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Where is Y Combinator startup-hunting in 2022?

Digging into the latest accelerator with an asterisk cohort

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YC Demo Day 2022 image
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Like the startup ecosystem itself, accelerators change with time. Techstars has expanded to a network of programs, to pick one example. Y Combinator, perhaps the best-known startup accelerator, has also evolved. It now offers more capital to chosen companies than ever and is in the process of working out how its program will operate in a post-COVID world.

Like much of the venture capital landscape, Y Combinator has shrunk slightly this year. The current cohort of startups in the U.S. program is around 40% slimmer, featuring only 240 companies compared to the preceding batch’s 400.

That change had us curious about the second-order effects of admitting fewer companies into the program: What would a smaller batch do to the geographic makeup of the companies at the accelerator?

Before we dive into the data, a caveat concerning remote work: Per the accelerator, more than one-third (35%) of startups in its present program are remote, and even more (37%) are what it calls “remote-friendly.” Remote work and partially remote teams dilute the importance of where a company is “based.”

This is not a new trend. COVID led to a host of startups being born in a remote-first world, meaning that the hiring in the last few years has often been distributed. Never has it meant less to be based in, say, the United States, if your team is spread across countries and time zones. Still, where a company is domiciled still means something and tells us where companies are basing themselves to best collect talent, capital and exit possibilities.

Let’s see where Y Combinator’s most promising young tech companies come from to get a loose barometer of where the accelerator is finding the most intriguing founders to back.

Global overview

Given its smaller size, the fact that this year’s Y Combinator group represents fewer countries is not a surprise. Per the investing group, the Summer 2022 class has startups from 34 countries, down from the 42 countries in the Winter 2022 cohort.

Notably, that decrease is only slightly less than 20%, which is about half the 40% drop in the total number of startups accepted into the program, as we mentioned above. It appears geographic diversity in terms of the countries represented did not decrease linearly with the reduction in batch size.

Its diversity may not have shrunk as much as some might expect, but this cohort is still more centered on the United States than before. Per the company, about 58% of its present batch are based in the United States, up from 50% in the Winter 2022 cohort.

Before we dive into the different regions, keep in mind that startups in the Y Combinator database can list multiple locations, and it appears that not every company in the cohort is represented in the repository. TechCrunch counted 227 listed companies out of 240, implying that a dozen or so are operating off the radar for now. This impacts our ability to be precise with our data work, but it doesn’t inhibit directional analysis too much.

Zooming in

U.S. and Canada

From a multiyear perspective, the U.S. presence doesn’t look very different in Y Combinator’s latest batch. U.S.-based startups historically constituted the bulk of YC participants, and according to its directory, 2,659 of its 3,905 alumni (68%) had the U.S. as one of their main locations. So it’s not exactly a shock that a majority of startups in its latest batch also did, especially now that establishing a presence in the U.S. isn’t as hindered by COVID-19 as it was a few months ago. But we didn’t have to go far to find our first surprise: The number of Canadian startups declined compared to YC’s W22 batch.

America’s northern neighbor is still one of the most represented countries in the S22 cohort, but only five startups call Canada home. That’s fewer than the 16 companies in the previous batch.

Importantly, Canadian presence declined in relative terms: It now has less representation than the U.K, Israel, Mexico, France and Germany. Then again, it is hard to tell whether this has more to do with Canada or with the rise of other countries.

Latin America

It’s worth noting that Mexico overtook Canada, but that isn’t necessarily representative of what happened more broadly with Latin America’s presence at YC: The number of LatAm startups at YC’s S22 batch declined from 34 to 14. But the cohort is smaller, and some startups are still in stealth mode, so we can’t tell for sure how the exact proportion has changed.

What we know is at least one Latin American country wasn’t represented as highly: There’s only one Colombian startup in the current batch, which takes things back to pre-COVID levels.

Then again, maybe YC’s larger, remote-first batches were the exception, not the rule. If that’s the case, YC may more often choose up to three Colombian startups or none at all, rather than four to seven (as we thought before).

It’s also notable that Latin American startups at YC have a relatively larger share of fintech companies. About 21% of the YC S22 crop is built around fintech, but at least half of the 14 Latin American startups are building fintech products (seven, per YC, and eight by our own count).

Fintech can do much to improve life in emerging countries, so it’s no surprise that many founders at YC chose to focus on such problems. This also applies to India and Africa, for instance: YC noted that 11 of 19 Indian companies and three of five Nigerian startups in its latest batch are centered around fintech.

Africa

Over 100 African startups have gone through Y Combinator since the accelerator made its first investment in Paystack six years ago.

YC S22 has eight startups from the region. While this number is lower than the previous three batches (YCW21 had 10, S21 had 15 and W22 broke records with 24 startups), Nigeria still managed to crack into the top 10 countries represented with five startups, but it came in much lower than the No. 3 spot it claimed with 18 companies in the W22 batch. Other African startups came from Kenya and Ghana, and one, though Africa-focused, is based in Geneva.

What is the smaller cohort focusing on? They appear to tackle challenges relating to access to financial services and payments, food delivery, merchant bookkeeping and aftermarket automobile parts. And for the second time, YC has an all-female-founded team from Africa: Pivo Technology, a digital bank for freight carriers.

Countries on the rise — or not

In a twist, France, Germany and Israel are now among the most represented countries in YC’s S22 batch, a list they weren’t part of this winter. And when you consider that the U.K. once again made the list with 11 startups, Europe seems to be enjoying more of the spotlight at YC with 34 teams in total (not counting Israeli startups; the accelerator’s directory groups the country in the Middle East and North Africa).

We’ll have more to say on the growing presence of French startups later this week, so for now, just a note in passing on the other side of the spectrum: Indonesia, which had 16 startups in YC’s W22 batch, only had three teams this time around.

The preponderance of an American audience

While preparing for this piece, Anna noticed that a good number of startups in the current batch from outside the U.S sometimes used U.S.-centered language to draw comparisons between their product and goods or services that might be familiar to American investors. Anna noted riffs like “Moonpay for LatAm” and “Whatnot for fashion” in the mix.

Why does the framing matter? It indicates that even as Y Combinator pulls in companies from around the world, they are presenting to an audience that skews toward the United States. On one hand, this isn’t a massive surprise: Y Combinator is an American organization, and much of the global venture market still operates from the country. The use of more American-centric framing is yet another reminder of those facts.

In other words, while TechCrunch spends ample time talking to companies and funds around the world, the United States retains its centrality. Y Combinator’s data, and how its companies talk about themselves, underscore that point.

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