed substantially since the late 1800s. Recent YC grads Ohm have set out to shake up the automotive space by leveraging a new emerging technology: supercapacitors. Their early prototypes claim impressive performance: substantially lighter than traditional batteries, consistent current output over temperature, and completely devoid of lead, acid, or other environmentally harmful materials. Currently in development, Ohm's products will provide game-changing performance in the battery space if they deliver on even half of the commitments that their early prototypes make.
Got An Idea?
While applications for Y Combinator's Winter 2016 class just closed last week, there will be another application date for their Summer 2016 class in spring of next year. Got an idea for a hardware product that you want to turn into reality? YC is well placed to help you do that, and the resources and mentorship their program offers are second to none.
- Check out YC President Sam Altman's post on why Y Combinator wants to fund more hardware startups.
- Ben Einstein, a partner at YC affiliate Bolt, wrote this great piece on why you'll likely need VC money to get your hardware startup off the ground.
- Interested in starting a hardware company, but don't have an idea? Not to worry! YC keeps a public list of spaces that they'd like to see more companies or applicants in.