Q&A: YC’s Michael Seibel on African startups and the Silicon Valley accelerator

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Yesterday, 10 African tech startups took part in the Y Combinator Winter ‘21 virtual demo day, pitching to an audience of investors and other interested parties.

The Y Combinator Winter 2021 batch sees selected startups receive US$125,000 in seed funding as well as further investment opportunities at a demo day

In all, 274 companies from 41 countries were represented within the virtual edition of the programme, with 50 per cent of them based outside the United States (US) – the most ever. Ten of the confirmed participants were from Africa (you can meet them here).

Y Combinator is increasingly selecting African tech startups to take part in its programme, and the accelerator’s alumni features continental royalty in the likes of the Flutterwave, Paystack and Kobo360, not to mention Cowrywise MarketForce, Kudi, WaystoCap, WorkPay, Healthlane, Trella, 54gene, CredPal, NALA and Breadfast (according to YC 47 African startups have gone through its programme so far).

To mark the graduation of the latest batch, Disrupt Africa had a (brief) catchup with Michael Seibel, YC’s managing director for early stage and group partner, about the renowned accelerator’s interest in African tech.

Disrupt Africa: How excited about the African tech space is YC?

Michael Seibel: We are very excited. We believe that our founders in Africa are focused on solving real world problems in their community. We hope more startup activity will create products that can provide more opportunity for everyone on the continent. This batch we funded 10 companies from Africa, which is a higher number than previous batches. Our W20 batch had the highest number at 12 companies

DA: How has going virtual helped in this regard?

MS: Going remote has made YC more attractive to companies at different stages and far away geographies. For companies in Africa, founders no longer have to spend three months away from their customers or teams. 

DA: Has YC considered establishing a physical presence on the continent like Startupbootcamp or Plug and Play

MS: COVID-19 has taught us that building a programme that is remote and more software-based makes YC more accessible to founders around the globe. 

DA: How do you judge which African companies to accept? How is your understanding of local context?

MS: The same way we judge companies from anywhere else. Founders must be able to communicate their local context to investors. That is an important skill. 

DA: Is YC a good bet for African startups? Is 7% too much to give away for some? What is the value the accelerator adds?

MS: We recommend that founders talk to other YC alumni and gauge for themselves whether there is real value in participating in YC. (Ed. Disrupt Africa is currently doing this and will update you soon!)

So there you have it folks! We did say it was brief! In a couple of more detailed, feature-length articles over the next few weeks, Disrupt Africa will be looking further into Y Combinator and its relevance to African startups. For now, this is your lot!

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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