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DC’s political class doesn’t know Y Combinator exists, but it’s trying to change that

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Washington, D.C., may be the hub for legislation and regulation that affects startups, but many people in the city don’t know anything about one of the more prominent accelerators fueling the industry: Y Combinator. Speaking at a TechCrunch Strictly VC event on Tuesday evening, YC Head of Public Policy Luther Lowe said the startup incubator is looking to raise its profile in D.C.

Lowe, who joined the accelerator last fall from Yelp, where he was SVP of Public Policy, said his role at YC is something like “YC 101” for the D.C. crowd.

“So many folks in D.C. don’t actually know what it is,” he remarked.

Founded in 2005, Lowe called YC the “original accelerator.” He explained its roots in the industry to the crowd at the event, noting that the accelerator was co-founded by Paul Graham, who had successfully sold a company in the 1990s, and was helping founders by writing essays to help them them avoid pitfalls. When Graham put out a call for startup applications, a dozen startups got into YC’s debut class. Reddit and Twitch came from that initial cohort, and the program kept growing in the years since.

“Now, basically the way it works is if you and I had a cool idea, we could apply. There’s about a 1% acceptance rate. You could give up about 10%, roughly, of equity, get half a million in funding and you move to San Francisco — now where it’s anchored — for about 12 weeks. And you’re just getting intensive mentoring, and you’re getting that kind of zero-to-one product-market fit,” Lowe said.

The organization has now seeded around 5,000 companies and has 11,000 founders in its network — something Lowe called “just an insane impact for the U.S. technology economy.” And yet, he noted, “what’s been the most surprising thing with the new role is how many in Washington don’t even know it exists.”

Lowe said he’s working to educate policymakers about YC’s impact and how the accelerator has touched “virtually every Congressional district” in the United States.

Garry Tan, YC’s president and CEO, is also raising the accelerator’s profile in his own way — with spicy tweets, as moderator and TechCrunch GM/Editor-in-Chief Connie Loizos pointed out.

Lowe didn’t confirm where that was a strategy on Tan’s part, but he praised Tan for his warmness and his dedication.

After educating the D.C. market, YC aims to leverage its influence, particularly in areas like competition policy. “We really need to get the competition policy stored out first … If you look at Europe and the Digital Markets Act: not perfect, but at least they’re taking a stab at figuring out how do we curb the most egregious forms of self-preferencing by these large firms? And if we don’t do that, then it’s pretty easy to see how this plays out,” Lowe said.

He pointed to the startups and small tech firms that Apple negatively affects with its software launches, like those announced at Monday’s WWDC 2024 keynote — a practice so common, it even has its own name: sherlocking.

“There is an alternate universe where we’re embracing interoperability, where we’re compelling these firms to stop self-preferencing, and it’s better for everybody … it’s not too late,” Lowe said.



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