Chinese start-ups eyeing Silicon Valley get a lifeline from US incubator Y Combinator

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2015, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2015, 4:34pm

Start-ups in China that hope to ape the success of hit sites like Airbnb and Reddit are now potentially eligible for funding and mentorship from some of Silicon Valley's top entrepreneurs courtesy of a prestigious US incubator.

The Y Combinator Fellowship programme will be available to fledgling companies around the world, it said on Monday, adding that about 20 early stage start-ups will each receive US$12,000 plus eight weeks of mentorship.

“We think there is still room for another ten-fold increase in the number of (good) start-ups,” said Y Combinator president Sam Altman in a blog post. 

“But even now, a lot of good founders never get started because they can’t scrape together a relatively small sum of money at the idea stage.”

Y Combinator already has a number of success stories to its name including accommodation rental portal Airbnb, file hosting service Dropbox and user-generated content portal Reddit.

In July 2014, it said the value of its portfolio had passed US$30 billion.

For its latest offering, the incubator is beating a new path by allowing some of the training and advice to be conducted remotely via video chat.

Altman described the fellowship as an experiment targeting teams in an embryonic stage of development.

It previously accepted two batches of start-ups a year with the proviso that they relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Y Combinator is based.

Under the new programme, those that cannot do that must possess “a strong internet connection that allows for clear, reliable video chats”, it said.

This could spell trouble for countries like China that are still battling relatively slow connection speeds, which can affect video call quality. 

China ranks 84th globally in terms of internet connection speed, according to a research report by cloud services provider Akamai. It offers an average speed of 3.7 Mbps, whereas chart-topping neighbour South Korea boasts 23.6 Mbps.

Eligible start-ups for Y Combinator’s new programme must not have received any prior investment, and the selected teams must be able to work on their prototype or idea full-time from mid-September to the middle of November.

Altman said if the fellowship programme proves successful, it will be expanded quickly “to enable as much innovation” as the company can handle.

“We’d love to fund 1,000 companies per year,” said Altman.