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Start-ups, robotics research drive YC founder

Posted: 03 Nov 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:start-up? hardware? Y Combinator? robots?

These days Y Combinator co-founder Trevor Blackwell is head-down, trying to coach, but he still devotes a little time to his passion for robotics. In 2005, Blackwell was one of four founders of Y Combinator, a start-up incubator that helped ignite a trend towards high-speed innovation centres. Each year YC gives seed funds to a few dozen start-ups and coaches them along to their first prototype demos.

To date, Y Combinator has already funded a whopping 740 or more start-ups, including hits such as AirBnB, Dropbox, Pebble, and Reddit.

"We got started in Boston. We were trying to solve the problem we had running our own start-ups in the 1990sit was terribly hard to find investors," Blackwell told EE Times. "The important thing for us was to focus on it full-time, not just cutting checks, but giving good advice and getting good experience. Doing one, two, or three start-ups a year, we'd never get that good at it. But by being systematic and doing tens of companies a year, we'd have enough useful experience."

Trevor Blackwell

YC started with eight companies, which included Reddit and location services company Loopt.

"Wattvision was our first hardware company. It makes a device that straps on a power meter to give real-time data on energy use. Definitely, Pebble was the one that got on the most people's bodies. We also incubated a company that made a fast electric skateboard for traveling the last couple miles from the train station to the office," Blackwell said.

Less than a decade later, Y Combinator is already funding 50 to 80 companies a cycle.

"We knew it would be more work having more companies to keep track of, but we've been pleasantly surprised how much the [graduates] help each other. The companies we have funded are a significant fraction of the interesting tech companies starting these days," Blackwell said.

Robots must earn a living

One of the more interesting hardware start-ups at YC these days is Rigetti Computing. Led by Chad Rigetti, a former IBM researcher, the start-up is doing advanced research, eventually aiming to build a quantum computer.

"There are a whole range of apps for this such as simulating quantum mechanics and thus biology. Today people use supercomputers to try to simulate what happens when two molecules bump into each other to determine, for example, how drugs will react, but the process could work more efficiently on tightly coupled quantum devices working at liquid-helium temperatures," he said.


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