For the first time in YCombinator’s seven-year history, the startup accelerator has accepted a nonprofit into one of its classes, according to a post yesterday by founder Paul Graham.
The organization is called Watsi, and it allows crowdfunding for health services for those in need across the world. Writes Graham:
We’d been thinking about including nonprofits in YC. After we met the founders of Watsi, we realized they’d be the perfect one to start with. … After about 30 seconds of looking at the site, I realized I was looking at one of the more revolutionary things I’d seen the Internet used for. Technology can now put a face on need. The people who need help around the world are individuals, not news photos, and when you see them as individuals it’s hard to ignore them.
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Watsi got a donation from YC rather than an equity investment.
Applying the accelerator model to nonprofits makes a lot of sense, but I’m not fully convinced that their needs are similar enough to need the same accelerator.
The folks at Watsi would probably disagree. The site reads:
In our experience, most non-profits aren’t efficient. We are different. We believe motivation and adaptation are more important than a fancy office and expensive business cards.
I’m all for efficiency, but the needs of social enterprises may still turn out to be different enough from the needs of typical software startups such that separate accelerators makes sense. Then again, maybe not. Either way, points to Graham and YC for giving a nonprofit a shot.