What Lis­ten­ing To 124 Startup Pitches In Two Days Taught Me About What’s Next In Tech


Twice a year, a new co­hort of star­tups takes the stage at Y Com­bi­na­tor for Demo Day. The pre­sen­ta­tions fol­low the same ca­dence: a two-minute pitch on why their startup will be the next bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness.

It’s not a total fan­tasy that some of the com­pa­nies could end up as the next Face­book or Ama­zon—or at least as the next Airbnb, Drop­box and Twitch. Those three multi-bil­lion-dol­lar star­tups all got schooled at Y Com­bi­na­tor, Sil­i­con Val­ley’s premier startup ac­cel­er­a­tor.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to tell which com­pany will be the next bil­lion-dol­lar startup from the two-minute rapid fire pitches alone, but after sit­ting in the au­di­ence for two days as 124 com­pa­nies pitched their vi­sion of the fu­ture, here’s what I did learn about what’s next in the tech startup world.

Every com­pany will use ma­chine learn­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to

make it smarter.

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is the new mo­bile and will be a part of every startup go­ing for­ward. Right now though, AI is a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage and chang­ing how busi­nesses work. For ex­am­ple, Stan­dard Cog­ni­tion wants to use AI to help gro­cery stores catch up to Ama­zon’s vi­sion of the gro­cery store of the fu­ture. Its soft­ware can iden­tify what a shop­per is hold­ing in their hand—down to dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween a bag of Chee­tos vs. a bag of Dori­tos—and au­to­mat­i­cally charge them from what they take off the shelves. Other com­pa­nies are try­ing to ap­ply AI to every­thing from ranking ap­pli­cants by cul­ture fit to clas­si­fy­ing skin con­di­tions.

Ro­bots are com­ing for your jobs.

The in­crease in au­to­ma­tion means a lot of repet­i­tive work will be taken over by ma­chines or al­go­rithms. Mod­u­lar Science al­ready has ro­bots out in the field in Pe­taluma, Calif., pick­ing veg­eta­bles. An au­ton­o­mous fly­ing plane from Pyka Ro­bot­ics is leav­ing soon for New Zealand to do crop dust­ing over farms.

Tech isn’t just for the west­ern world - and de­vel­op­ing mar­kets aren’t just wait­ing for U.S. busi­nesses to expand.

Take He­lium Health, for ex­am­ple. The startup wants to bring digital health-records to Africa, start­ing at the high-end pri­vate prac­tices with doc­tors trained in the West and com­fort­able with the systems, be­fore mak­ing it com­mon­place in African hospitals. Other star­tups are try­ing to take suc­cess­ful busi­ness mod­els like on­de­mand food de­liv­ery and ap­ply it in other coun­tries with a lo­cal twist.

Hir­ing is still a headache.

No mat­ter the job type or the lo­ca­tion, star­tups are try­ing to make it eas­ier. For ex­am­ple, Fast­pad is an ap­pli­cant track­ing sys­tem tai­lored for In­dia. Other com­pa­nies, like Gus­tav

and 10by10, want to change how busi­nesses, staffing agen­cies and po­ten­tial can­di­dates find each other. Soft­ware is about to eat medicine.

The doc­tor visit and the trip to the lab are on their path to ex­tinc­tion—at least in a lot of sit­u­a­tions. Star­tups are try­ing every­thing from early dis­ease de­tec­tion to the use al­go­rithms to bet­ter pre­dict drug in­ter­ac­tions. Caelum Health wants to en­tirely re­place pre­scrip­tion drugs that treat ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome with an app that in­stead helps pa­tients change their be­hav­ior.

In­stead of con­nect­ing the world, so­cial apps now want to con­nect you to where you are now.

Face­book may be great at help­ing you keep in touch with far-flung friends and fam­ily, but the next gen­er­a­tion of so­cial apps all seem to be about con­nect­ing you to what’s hap­pen­ing around you. Wild­fire for in­stance sends out push no­ti­fi­ca­tions for break­ing news hap­pen­ing nearby whereas Goose­bump sends you no­ti­fi­ca­tions in Face­book Mes­sen­ger when there’s a live mu­sic event near you. To add to the FOMO, or fear of miss­ing out, FriendSpot lets you mes­sage friends when you’re go­ing out, pres­sur­ing them to join you.

While those might be in­dus­try-wide trends, the 124 startup pitches high­lighted one other ma­jor shift: the idea of who a startup founder is and what they look like is chang­ing. While the Mark Zucker­berg-es­que, Ivy-ed­u­cated stereo­type per­sists, Y Com­bi­na­tor is push­ing harder to in­clude a more di­verse set of en­trepreneurs. Of the 124 com­pa­nies, 21% had a fe­male founder. Founders from 16 dif­fer­ent over­seas coun­tries made up 28% of the class.

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